Last month we moved my youngest child into her dorm room in Alabama and I flew home to California 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 on hold.
So how do I fill up the hours that used to be spent driving my 4 kids to various sports practices, after school activities, tutors, etc? How do I rediscover (or discover for the first time) who I am outside of the definition of someone’s mother? I regularly introduce 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 and now I am left feeling a bit disoriented and definitely unmoored by the transition.
“How do I rediscover (or discover for the first time) who I am outside of the definition of someone’s mother?”
First, I decided to evaluate all the day-to-day decisions and activities that I had always done and accepted out of convenience. There are A LOT of things I do, 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. 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 then buy bottled orange juice, sourcing things from local farmer’s markets and speciality shops because 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.
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. Sometimes I walk them again in the evening since I’m no longer helping anyone with their homework. I’m hoping to add even more activity as time goes on.
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 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.
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 feel like I have a lot of life and professional experience that can benefit some of the organizations I care about, so I am planning to begin volunteering my time as soon as the stay at home orders are lifted.
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 month or so. It’s brought us closer.
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 a self transformation from “mom” to just “me” and 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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