Wow, did you ever think you would get to this point in your life? For some parents they’ve been waiting to be empty nesters since their children’s births (like my father). Others dread the thought of their babies growing up and leaving the nest. (Ha, get it? Empty nesters?) For those of you in this second group, those who feel a deep sense of sadness or pain when your children leave, I have news for you: you are potentially suffering from what is called Empty Nest Syndrome.
Yes, apparently this is a thing. On Dictionary.com it defines Empty Nest Syndrome as “sadness or emotional distress affecting parents whose children have grown up and left home.” My mother is currently trying to get over this. As freelance writer Rob Jenkins puts it so nicely, a parent may go through five stages of Empty Nest Syndrome.
5 Stages of Empty Nesters Syndrome
- Denial. As a parent you can’t help but tell yourself that your kids will always come back for holidays and summers to spend their time with you, which isn’t totally wrong, but there’s a truth to this that must be faced. Your home is no longer their home. It’s just a place for them to come visit and reminisce of the good old times when they were young and immature. Now that they’ve grown up and spread their wings to bigger and better things, they will start their lives in other places where they can start their own journey of adulthood, and one day, parenting.
- Self-pity. You could say sorrow, but honestly this is the stage where you realize how old you’re getting and that there are new challenges to face. You know you’ve reached this stage once you find yourself moping around the house, feeling you have a loss of purpose. Even though this stage could last for several days to years, recognizing your self-pity can help you make the positive changes in your life to help you get over Empty Nest Syndrome.
- Acceptance. Once you’ve reached this stage, you’re in the clear. This is a good stage to be in because you’ve come to terms with those new challenges and you’re ready to move on. Take pride in this stage because your children have become the responsible adults you raised them to be. You’ve been prepping them all their lives for this moment. Now you get to sit back and watch them go through the same struggles you went through. Seriously, Karma can’t get any better than this. Especially if you had a few hell-raisers in the mix.
- Sleep. From the beginning of raising babies to the day your children leave, you probably got an average of 7 hours of sleep per night as an active parent. With your children out of the house, you might surprisingly find yourself sleeping for 8-10 hours. It’s like your body is trying to make up for all the years it lost. Bask in this stage because it only gets better from here on out.
- Freedom. Some would say party, (again, like my father), but now it’s just you and your spouse living it up like you did when you first got married. It’s funny how life can go into a backwards motion after your last child leaves. There are little freedoms that come with being an empty nester: you now have more money then you used to because you’re not spending it on materialistic teenagers, you can buy all the tasty treats in the world and not have them mysteriously disappear overnight, and you can whatever new hobby you want.
How to Combat Empty Nest Syndrome
Once you’ve made your way through the stages of Empty Nest Syndrome, what’s life got to offer? That’s where you get to re-discover yourself, to dive into new hobbies. Here are a few suggestions from The Spruce on what you could start doing in the extra spare time:
- Take dance lessons. This is a delightful activity to do because it’s a good way to spend extra time with your spouse, or it’s an exciting way to do some exercise.
- Learn a sport. If you think you’re athletic enough to start a new sport, or reconnect with one you use to do in high school/college, then go for it! It’ll make you feel energized and young again.
- Learn a new language. If you’ve always wanted to learn a language, now is the time to do it. Take courses from a nearby place that offers them, or buy Rosetta Stone and learn on the computer. Who knows but that it will inspire you to travel abroad and show off your new skills.
- Go back to school. Maybe you never got your masters degree like you always wanted to, or maybe you want to learn something new in a completely different field. Going back to school will help fill the time, and keep your mind sharp.
- Watch loads of movies! This would definitely be a new hobby I would take up. I love watching movies, and it’s a great way to see different genres. You could even write a blog about all the movies you’ve watched and become a movie critic.
- Bird watching. Honestly, I would only suggest this if you were really desperate in finding something to distract you… but who knows, maybe you would actually enjoy it.
Ways to Serve as an Empty Nester
By simply looking online you can find so many options on hobbies to incorporate into your new chapter of life. But what if you don’t really want to start a hobby? Another way to fill the that sense of loss of being empty nesters is to serve your community. If you belong to a church you can always involve yourself more by being a part of the service projects your church holds. You can also serve at museums, libraries, or homeless shelters. The world could always use someone to make an impact and do some good. For some inspiration here’s a list found on OperationWarm.com.
- Drive for others. If you own a car, picking up a neighbor’s child for school would be a huge help. The elderly also appreciate drivers to take them grocery shopping, or errand running if they can’t do it themselves. Plus, they would love to just have the company to talk to.
- Do some visiting. People in the sunset of their lives love having people visit them, whether it’s random, planned, during the summer, or at lunch time; they want people to talk to. The holidays are also a really good time to go and visit the elderly. Sometimes it’s those times that can be the loneliest of times. You could also visit veterans or those in hospice. The youth could be in need of tutors and mentors so revisiting your academic strengths to provide a child with academic support would be an awesome way to serve.
- Help outdoors. One of the best ways to serve your community is to help your neighbor. It often means a lot when you assist with care of lawn, garden, or flower bed. If it’s snowing outside you could always shovel their walkway/driveways.
- Give away food. The value of a home-cooked meal cannot be overstated, especially for those who are sick, or in some sort of situation where they can’t really fend for themselves. Food banks always need volunteers and canned goods for the local homeless.
- Share your skills. Whether you’re a retired, or not retired, musician, artist, seamstress, or handyman, people are always in need of learning how to do things. Why not share your skills with those who want or need them? You can serve others by being willing to freely give of your time.
- Spring clean. Donating old/used clothing, furniture, or any kind of household items to Salvation Army or Goodwill is a nice way to clean and serve because you’re giving back to the community with objects that people could be in need of.
- Be a foster parent. This doesn’t have to be with kids, even though that is the ultimate way to do some service for children who are in need of a home. But if kids seem to be a little too much to handle, you can also be a foster parent to animals, like kittens or puppies. “PETA and ASPCA let you adopt or foster kittens, puppies and full-grown animals until they find a forever home” (OperationWarm.com).
With your progeny out of the house, it’s probably time to go through all your stuff and declutter. Make time to look through all the cabinets, closets, shelves, and boxes to see what you no longer need. I’ve already touched on donating your old and used belongings to Goodwill, but let’s expand on that a little. Decluttering is a great way to get rid of all the stress of being empty nesters. It’s a way to start over and begin anew. If decluttering is too overwhelming, then take baby steps.
- Start out small by going through drawers and closets.
- Look at the item and decide if you can either sell it or keep it. If you can’t do either, then get rid of it.
- Let’s say the item is too sentimental to throw out, then put it in a box with the current date written on top. Then go back to it in a year and realized you never needed or used it then throw it out.
Being empty nesters doesn’t have to be depressing– at least not forever. It’s okay to miss your children because you are their parent. But now that they’re on their own in the real world, you can take advantage of the change and try new things. Be with your spouse, or your friends that are also empty nesters, and go out and find new adventures that are calling your name. You worked hard to raise your kids. Now it’s time to go enjoy your new-found freedom!