What to Do When the Nest Becomes Empty

PHOTOPlayHeidi Gutman/ABC
WATCH Advice Guru Finalist: Cooper Boone on 'GMA'

When my big sister watched her last child go off to college, a giant void suddenly appeared in her life. With it came deep sadness, and a loneliness she had never known and no idea what she was supposed to do with this new freedom.

Of course she knew about the empty nest syndrome. She knew it would be hard. And in some ways, she thought she had been preparing for this one moment from the day her children were born. But how do you know what something really feels like when you've never touched it?

Like most mothers in America, my sister took on the tasks of caring for a family with unimaginable commitment, drive and humility. Does this sound like your job description? Chauffeur, maid, chef, summer tour guide, winter tour guide, soccer mom, volleyball mom, swimming mom, PTA mom, nurse, tutor, travel agent, best friend, guidance counselor, confidant.

It's safe to say most moms work 80-hour weeks, and have no idea how much they'll miss the long hours, lack of pay and endless needs until it's over.

Even if you've done your job well, you'll lose the job for no other reason than the passage of time. The day your last child leaves home is the official pink slip for this particular role. But it's as simple as this if you want it to be: a change in perspective. You'll always be a mom. This will always be your children's home. But there's room now for you to turn the attention inward. That's a scary thought for a lot of women who have spent decades caring for everyone else but themselves!

So honor what you've lost - and then look at the unlimited opportunities for gain! Your role in the community is changing along with your role at home. One day you're the mom of the soccer player-cheerleader-artist and connecting with other parents around your children...and the next day you're not. But at the very heart of an empty nester is loss of self-identity.

So much of your self-worth has been invested in raising your children that when the house is quiet and you're actually finishing that morning cup of coffee, the bigger questions start to grind away in your mind: "How do I fill my time?," "Who am I supposed to be now?," and "Will this sadness ever end?"

Yes. It will. But it will take time.

It's likely that no matter how well you prepare yourself for this rite of passage, you will experience feelings of loss. First know that you are not alone! Many of the 76 million baby boomers out there are fast becoming empty nesters. That means there are a lot of folks who share this experience and are looking for the same answers, solace and most of all, the camaraderie that you are.

Dealing With an Empty Nest

"The Happy Empty Nest: Rediscovering Love and Success After Your Kids Leave Home" is a book I want you to buy. And if you're looking at an empty nest in the near future, get this book now. It will help you plan for this next phase of your life.

And plan you must! This is the time for you to take an active role in your life! You know the kind of energy, focus and commitment you gave to taking care of your children? Shift it to you.

Start slow, but start with something! If you haven't gotten a job while your kids are in school - then it's time to ... even if it's not a paying job. If you absolutely love being around kids, then volunteer with them. Host reading hours at your local library; work for non-profits that benefit children; become a Scout leader.

Create a plan of action that will fill in the time you used to spend on your children. Small acts of change can reap huge results. Reconnect with old friends; take a class in something you really love; join a knitting / reading / cooking club; audition for a community play; plan a vacation with your husband or friends; realize a buried dream. The possibilities for your energized life are endless and it all starts with one small change ... that will lead to another, and then another.

Part of this new you will be your relationship with your children. They need to know that you're okay and that you're actually happy for their new journey. Take joy in what they're accomplishing on their own. And if they can fly the coop and not look back, that means you've done a good job. Your kids are going to witness a new and expanded version of how they see you as you venture out into this exciting and amazing time of your life!

Take care of you and your nest is never empty!

Be well. Dr. Coop

Comments