Empty Nesting: Life After Flight
EMPTY NESTING: LIFE AFTER FLIGHT
It was 2013 that the life of a single mom since the age of 17 would change and face unknown territory.
I had watched my 20 year old daughter get married to her soul mate in May, a week later I saw her graduate college, a week after that I celebrated her turning 21 and then another week later I rejoiced as she closed on her first home. (Yes, four major life events in four short weeks for my little girl). I had spent my entire adulthood training, disciplining, rewarding, nourishing, and molding this beautiful young woman to fly the coop. A stable and responsible child released into this wild world to make her own mark as an adult. I had done my job and I had done it WELL. I felt accomplished.
Then I felt alone.
I was an empty nester at the ripe age of 38. As my friends were going to little league sporting events, changing newborn diapers, planning playdates with other parents, I was just hoping that my daughter wouldn't make me a grandmother before the age of 40. For the first time in my life, I was by myself. No one to have coffee with in the mornings, no one to talk to when I came home, and no one sitting next to me on the couch watching Food Network. It took me weeks to go upstairs to her area to turn off the A/C unit and shut the doors to save on electricity. The house I had built was empty, lifeless and too big for one person.
So Universe, what now?
The answer to that question changes each day but so far....
In 2014, I did some math on how long I was sitting in traffic each year due to my work commute and the result equaled 32 days. So, I sold my home in the only county I had ever lived and moved within 15 minutes of my job in Nashville; reducing my road rage, my blood pressure, and stress. I took back those 32 days and kicked traffic's ass to the curb. In 2015, I bought a kayak and discovered how much I enjoyed owning something that took me on new adventures. I also took my first ever solo road trip that year which lead to five more in the last three years. In 2016, on one of my driving adventures, I found an 8 week old puppy who has become an incredible companion. In 2017, I took an 18 day road trip covering 6100 miles across 15 states with just my dog and a tent. In March 2018, (age 43) I became a grandmother.
I have marked off 34 bucket list items. I've met new friends. I've discovered that I enjoy painting, photography, and crocheting and I'm not half bad at any of them. I've had heartbreaks, I've had moments that dreams are jealous of, but most importantly, I have discovered more about myself in the last five years that I never knew existed.
There are still moments that I feel alone. It's not all sunshine and rainbows in my world. But I know that empty nesting should be celebrated and embraced. I love being a mom and during those years she was at home, I loved my life revolving around hers. Now though, my life is different in a good way. I have learned that when one role in your life is completed, it doesn't mean it's the end, it just evolves into the next chapter and you have to make the most of the stage you are in!
My daughter and I are close... maybe even closer now because the parent role has turned into a friendship with some mentoring on both sides. We go to lunch or dinner and I see her on the weekends. We also spend time talking on the phone about what's going on in our lives, so that hasn't completely gone away. She loves hearing about my empty nesting adventures and I love hearing about her marital and newly motherhood ones.
So as a young empty nester I will leave you with a few suggestions that really helped me cope with my new status in the world:
1) Allow your children to lead in the beginning: I didn't suffocate my daughter after she left, I would check in from time to time. I let her spread her wings into independence by being there if she needed me but also allowing her to figure it out. I think this strengthened the bond we had by letting her know I had faith in her to make the right decisions. (I mean, come on, I did raise her right after all!)
2) Make plans or new traditions: Every since I can remember, I would take my daughter on dates to nice restaurants, a movie, or just out for ice cream. This didn't change when she moved out but it did become less frequent and more intentional. We kept our rule of no cell phones, we have mom/daughter time, we go on outings and I take her to the newest and trendiest restaurants that Nashville has to offer.
3) Reconnect with old friends and/or make new ones: One of the most difficult things for me was having friends in different stages of life. I still keep in touch with those long lasting friendships, but I also made new friends who share some interests and that are at a point where they have time to enjoy things outside of their families.
4) Tap into your own hobbies: As parents we sometimes neglect our own desires in order to fulfill those of our children. It's hard to reprogram ourselves to be selfish. And no that's not a bad thing, it's a wonderful thing to discover what you enjoy and start new hobbies.
5) Love yourself: This is a no brainer. If you are single like me, you will spend a majority of your time alone and I'd rather spend time with someone I love... so I learn to love myself more each day.
I'd like to hear of other coping mechanisms that people have found through empty nesting. I am no expert on the subject but I've been surviving for the last five years... actually more than surviving, I'm THRIVING. But I can always use more pointers!