Free at last, free at last! The children have grown up and moved away, your house is your own to do with what you will and your schedule is now open to anything you wish to pursue. So why are you so divided in your feelings?
Empty Nest syndrome hits when your daughter or son comes home from college for a weekend with a huge bag of dirty laundry and the uncanny ability to eat virtually everything in the house that isn’t actually bolted down. S/he is exceedingly perturbed because her bedroom has been changed into a conservatory (apparently before she was even out the door).
I get Empty Nest syndrome – your identity has been tied up in your children so when they leave you aren’t sure just who the new ‘you’ is. After two decades as caregiver, nurse, cook, cleaner, chauffeur, tailor, teacher, coach, handyman and psychologist, you are suddenly on the unemployment line – at least, that’s how you feel.
Don’t forget, however, you will always be parents, no matter how old your children are. Remember when your daughter e-mailed for that favourite family recipe? Or your son called to find out how to do a load of laundry? So take heart, your children do value your opinions, experience and input into their lives, which will most likely be sought for the next decade or so.
Filling the void when your children leave may feel uncomfortable at first, but the payoff is huge. It’s almost like graduating from high school; the world is yours. Take a class, learn to paint, start hiking, garden, volunteer, travel or just veg around the house in your sweats. Relish the fact that you are at a time in your life when you can continue to pursue your dreams … and actually have the wherewithal to do it.
Whether you decide to backpack through Europe for a year or go skydiving for the first and probably last time, the response from your children can come as somewhat of a surprise. While they may have been the ones encouraging you to try new things, to ‘get a life’, they can also be quite unexpectedly conservative when you take their advice. Your new motorcycle may be a source of pride for you, but your children will only see it as a needless expenditure, one which could, and most likely will, prove dangerous (wait a minute, does this sound familiar?). When you run into this reaction, simply smile, nod and thank them for their concern. Then go on with your plans anyway.
One of the real pluses of being an Empty Nester is that you are no longer on view as a role model 24/7. You can truly live the expression: Do as I say, not as I do.
This means that you can sit around the house in your pajamas all day Saturday, eating nothing but heavily buttered popcorn, jelly beans and ice cream bars, without having to explain to your offspring why this diet is not healthy for them, but just fine for you. You can let dirty dishes sit in the kitchen sink for a few days or not vacuum the house for a couple of weeks; you do not need to set any examples. You can read trashy romance novels until the wee hours of the morning or watch TV all night. You can come and go as you please.
In other words, you can virtually regain your youth, tempered with the wisdom life experience brings.
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.