I remember having dinner with a group of friends a few years ago and hearing my friend Liz talk about preparing for her upcoming “empty nest.” I thought to myself, “That seems so far away. I’m glad that’s not happening to me.” But, if you’re like me and your kid has recently flown free – you know how quickly this whole thing comes about! It’s like – BAM! It happens that fast.
Maybe we’re never prepared because we have no time to prepare! It seems we go from full-throttle parenting right to “Poof!” Then, it’s suddenly time to adjust to a new normal.
The life of a mom and child has an energy of its own. And although this energy remains in your being, it shifts when your child isn’t living at home.
I had an accelerated experience with empty nest living. A few years ago, my then 16-year-old daughter moved away (actually far away to Saskatchewan, Canada) to live with her dad for the last two years of high school. Her decision to move in with her dad (whom she’d never lived with full time) was a big decision. But, it was the right one (more on that later).
Of course, I felt wholly unprepared for her to move out. But, I can say, the lead-up and preparation for an “empty nest” was the hardest part.
And, believe it or not, incredible things came from this time apart. We both learned a lot – and we grew closer. The tensions that were brewing were gone. During this time apart our relationship flourished and became new in many ways.
Looking back, what helped me the most was reframing the experience in a positive way. I want to share some of these reframes, tools, and strategies that helped. Let’s get started:
1. Take a moment to pause and reflect on your path. Connect again with who you are.
Sometimes, as mothers, it feels like we become someone else. Maybe we become more like our own mothers, or we emulate moms that we admire. Our center of gravity shifts so much in welcoming a child into this world that it’s impossible for us not to feel it. In many ways, this is wonderful! But it’s interesting and healthy to reflect on “Who was I before?”
How do you even describe the transition of becoming of mother?
I like to think of it as growing another chamber of your heart. It’s as if your heart expands – literally. You willingly and full-heartedly give every ounce of energy – spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical – to this perfectly wondrous child that’s blessed your life.
Thankfully, the transition to becoming a mother with an empty nest is minor in comparison.
In fact, there’s now time to revisit some of the things you once loved but willingly and lovingly set aside to participate in parenting.
Maybe there was a version of you when you were younger that you sometimes miss? Feeling this way is a beautiful thing – because you have the chance to explore more of that part of you but with a softer, more open, and loving heart.
Rather than focusing on all of the ways your life will change with kids out of the house, you can think of the endless blessings of motherhood – while easing back into a life where there is more time for yourself. And that can be wildly fun!
On that note-
2. Write a list of all of the things you’d like to explore.
Take time on one of your leisurely Saturday afternoons to write down some of the things you’d love to do – and never thought you’d have time for (you’ve been so busy raising kids – and now mentally preparing for an empty nest!).
Some ideas might include: learning a new language, devoting more time to fitness, renovating your home, create a new studio, explore various creative outlets, reading the classics, take cooking classes, and the list goes on.
Jot down a list of places you’d like to visit – local and far away. Hang it up in your new studio.
Allow yourself the freedom to explore. You’ve done so much and you deserve it!
3. Widen your social circle and deepen your relationships.
We all know that parenting takes up the lion’s share of our time and attention – 24/7. So now that your child is spreading her wings- what can you do?
Do you enjoy entertaining? Now is the time to schedule events on the calendar – even one or two per month. Start planning now!
Make plans to catch up with friends over dinner. Then, organize a weekend trip with that old group of high school friends. Think of all the fun you will have! Plan a trip away, or even spend a weekend day rediscovering your hometown with your closest friends.
Now you can spend more time with your partner and get to know each other in new ways. Order in, watch movies, go for early morning walks, and build brand new routines together. Maybe you can even discover a new hobby together. There’s so much so you can do!
The richness and fulfillment that comes from relationships can soften the transition to an empty nest. These friends can become your tribe – and you can share lifelong experiences together.
4. Celebrate connecting to your adult child in a new way.
Enjoy this exciting time. You’re witnessing a brand new beginning for your teen.
We know that parenting never really ends. Having your child become an adult welcomes a deepened relationship in many ways.
Thinking of parenting and motherhood through a spiritual lens, you share a partnership with your kids. They are thriving, learning, and growing right alongside you. Now they’re stepping forward in a new way – and it’s exciting, new, and a bit scary for everyone.
But, you get to watch and see what happens next. It’s incredible having a front-row seat to the unfolding of the next stages that lie ahead for her.
So much growth and maturing occur during this time, too. Moving out of the house encourages your child to appreciate you in a new light. The angst and drama that precluded the separation are over. Now, you can truly enjoy and appreciate one another.
Your relationship can grow and flourish in a brand new way.
5. Practice the art of acceptance. Seeing this time as part of a master plan – an unfolding and an unveiling.
It’s often our ego, and fear, that has us thinking negatively about this time. But if you look at it another way – this is the time for a grand celebration. You’ve both come to this milestone together.
Sometimes you may hear your inner voice saying, “This is so sad. All of this will be so hard. I’m going to be so lonely.” Now’s the time to stop and question – where is this voice is coming from?
Is this something family members have said – and now you’ve adopted into your thinking? Is it a cultural norm? Have others made the idea of preparing for an empty nest seem absolutely dreadful?
Remember, it’s not completely true. Yes, it’s bittersweet. And you will feel waves of nostalgia at times when you least expect them. And you will miss your teen! But you’ve experienced the richness and fulfillment of these precious years, and there are many, many more ahead! It seems like they’re moving out and moving on – but they do come home! Sometimes, you may even see them more during college with the long winter and summer breaks.
Also, remember that deep down you want this for your child. You want to see them thrive!
For tips on moving forward with more acceptance, see my take on Verse One of the Tao Te Ching.
6. See that you’re embarking on a new path of growth and discovery, too.
If you think of it as a continuum, we all never stop growing and evolving. We’re always learning and discovering more about who we’re here to be and what contribution we’re here to make.
In this way, we’re launching into parallel growth with our kids. In tandem, we’re all going to learn more about ourselves. Life is about to get very exciting!
Yes, while preparing for an empty nest we may feel nervousness and even sadness. It’s a lot to process. But sitting with these feelings is healthy. And it’s part of our growth.
But we can choose to embrace those feelings in an empowering way. We’ve experienced so much life! And yet, we’re just getting started.
It’s a great time to model for your child a healthy, happy woman who is full of hope and enthusiasm – and is willing to reach for the most positive thoughts and outcomes.
For fun, you can even create an idea of this woman in your mind. For me, it’s a woman I saw one day walking the streets of Paris. She was self-possessed with great style (that’s another story for another day, lol!).
But, more than style, it was her energy that I remember most. She radiated a sense of self-love that comes hard-earned. Life experiences, including the love, loss, changes, etc. that make each person’s life unique shape us into the exquisite one-of-a-kind women that we become.
This is our time to enjoy all life has to offer! There are so many more chapters ahead in this book. And the relationship with your grown child is about to grow in even more meaningful ways than you can imagine. There is so much to look forward to.
A bit more to consider:
Are there specific goals you’d like to achieve? See this list of strategies and steps for self-improvement here.
And have you ever connected with your inner wise woman? She might have some thoughts to help you navigate this unchartered path.
I hope you found this story to be helpful and inspiring! Please forward to anyone you know who might benefit from reading it today :-)
(This piece was originally published on June 10, 2021 and has been updated for increased thoroughness and republished.)