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Monday, May 25, 2020
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The Empty Nest


By Jene Hedden and Paula Moore Hurtt

     Baby Boomers are generally considered to be those of us born between 1946 and 1964.  That means that if you are among today's youngest Baby Boomers and you married and had your babies while in your thirties, you are just now facing an empty nest…if you're lucky! 

     After long years of seeing your child through grade school, high school and college, your baby bird has walked across that stage and gotten his diploma and is ready to leave the nest.

     Or, perhaps your fledgling is getting married and moving away to a new place to start a new life. 

     You may have been looking forward to this moment…or you may have been dreading it. Either way, most parents are in for some surprises when their kids head out on their own. 

What Now? 

If you haven’t prepared for this day emotionally, you may find yourself at loose ends, particularly if the over-riding focus in your life was your child. You may find yourself feeling that you no longer have a purpose in life. You may feel unneeded and lonely, particularly if you are a single parent and have depended on your child for emotional support. 

Who Am I?

     Many parents have defined themselves almost solely through their role as parents. This is particularly true with mothers, since many men tend to define themselves through their careers while women tend to define themselves through their relationships. If you have thought of yourself only as “mom” or “dad”, you may realize that you have forgotten who you are beyond your identity as a parent. How do you define yourself now? What are you beyond the person who met your child’s needs? This need for a redefinition of self can be scary and disorienting. 

Who is this person I’m living with? 

     If you’re married, and your focus as a couple has been solely on your child, you may find yourself staring at each other wondering what you have in common now that the nest is empty. What do you have to talk about now? What are you to each other  now that the kids are gone? What will you do with your free time together? Do you love each other? Do you even LIKE each other?  

Fill the nest.  

     If you are a new empty nester and find yourself miserable and unhappy, it’s time to fill the nest…not with children this time but with postponed dreams. 

     We’re all familiar with the old scenario. Child leaves home. Mom turns child’s room into a sewing room. Well, that’s great if your passion is sewing, but your passion may be something else altogether.

     Sit down and make a list of all the things you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because you were busy raising kids. Write down all the dreams you have deferred. List everything from the most mundane…like finally getting the attic cleaned out…to the most exotic…like a cruise to the South Pacific. Then pick something on the list and start making plans. You need to fill your nest with your own life now.  

Do Some Personal Excavation
     If you don’t know who you are anymore beyond being a parent, it may be time to do some personal “excavation.” Think back to your youth. What were your hobbies? What excited you? What were your favorite colors, your favorite popular songs and your favorite authors?   Did you always want to learn to paint in watercolors?  Ride a horse?  Play the guitar? What did you want to be when you grew up? Where did you hope to be at this time in your life? 

     Revisiting your youth can help you focus back in on yourself and what makes you happy beyond parenting. Chances are, you’ll find yourself getting excited about something you haven’t thought about in a very long time and you’ll begin to remember the person you are deep inside. 

Have a Good Long Talk with your Spouse

     If you are married, you first need to realize that your spouse cannot fill the role of your absent child. You and your spouse need to sit down and have a good long talk about what your dreams are individually and as a couple. Do you want to travel? Is it time to downsize and move into a smaller home? Have you been planning for retirement?  Talk about what your dreams were when you were newlyweds together.  What did you want to do as a couple?  Did you want to travel, take ballroom dancing lessons together, open your own small business?  Now is the time to explore those newlywed dreams. Talk and set some goals together. Then discuss how you can reach them.  In addition, talk about how you can help your spouse fulfill his or her own individual dreams. It is important to acknowledge and support each other as individuals.  

Expect Respect from Your Fledgling. 

     Continue to expect the respect due you as a parent. Kids go away to school, then come back thinking they know everything. Listen to and value their opinions, but don’t let their new ideas turn into disrespect for your opinions and values. Let them know that respect must be mutual in your relationship. 

      Finally, you’ll quickly discover that though the fledgling has left the nest, she will still need you sometimes. Trust us…they come back! Be supportive and helpful when your new fledgling asks for help. But, step back and let your child make his or her own decisions…and mistakes…as often as possible.  

     You will soon discover that with space, understanding and mutual respect, your relationship with your child will grow into a new, more mature and more equal relationship that can be fun and rewarding for the whole family.