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How to Bounce Back From Empty Nest Syndrome

When I was choosing the topic I wanted to share, I chose mental health and I would like to focus on Empty Nest Syndrome which has had a big impact on my life.  The past few years have been difficult ones for me.  I am a creature of habit and don’t like change very much.   First, a little about me.  I’m 59 years old.  I am the mother of one son and have been married for 35 years.  I live in the mountains outside of Frederick, MD in a log cabin on a 5-acre wooded lot that is my sanctuary.  I love reading, music and spending time on my porch watching the hummingbirds, songbirds, deer, bears, raccoons and any other critters that happen to grace me with their presence.  I would rather be alone than in a large crowd but enjoy spending time with close friends having dinner and maybe splurging on a movie (if there is a good one showing).  The days of loud, crowded outings no longer appeal to me. I find myself to be the meat in the generation sandwich; guiding my son and his family, while also helping my parents to continue to live independently as they age. I have a 2 hour commute to work 4 days a week. This is in addition to keeping my now Empty Nest tidy and functioning.

I’m not sure there were ever better words to describe a condition than “Empty Nest Syndrome.”  A few years ago, my son and his wife moved to Pennsylvania and now have a brand-new baby, my first grandchild. It’s a 3 ½ hour drive from my home.They both have good jobs, a beautiful home and are prospering. What more could a “good” mom ask for?  This was not my first experience with an empty nest.  When my son moved to California after he graduated from college, promising he would be back, I holed up in my house for an entire weekend, listened to Jason Mraz’s “93 Million Miles” about a hundred times, cleaned my house from stem to stern and cried and cried.  It helped. I’m a big fan of the shower cry.  You know, when no one can hear you and you can let the water wash over you so your eyes don’t look as puffy or red. I believe crying can be as healthy as laughing.  Stuffing it down or pretending it isn’t there will only force it to manifest in some other way.  When I complain about how far away my family is, friends and family offer comfort by saying “but at least it’s not California.” And, you know what?  They’re right!  But, as a mom and now grandmother, 3 ½ hours seems as far away as California; it’s not, but it feels like it.  It pains me that I can’t drop off dinner, that I can’t babysit my new granddaughter when needed, I can’t invite them over for an impromptu meal. When I say pain, it is a physical pain in my body.  But I know it’s a reality that I must accept, knowing I can’t do a shower cry every single day! It has taken me years to find ways to deal with the loneliness that comes with this new reality and I most certainly haven’t perfected it.  To copy a section from Oprah’s magazine “What I Know for Sure”, I know for sure that it’s solely up to me what I make of my new reality.  It’s all about my choices.  I can make the choice to sit and wallow in my loneliness or I can accept it and make the best of it.  But, it’s not easy.  I want to offer some suggestions that have helped me.

When your nest becomes empty, I would like to suggest going back to your past.  Since your brain still feels young even if your body doesn’t, find the joys that you had before life got busy and hectic.  It will be different for everyone.  But I think everyone has something – something they loved to do.  Get it out – dust it off.  Set your expectations low – just get started.  See where it goes.  And if it goes nowhere – try something else.  Or, if you can’t find something from your past – choose something you always wanted to do.

When I was raising my family, I didn’t have the time or money to indulge in my hobbies.  I always loved to cross stitch, but never had the time when I was sitting at baseball games, soccer games, school events and working full time.  I have now picked up my cross stitching again.  It’s not as easy because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but I invested in magnifiers and bright lights and found a comfortable place in my house that I can set up all that I need to enjoy my craft again – I LOVE IT!!!!  Now, I don’t focus on hurrying up to finish a project.  I take my time and just enjoy the feeling of creativity.  Sunday has become putting dinner in the crock pot, getting into some comfortable clothes and settling into my newly functional space for a leisurely afternoon of cross stitching and catching up on the TV shows I can’t stay awake to watch during the week.  Oh, and by the way, that new little granddaughter that is so far away?  Sunday afternoon is a FaceTime session where Coco (that’s me) reads her a story.

I also used to draw, but never had the time when I was a full-time mother.  Now, I have invested in new art supplies and I am rediscovering a talent I never had much time to pursue.  I hadn’t picked up any pastels or drawing pencils in over 40 years, but it came back to me very quickly.  I’ll never make a living out of it – but every time I do something creative, my technique is a bit better and there is no pressure – it’s just what I get out of it.  This is the time I put on some good music and get lost in music and art for hours.

I have also discovered 2 wonderful tools utilizing my electronic devices; podcasts and meditation. Since society pretty much dictates that we have these devices – I think they should be put to better use than toxic social media and being exposed to all the negativity and ugliness that has become the norm.  If you haven’t ventured into the world of podcasts, you absolutely don’t know what you’re missing.  There are unlimited choices and the best part – most are FREE!  I have turned that 2-hour commute where I am a captive in my car into an opportunity to learn and laugh. I am a fan of long format talk shows, true crime series and discussions about history.

I started doing free 10 minute guided meditations found on YouTube after my morning coffee.  They offer a chance to just be still and breathe and start my day in a positive, relaxed frame of mind.  Contrary to what you may have heard, there is no right or wrong way to meditate.  It’s just about clearing your mind and allowing your body to completely relax and it gets more beneficial the more you practice it.  A word of advice, if you seek out the guided meditations on YouTube, don’t settle on the first ones you listen to – some of the narrator’s voices are like nails on chalkboard to me – I had to spend some time finding voices that were pleasing to me.  I spent about an hour one night with my headphones on while my husband was watching TV finding the ones I liked and saving them to my YouTube library. Take the time to seek out good ones before you want to use them so you don’t waste valuable time on a session that doesn’t benefit you. Instead of eating lunch at my desk, I put a sun shield up in my car, recline my seat and spend my lunchtime reading.  I set an alarm on my phone so I’m not watching the clock.  Thirty minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but for me it’s enough of a break and gives me that uninterrupted time indulging my love of reading and if I’m lucky I squeeze in a 10 minute power nap.

Women over 50: Don’t allow yourselves to grow old prematurely.  While our bodies may not be what they used to be, our brains are as active and inquisitive as ever.  You no longer need to feel the pressure of putting a 3-course meal on the table every night or always keeping your house clean and sparkly (unless that’s what your joy is). My Sunday crock pot dinners provide leftovers for the better part of the week. I find if I spend a little bit of time before or after work with some light cleaning I no longer have to spend my entire weekend behind the vacuum cleaner with a dust cloth in my pocket.  

I also encourage professional therapy, if you think it will help. I recently discovered that my health insurance provides 5 FREE counseling sessions so I’m going to take advantage of the benefit and I can do them over the phone. Just to clear out some of the mental cobwebs.  

Here are a few more suggestions: 1. Write letters to friends and family who live far away which is so much nicer than an email or text. I look for pretty, blank note cards to use. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a handwritten card in the mail instead of junk mail and bills? 2. Go for a walk or just sit outside. Indulge all your senses with nature. 3. Plan a cup of coffee, dinner or visit with a friend you haven’t had time to see. 4. Make a phone call to an elderly friend or relative who doesn’t use computers. 5. If you have grandchildren, invest in a “grandmother’s journal” to write down everything you want them to know about you and your life. There are many choices on Amazon.

I would like to leave you with one more word of advice: “Kindness, it doesn’t cost a damn thing, sprinkle it everywhere.” Being kind to everyone and having compassion for those in need or less fortunate will benefit you as much as it benefits them…..and it’s FREE!

Thank you for allowing me to give you a small glimpse into my life!  I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you.  Best of luck in finding peace and joy in your empty nest!

Carol from Frederick, MD

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