Last year I dropped my youngest child off at college and flew home to an empty nest for the first time in my entire adult life. It’s strange, overly quiet and weirdly clean. My husband who is semi-retired and I had planned to travel extensively once we reached this milestone but with covid, those plans are still on hold a year later.
So how did I fill up the hours that used to be spent driving my 4 kids to various sports practices, after school activities, tutors, etc.? How did I rediscover (or discover for the first time) who I am outside of being someone’s mother? I regularly introduced myself to people as “so and so’s” mom rather than by name. Some habits are hard to break. I had my oldest son at 18 so I have literally been a mom my entire adult life; suddenly, I was left feeling a bit disoriented and definitely unmoored by the transition.
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First, I decided to evaluate all the day to day decisions and activities that I had always done and accepted out of convenience. I did A LOT of things, not because they fall in line with my values or help me meet my goals, but because I always explained I “don’t have time” to do anything differently. I made a lot of compromises to be present for my kids. That includes everything from cooking with processed or prepared foods to not having a solid workout regimen to not volunteering for some of the causes I care about.
Having 4 kids in a span of 7 years makes you rely on convenience. I added up the amount of time I spent driving just my youngest to school and all her activities and it added up to almost three hours a day! Imagine what else I can do with that time now that it’s free time?
Here are the changes I have made so far: I now make a point to cook fresh food and take my time to prepare healthy, balanced meals every day. This even includes juicing my own oranges for breakfast rather than buying bottled orange juice, and sourcing things from local farmer’s markets and specialty shops. Now I have the time to be choosy and I’m not stuck adhering to anyone’s allergies or food preferences other than mine and my husband’s. Since we buy fewer groceries than we did when the house was full of kids, I can take my time sourcing them from local suppliers. I also have become pretty adept at cooking for two and now, instead of rushing to get dinner on the table before we rush off to another practice, I have turned cooking dinner into a slow, enjoyable ritual where I try new recipes, taking my time. I no longer need to adhere to kids’ allergies or preferences so I can be more daring and creative.
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I’m also upping my workouts, increasing my steps per day by taking my two dogs on longer hikes in the morning rather than a cursory walk as well as adding a second evening walk. I bought a Pilates reformer machine and use that along with my trusty Peloton to move every day. I’ve lost weight (although that wasn’t my goal) and my cholesterol has fallen to normal levels after being high the last few years. This week I am starting a yoga practice I’m truly excited about.
I’ve become much more involved in our investments and financial goals, whereas before I left these things to my husband because I was so occupied with the kids. Over the last few years of helping my kids apply to universities and navigate financial aid and cross country moves, I’ve put my own financial future on the back burner. Not anymore – I have my own financial goals now and am being proactive about meeting them. My partner has been all too happy to hand over management of our bills and investments to me and it really makes me feel like I am contributing in a meaningful way to our future goals.
I have always been on the charity circuit, giving monetary donations to my favorite causes and attending their seasonal galas, etc. But now I can actually choose to get involved by volunteering and using my free time to help others. I spent much of my early quarantine time getting certified as a court appointed advocate for foster youth. It had long been a goal of mine and now it’s a reality! I mentor teen girls in the foster program and really enjoy knowing I am a stable presence in their lives (sometimes the only one).
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And finally, my husband and I are experiencing life together without children at home for the first time. When we met, my kids were young and his kids were just leaving the house. We have never been a couple without kids underfoot. So we are discovering each other again and it’s been wonderful. We are sharing our interests and hobbies with each other and taking small getaways when we can. It’s like the honeymoon period we never had. When kids are at home, sometimes it’s all you talk about with your spouse — the logistics or your concerns over their health or behavior. Now we are talking to each other, really talking, and I’ve learned more and more about my partner in the last year. It’s brought us closer.
I’ve realized the kids still need me as much as they always did, just not in a physical “under the same roof” kind of way. But they call me, Snapchat me, and FaceTime me almost daily and I still feel super connected and part of their lives. Our relationship is changing as I go from actively parenting them to being a friend and cheerleader for them.
So while the empty nest period can be daunting and emotionally overwhelming, it’s also a great opportunity to rediscover yourself and your partner. I’m transitioning not just into an empty nest, but also from “mom” to just “me.” While I am so sad and miss my kids, I am also excited for this new chapter.
Are you an empty nester, or will you be one soon? How has that experience been for you? Share with us in the comments!
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