As fall approaches, many parents are contemplating something they haven’t experienced in nearly two decades: a home all their own. And although that might mean a sudden abundance of free time, not to mention a smaller pile of laundry, for many it’s a difficult change. Here to provide expert guidance on adjusting to an empty nest, is Wendy Aronsson, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of “Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave.”
Parenting has been your job description over the past 18 plus years and daily routines have been etched into your life. With the preparation of the departure of your youngest (or only) child, disruption is in the air as your perception of major life changes increases. This disruption, estimated to affect around 25 million parents, triggers excitement, fear and sadness in varying mixes and degrees. Create opportunities out of uncertainties; turn fear of the unknown into opportunities for personal growth.
1. Think of the nest as evolving; not empty. While the “nest” might feel suddenly empty, it remains a home. Use this time to re-arrange the nest. Use this as an opportunity to redesign the nest with yourselves in mind. For example, turn the additional space into a den, study or an office preserving the flexibility to allow for your child’s return.
2. Think of your life as multi-dimensional or as a patchwork quilt. While parenting was a key focus, you have other interests and abilities for which time was scarce until now. You might try a new hobby, join a choir, learn to garden, involve yourself in community service, or travel. Be spontaneous.
3. If you do not have a bucket list, make one. Write down a wish list of what you have longed to do prior to and during your child-rearing years. Now is the opportunity to begin to tick items off the list.
4. S-T-R-E-T-C-H. Do something beyond your comfort zone. Expand your horizons. Learn and develop new knowledge and skills. This can include learning a language, writing a book, dance, completing (or beginning) an undergraduate or graduate degree. I’ve even seen a mother train for and participate in emergency medical services. The possibilities are endless.
5. Respect your young adult’s space. This can be a challenge. Remember that your children are evolving adults and will want and need to develop autonomy. They need to make their own decisions, make mistakes and learn from them. Some of our own greatest lessons have come from the mistakes we’ve made. Our children need to benefit from the same process. An important aspect of allowing for your child’s space, means accepting the inevitable changes in communication patterns. Pick up on and follow the cues you get from your child. This could mean less consistent contact, given the technology for continuous connection. As tempting as spontaneous contact can be, sense and respect their space (except, of course, in exigent circumstances).
6. Rediscover yourself and your marriage. If you’re married, re-discover what first brought you together. This is an opportunity for your marriage to be front and center in your lives. Use this time to really listen to each other in the quiet which results from the last child to leave home. If single, this is your time! Date, join singles groups, make new friends and participate in activities where you might encounter like-minded people.
Think of this as a time of endless possibilities, enrichment, renewal and discovery. The nest need never be empty; it presents new opportunities for fulfillment as it continues to evolve.
For more information and inspiration visit MariaShriver.com