I felt tears trickle down my cheeks, watching our son’s car disappear from view as he drove away to college. After twenty-six years of parenting three children, I thought I was ready for the “empty nest” season, excited for new freedoms and adventures to begin, and let’s be honest—fewer dishes to wash—but that afternoon I suddenly realized I was woefully unprepared. Here are five strategies that helped me survive and thrive as an empty nester.
Allow yourself to grieve. When moments of sadness or loneliness arrive, give yourself space (and grace) to “feel the feelings.” You worked hard to raise your child; you loved and cried and prayed for her. It’s natural to experience a void that feels like an ache and recognizing that is important to the process of letting go.
Move past regret. “I should have ___________. If only I’d __________.” Regrets can hit hard, especially if your child’s last years at home made for a rocky relationship. When regrets fill your mind, remember that no parent is perfect, and you did your best with the circumstances you were given. It’s never too late for honest conversations and apologies as you navigate your new normal and seek to build deeper bonds that will last into her adulthood.
Celebrate your new season. I, for one, have enjoyed eating more takeout as an empty nester . . . at any time of the day or night I choose! Not managing a busy family schedule has its perks: more free time, fewer day-to-day conflicts, greater flexibility to be spontaneous. Give yourself permission to have fun, to relax, and to be open to new experiences.
(Re)discover yourself. As a busy mom you’ve probably let some of your own interests and passions go by the wayside. This is a great time to take a class, join a book club, start a Bible study with a friend, or begin a new hobby. Perhaps you’re ready for that career change you’ve been thinking about. I turned to writing as a hobby and wound up with a second career as an author. Take a chance!
Remember, you’ll always be a mom. No matter what happens, or how far away your child may be, you’ll always be her mom. An empty nest doesn’t mean an empty heart . . . and your prayers and love will always bind you together. Motherhood is never really finished—it just changes with the season. Give yourself time to adjust, and you’ll soon thrive as an empty nester!
-Rachel Anne Ridge
Author of Flash, the Homeless Donkey and her March 5, 2019 release, Walking with Henry: Big Lessons from a Little Donkey on Faith, Friendship, and Finding Your Path. She blogs at www.rachelanneridge.com, where she encourages women to find joy and beauty in their daily lives.