I am on the phone with a friend who just returned home from taking her youngest child to college. I ask her how she is doing. “I just want to lie in bed, in my room, by myself,” she tells me. “I told my husband to give me some alone time.”
In two years, I will be in the same situation as my friend, which is why I have been watching how she and other empty nesters handle the next stage of their lives. Part of me is excited as I watch those who take advantage of the opportunities becoming an empty nester offers. I am also fearful about how I will fill those gaps of time that I used to spend packing lunches, driving children to activities and cheering on the sidelines of soccer games.
From watching friends who are doing empty nesting well, I can offer suggestions that I plan to take when my turn arrives soon.
1) Be positive
Looking at this next stage of life as an opportunity goes a long way toward making the most out of the years ahead. After my friend spent a day in her bed alone, she made a list of movie theaters that had weeknight specials and printed schedules for exercise classes to try. She notices when she talks to her children, being positive is better for her relationship with them, too.
2) Accept that relationships will change
Your relationship with your spouse, your children, your parents, and your friends will evolve as you age and that’s okay. You might find you need to baby your children less and your parents more. You might find you finally have time to nurture friendships that you didn’t have when you had lots to juggle — and that can be a great thing.
3) Schedule fun
One friend created a bucket list for this stage of life. She has vowed to check off at least two things on it each year. She just checked off paragliding. (She has an amazing video to show, too.) As empty nesters we may not have kiddos around the family table every night, but we do have time to enjoy activities we weren’t able to try when the children were at home.
4) Make new friends
Many parents become friends with the parents of our children’s friends. When our children leave, that bond may fray. So, it might be time to meet new people. Consider taking up a hobby, joining a book club or running club, or going to industry meetups. My friend’s husband has taken up biking and does it every Sunday morning with new friends who share his interest.
5) Be patient with your partner
Those habits you used to adore in your partner before you had children may now annoy you. You know, like when he tries to fix the washing machine and makes the damage worse or when she tries to fill up the weekend with plans when you’ve been dreaming of relaxing in front of the TV. You no longer have kids home to deflect tension so you will need to try harder to keep your relationship strong.
6) Create new routines
Some days in the thick of my child-rearing years, I walked by coffee shops and noticed people stretched out on comfy chairs reading books or chatting with friends. I felt so envious. As an empty nester it can be a reality. In fact, any new routine can be a reality and that can be exciting.
As we move into the next stage of life, the years ahead can be time for introspection and fulfillment. Enjoy your empty nest!