Filling Your Empty Nest
Don’t Suffer the Empty Nest in Silence
In the past, you probably said things like, “I’ll take that salsa class when I have time,” or “The kids have soccer practice; I’ll work on that painting when I have time.” Well, now is the time.
When your house gets uncomfortably silent, dive into an activity you always wished you had time to do. Pursue creative interests like playing the piano, repairing clocks, ballroom dancing or learning a foreign language. Think of this as an opportunity to reclaim your passions or discover new ones. You may also want to use this time to volunteer, suggests Burghardt, as it allows you to fulfill your need to help others.
Kathy and Greg Specks found that staying busy was a critical aspect of adjusting to an empty nest. Greg works as an English teacher, but he also plays gigs in a zydeco band on the weekends. Kathy joined a gym and enrolled in a master’s degree program. Both agreed that these activities kept them from dwelling on the sadness of their empty nest. “You need to have your own life—one that makes you want to get up in the morning,” Greg says.
While you’re out and about doing fun things, try to make some new friends. You may have had other parents to talk to when the kids were around, but that social network may have fallen apart as your kids grew older. “Dan had major withdrawal not having the boys’ sports events to go to where he could see friends,” says Karen.
Make a conscious effort to combat this social loneliness and reconnect with friends and family. Invite them over for dinner or out to see a movie. Your friends will likely ask about your kids, giving you an easy opening to talk about how you’re handling the situation. These friends will be good company for the quiet times and give you some valuable perspective on your empty nest.
“Make time to have conversations with your friends about how the empty nest will change the friendship,” says Disbennett-Lee. Whether you are a single parent or part of a couple, she also suggests telling your friends that you are interested in getting out there and meeting other people. This could lead to additional connections and even a prospective partner.
Avoid spending your time focused on when your children will call or be home again. Getting stuck there prevents healing and growth from occurring. The truth is, if you’ve parented your children lovingly and caringly, they’ll always be home for vacations and holidays—and maybe even for an “extended stay” until they get on their feet. Like you, your children will feel the need to reconnect.
What may seem like a splitting apart of your family now will most likely result in the opposite. “The bottom line,” says Sal, “is that their sense of family is very strong. It was the best thing that happened, having them move away. It taught them that family means something.”