A new lease on life, not a syndrome to be suffered!
I feel I am particularly equipped to shed light on this subject, as I am currently in the throes of this very life-changing moment myself. No matter how much you think you are prepared, it just comes at you like a ton of bricks. As a busy mama of three active boys for the last 22 years, you can imagine how I am feeling right now as son number three is about to head off to uni and the empty nest looms.
I’ve already accepted the feeling of letting go after seeing the first two off to university. But what happens now? How do I (and all of you who are empty nesters) manage this phase, when our children no longer live at home? As a career, I’ve nailed it at MUM, Inc. It’s been the toughest and yet most amazing position I could have ever dreamt of. I would be lying if I said I am not just a little bit sad. Thankfully, after speaking with some more experienced mamas in my friendship group, I do see a silver lining.
This too shall pass
Different parents have different coping mechanisms. There are some parents who are already chilling the champagne and preparing their next romantic getaway. At the other end of the spectrum, there might be those (it’s usually the mamas!) who dread the day and plan to spend a week under the covers or binging on Netflix and ice cream to come to terms with this very surreal transition. And that is the word I want to focus on: transition.
Every phase in this parenting journey has its ups and downs and then it passes. Life was full of nappies, strollers, sleepless nights, visits to the doc and any number of crises when my boys were small. Having them two years apart didn’t make it any less crazy. But it was my kind of crazy and I loved it. I can’t say I was a massive fan of the pre-teen years, but I embraced their maturing attitudes, bodies and yes, smells (!) all the same. Creating a home where they could bring their friends and spend time with us was a key strategy, and we’ve enjoyed meeting and hosting many of our sons’ mates over the years.
As the elder two flew the coop a few years ago, I tried to suspend fear and judgement when mistakes were made or relationships went awry. I spent many a night when they were out on the town, praying for their good sense to kick in and for the watchful eyes of their guardian angels to keep them safe. Now when all three are out on their own, I have to trust, let go and begin to focus on me.
I am beginning to realise that the empty nest gives all of us mamas the rare opportunity to rediscover some parts of ourselves that had got buried under our Super Mum capes. It’s never too late to learn a new skill, take up a new language, or even return to university yourself and get another degree. I know women who have done all of these things and more. Here are five examples from some of the amazing women I know that can help you get started, or at least thinking about your next steps.
1. Reconnect with your partner
We’ve all heard about the importance of keeping some romance alive when our children are younger, but it is now a necessity. You will be the only two people in the room and if you don’t recognise one another anymore, it will only add to feelings of loneliness. “It has been a chance for us to go on dates again,” says Tanya, who moved from the US and left two young adults back home. A pragmatic and intuitive mama, she is also a registered nurse and is thoroughly enjoying living abroad for the first time. “We are having fun going on walks together and exploring new restaurants. I feel like we are having a second chance at romance.”
2. Go back to school
Sandra, from Finland, is a veteran expat wife. Her youngest son will head to university in the fall. In preparation for this milestone, this creative yoga instructor mama has signed up for online courses to get a second degree in something that has interested her for a while – theology. “I am so appreciative of my supportive and patient husband, who knows that I need something like this to stay sane, if and when that empty nest syndrome kicks in.” Another impressive example is Christine, from Denmark, an engineer and accomplished sailor, who’s always been adventurous and independent. She went back to school as an empty nester as well. After working in aeronautics, she chose to go for a business degree and start her own company. “It has been challenging and a lot of hard work, but I feel so empowered and am also showing my daughters they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it.”
3. Get a job
Some mums, like me, devote most of their time to staying at home and managing the household. After years of moving to different countries and starting from scratch each time, I know a thing or two about getting everyone settled and acclimatised. Now I get to focus on what I want. As a freelance writer, I have the luxury of working from almost anywhere and at anytime. However, it is also nice to have a place to go, meet other people and be a part of a team. Brush off that CV and highlight the skills that you have honed over the course of the last several years as a household manager.
4. Travel more
I am not advocating that you take off for months on end, but I do think getting out and discovering something as a solo traveller gives a sense of accomplishment and increases self-confidence. Anna, who had a very stressful job as a CFO, recently had a health scare. That, coupled with her second son leaving for university, saw her increasingly harried and in need of a change. She is now on a year-long sabbatical. Recently she toured several European cities, often staying in hotels alone or meeting and staying with different friends off and on. “At first I wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable, but packing light, being flexible with times and expecting the unexpected have all been worthwhile. I am more relaxed and really considering what I want to do when, and if, I return to work. Of course, I miss my sons and husband, but this has been valuable time just for me.”
5. Take up a new hobby or learn a new language
These may seem like obvious choices, but many women put themselves last after everyone else. Once you have that empty nest, there is nothing more liberating than focusing on something only you enjoy. When Miriam’s children moved halfway across the country, she decided to learn Spanish as well as tackle mountain biking. She has always been sporty and as an entrepreneur, she is used to and enjoys meeting people from all walks of life. “I am having so much fun taking classes and improving my (Spanish) skills. And because I am naturally energetic, getting out on the bike and riding with other awesome ladies has been exciting and keeps me active.”
I hope you’ll consider these as a way to enter this new stage in your life. It won’t always feel good or easy, but having a strategy or plan will serve you in several ways: you will be busy planning, you will have a genuine enthusiasm for this next phase and you will meet new goals and feel accomplished. All of which should ease the feelings of sadness and longing that can accompany the move to empty nester.