The Empty Nest: What Now?

The Empty Nest: What Now?

I like how American humorist Erma Bombeck puts it: “When mothers talk about depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they have gone from supervisor of a child’s life to spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” Yes, moving from supervisor to spectator is tough, but it also can give you freedom to reinvent yourself for the better. So now is the time to take some of that quiet space and recalibrate your life for the better.

That is not to say that raising kids is not great. There is no better investment of your time and energy. It’s just that in this new empty-nest season, it is time for you to step out and do whatever it takes to create a second-half experience that is wonderful for your family and for you. To make a healthy transition and move forward with passion and purpose, we must ask the big question: “Now what?”

Now What?

Too many people get stuck living in the past, believing that their best years are behind them when that does not have to be the case. No matter what your age or experience, almost all games are won in the second half, and you can think of the empty nest as your second half. The opportunities before you are limitless. There is no better time to start than right now. Dr. Margaret Rutherford says it best: “Your child’s life is filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.”

Sometimes all we need is a fresh start and a new perspective to move us forward. Following is a story of a family who dealt with the empty nest in a positive way. This couple found fresh experiences with simplicity.

Patricia and Toby: Reboot and Reconnect

Patricia told me that having her youngest leave home was one of the most difficult experiences of her life. She had never heard of the empty-nest syndrome before hearing me speak on it, but when I explained it, she said, “Yes, that was me in every way.” I could tell she was not wallowing in her fears and believed her best years were ahead of her. I asked her what she did to find her way. Patricia was an accountant who gave up the sixty-hour work-week grind as children came along. She worked twenty hours a week at home, adapting her life to the lives of the children. Toby didn’t feel the pain of the empty nest as much as Patricia did. He had his work and routines. On the other hand, Patricia felt like her entire life needed a reboot, and she desperately wanted to reconnect with Toby. Out of those quiet moments at home, Pat and Toby worked together to create a simple plan to reboot and reconnect for the first six months. Here was their list:

  • Clean out and declutter the closets.
  • Join a women’s group at church.
  • Commit to a weekly date night.
  • Join a gym.
  • Redo the backyard
  • Connect regularly with the kids and visit them monthly.

Even though none of these new experiences was dramatic, they did help Toby and Patricia enter their new phase of life. Cleaning out the closets was therapeutic for Patricia. Her new involvement with a women’s group helped her find deeper community with some replenishing relationships. The weekly date night was rejuvenating Toby and Pat’s connection while bringing some much-needed fun into their relationship. The backyard garden became a six-month process that again brought the two of them together on a project, although Patricia told me with a twinkle in her eye that she did 80 percent of the work. Toby found that regular gym workouts reduced his stress and helped him lose some weight. And of course, they kept up with the kids and lived close enough to visit at least monthly. Sometimes answers are found in the simple adjustments and baby steps we can all make.

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the President of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 30 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage and Closer. Jim and his wife, Cathy live Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca and Heidi.

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