How to Get Through Empty Nest Syndrome
Your kids are raised and they are on their way in the world. That is what you want, what you worked for, right? Good, productive members of society? But, you have the blues because you feel like you are no longer needed, the house feels empty, and your heart definitely feels there is something missing. Lonelieness and depression have set in. What may feel like wallowing in self-pity when your child leaves home is known as Empty Nest Syndrome, which is defined in Psychology Today as “feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief by parents and caregivers after children” leave their homes. These sad feelings are natural, but you must find your way back to yourself so you can live a contented life.
Take Some Advice from a Real Pro
Margaret, an 86 year-old mother of eight used to say, “Pick yourself up and wipe yourself off.” How did she do it with eight kids? Eight kids that she raised and sent out into the world without much help from her truck-driving husband. She was their sole parent, and she felt their need for her for over the 45 year time span from the time her first child was born until her last one left her home. She had a wealth of experience, but each child held a place in her heart that could not be filled. Her attitude was to keep going and survive at all cost because she had to raise her other children. When the last child left, she became more involved in her church, with a local ladies’ club, and eventually became the caregiver for her parents. She realized she had to do things that made her feel needed and fulfilled.
Margaret’s story shows us that you should not curl up in the fetal ball position. Giving in to the loss of that piece of your life for an extended period of time is only going to make you even more unhappy and less outgoing. Your life didn’t always involve the kids. Your identity was not always being the mommy.
Don't Forget About Your Husband
Remember when you used to go to the movies, take drives, and go dancing? These activities are still around for your entertainment. And, you usually weren’t alone. Ya know that guy who is known as the father of your children is still around laying low because of your mood swings? The one you pledged to spend the rest of your life with who is now covered in grease from working on everything he can get his hands on in his workshop or garage because he is trying to avoid seeing you in your ratty, green robe and fuzzy slippers while you mope around the house with your voided eyes and uncombed hair. Well, maybe it isn’t all that bad, but your husband should not receive the residual effects of your empty nest feelings. He may be having some of his own feelings of longing for the kids, but, like most men, he doesn’t cry every time he sees a picture of your son with chocolate cake slathered all over his face at his first birthday party or when he can’t figure out how much hamburger you should use when you are only cooking (if you cook) for two.
Ed, a 43 year old father, wondered who that depressed woman was in his kitchen and what did she do with his wife. He missed his son, too, but he didn’t know how to deal with this crying woman. Leaving your husband out of the “grieving” process is not recommended, but letting the process linger may be hurting your relationship with him. He possibly would like to have an adult to talk to. You need to replace the extra time you used to spend with your children and try to find that new connection with your husband. Learn to hold hands again by taking walks together, set aside a date night, talk about each others’ day with real interest, think about all the times you longed to be alone but couldn’t because the kids were always around – here’s your chance. Take it.
Do Things with Your Friends
Remember you do have friends and some might be going through similar feelings. It is not like you are the first or the last person to go through feeling lost and unneeded without the kids underfoot. Karen, a 45 year old empty nester, said she had her time of “mourning” then she called her friend, Janice, whose daughter had just left for college. The two started going out for morning coffee, having lunch together, and occasionally going to a movie or dinner. She said she and Janice helped each other through these times of feeling lost because they understood each other. You need to forge healthy bonds with others or build on the ones you already have. There are a variety of things you could do with your girlfriends that your husband wouldn’t be interested in doing and that are much more enjoyable without children. You can shop till you drop and not worry about whether little junior is hiding in the clothes rack while you are searching frantically for him. Yeah, you know you do not miss those times.
Choose Your Own Activities
Yep, you are now a middle aged woman. Could this be part of your problem – your age? Well, honey, get over it and yourself. There is life after you turn 40, 50, 60… whatever age. You may have some wrinkles and extra skin that you didn’t have before, and you may even creak when you get out of bed or when you get up off the floor, but so what? Live every minute. Don’t be a waste of time and space for others to endure. Do something with yourself. Take a class on writing, Tudor history, or Kama Sutra. Oh my – wouldn’t that make your husband happy? Just explore things that are of old or new interests to you. Try to get into shape again or in even better shape than you are already in. Just because the kids are gone does not mean they will not need you again. If you allow your dreary long days of empty nesting to go too far, you are going to end up hurting yourself physically and mentally.
If being a mother has left you feeling “motherly,” you should definitely try some things that would be of interest to you and not to your children. Get out of the soccer mom and academic scholarship coach modes and get into things that make you feel alive and vibrant, that make you an individual, again. Karen and Janice talked their husbands into taking swing dancing lessons, and now they go every Thursday night to dance, which is fun and great exercise. Fifty-year-old Linda, a bank loan officer, hit the floor running when her last child left. She started taking night classes on becoming a travel agent then a real estate agent. She is constantly and happily busy working with new clients in both fields.
Okay, maybe being busy all the time is not your gig, and you just want to feel needed. Get a puppy or a kitten. Love it, play with it, train it, feed it, and feel productive. No, a pet cannot take the place of a child, but it can sure get the endorphins moving so you can get out of that empty nest funk that has been weighing you down. Take your pet on walks and to the park. They are wonderful companions that help get you out of the house. Plus, they are just down right adorable.
If you have the means, then travel. Go to places that you would not have gone with your kids. A cruise with your husband or girlfriends, a New York City getaway, a tour of Europe. Go for it, girlfriend. Soak it up, take pictures, and come back and share it with your kids, and say, “See, when you have raised your kids, you will be able to go see these places, too.” And, do not feel guilty. You have earned the right to do things without your children, be they big things like traveling the world or small things like eating ice cream at midnight. You are going to be all right.
Your Kids Are Going to Be There - Just As Adults
Eighty-six-year old Margaret gave another good piece of advice, “Be there for your kids when they want to talk or visit. They always come back, and you are always needed.” Mothers are a wealth of information on life. It is your turn to step into this new role. Are you up to it?
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Empty Nest - Learn how to find peace and contentment when the children leave home. Discover tips from others who have been there.