Nurturing Your Empty Nest

 By: Anne Uemura, Ph.D.
If you have spent years guiding and preparing your children toward independence you might expect a sense of freedom and accomplishment when they left home. You can acknowledge that some important work is done as your children move onto college, marriage or a life of their own. Yet many "empty nest" parents, mothers especially, are left feeling adrift, abandoned and lonely.

This doesn't have to be the case. By knowing how to deal with the unexpected emotions of the "empty nest" syndrome, you can transform this transition into one of the most meaningful times of your life.

"Empty Nest" Emotions

Empty nesters are likely to feel torn in different directions. While 58% of empty nesters claim they are ready for the kids to fly the coop, those numbers are significantly less for women (55%), than for men (70%).

On the one hand they have more time and freedom to do the things they've wanted before having children. Yet many women who have focused all their time and energies on raising their families may have no idea of what they want now, some 20 or so years later.

Another issue that makes it difficult to sail on a breeze into these years of freedom is that many women are burdened with other challenges. Some face other difficulties such as divorce, moving, menopause, or care of aged parents at the same time the nest is emptying. For example, 40% of empty nesters expect that their children will move back in with them and 30% anticipate having their parent move in with them.

Filling the Empty Nest

Whatever situation accompanies your "empty nest" experience there are steps you can take to make this transition easier and life enhancing. First, look at this change for its tremendous opportunities. Many women have chosen to concentrate on their work and have explored new careers. Others who have dealt with divorce and empty nest simultaneously have been stopped in their tracks-long enough to explore their own wants, needs, and desires for the first time ever.

After dealing with this transition, women at this age generally report feeling more confident than in their younger years. By embracing this opportunity to pay attention to your own financial, physical, emotional and professional needs, the empty nest stage could lead to the most fulfilling stage of your life.

The Empty Nest: A Time to Turn Inward

A great place to start on this new journey is to learn to listen to your body. If you are experiencing signs of menopause or perimenopause this is your body's way of telling you to take care of you. What changes must you make in areas like nutrition, fitness and stress management?

Another important focus is to learning to listen to your heart. For years, you as a woman, have been taught that it is selfish to take care of or focus on you. Since women tend to be nurturers by nature it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing all your energy on those you love.

It's time to heed this lesson: by neglecting your own physical, spiritual and emotional needs you limit your ability to be there for anyone. Do you remember the fatigue and irritability brought on by running yourself ragged for your family? Now is the time to treat your self as well as you treated them.

Your emotions may be up and down due to lack of direction, loss of routine, hormonal changes or other life events. Here are other suggestions to help you get the most out of your empty nest experience.

Listen to your emotions so you will know what you need and want. For this you may need to commit to spending time alone and writing in a journal.

Experiment with new experiences so you can learn more about yourself. For example, try yoga and meditation to help lower your stress, improve your sleep and enjoy peaceful moments with your self.

Find opportunities to learn how to make the best transition possible by reading, studying materials on changes and personal development. Be more prepared for the rest of your life by learning from the wisdom of others.

Take control of your finances. If this has always eluded you or been your husband's job, now is the time to harness your energy and learn a new competence. Start with books or classes as needed.

Try a new hobby or class. This is the prime time to discover hidden talents and explore interests.

Find meaningful work. Many empty nesters find this is the best time to start a brand new career.

Midlife is an exciting and pivotal stage in your life. Accept that you may have some raw or confused emotions and that this is normal. If you experience symptoms of depression and your sadness doesn't go away you should consult a professional. Otherwise, recognize that your empty nest may be one of the greatest gifts your children can offer you.
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