Five Ways to Fill Your Empty Nest…
Fall is here in the Pacific Northwest all of a sudden, and students are going back to school. For those with high school juniors and seniors it’s a bittersweet season as their grade school years come to a close. My son will startpooh his junior year in college out of state and my daughter her senior year of high school. Between school, dance, student government, and college applications I’ll be lucky to have dinner with her once a week- so I’m in the thick of it!
If your youngest child heads off to college this fall, it signals a major transition point in your life- an empty nest. Whether you feel like you’re finally getting to live your life again or you’re wondering how you’re going to fill that space, this is an opportunity to take a look at your life and see what’s working and what may need attention.
Below I introduce five ways to grow and flourish in this next phase of your life. Which area resonates with you as a place to focus?
- Pay attention to your well-being, physically and mentally.
Parents tend to put our children’s needs above our own and like it or not, this is a habit whose time has come. How do you recharge yourself? Make a list of activities that help you feel positive and commit to supporting yourself by doing them every day. You’ll notice a difference in very little time! Find a new exercise routine, eat foods that support your health, take time for meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices. Shift the focus back to you- an no feeling guilty!
- Nurture a primary partnership that sustains you.
How is your relationship with your partner changing as your offspring gain more independence? It’s been many years since it was just the two of you without a buffer of kids. Do you find that your time together is shifting towards connection, or are you drifting apart? This is a critical time in many relationships as you redefine and discover anew what your commitments are. Take the time and effort to deeply engage whether it’s on a trip, in a class, or getting professional help as needed.
If you are not in a partnership, do you want that in your life? Dating is a new adventure as you enter your 40’s and 50’s, so embrace it as an opportunity to open yourself to new experiences and kiss a few frogs!
- Find ways to make a meaningful contribution.
Is your work satisfying your desire to feel needed? Are you in a profession that you truly enjoy? Passion for life is contagious, so if you are working in a field that dulls your glow, this would be an ideal time to investigate other options. Financial considerations (oh yeah, those college bills!) may have you feeling stuck. So if you’re not ready to jump ship just yet, look around to see where your talents are needed and your heart will be engaged, and volunteer some time to help others. Who knows, it could lead to opportunities down the road.
- Balance your family commitments.
As responsibilities for children lessen, often our own aging parents and siblings face health issues that require time and energy resources. Your initial instinct may be to run to the rescue- necessary of course in an emergency- but take a step back and evaluate the long-term needs of all those involved. How can you preserve your sense of self in the face of their needs? Change is hard to accept for most of us, and in particular the elderly. Helping them see the possibilities that may open up can result in amazing growth. My 82-year-old father opened his home to a tenant after living alone as a widower for seven years, and has re-engaged in life as a result. You just never know! Encouraging others to be open to new ways can benefit us as well.
- Develop and maintain a strong social network.
How long has it been since you really played? As adults we get wrapped up in the details of daily living, and friends can take us out of that grind. Human beings are not islands, and as our stage of life changes so may our friendships. These friends share in the celebrations of life and get us through difficult times. Whether we need a large group of people or a small selection of close confidants, ignoring this aspect of our lives comes at a real cost. Transitions often result in moving and it can feel as if it takes a lot of effort to build new connections in a new place, but the rewards are diverse. Looking back at ways to boost our well-being, what activities or hobbies do you want to build into your life? Chances are you’ll find people you connect with there.
Lastly, it’s important to take time to acknowledge the emotions around this rapidly-changing time of life (that last summer before college passes in a flash, I know!). Grieve and celebrate as you feel the need. There are bound to be mixed emotions, and we may actually be surprised by what comes up. Journaling, talking with friends and family, and major self-care will get you started. When you are ready, pick one area from those listed above and commit to one step. You’ll be rewarded with a renewed sense of power in creating the life that you want to lead, and your nest will no longer feel empty.
Johanna Branley is a Life Coach specializing in turning transitions into triumphs. If you are experiencing an empty nest, retirement, career change or divorce, you will benefit from setting up a complimentary session. Find out more about her practice at www.skippingstoneslifecoach.com.