"Empty Nest" can be a "Happy Place," but Prepare Early

"Empty Nest" can be a "Happy Place," but Prepare Early

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

The empty nest can be just what it says, a dreaded event filled with emptiness and boredom, or it can be an exciting time of new beginnings. You can renew old friendships, hobbies and interests. You can create new directions for a creative life.

If you want a more enriching, productive and creative post empty-nest life, you have to plan ahead and act early. Start working on it when your last child is ready to graduate from elementary school.

All of us want our children to strike out on their own. We work hard to get them there. But, when the young "birds" leave the nest, we are shocked at how painful the first few months (or years) can be.

Here are a few tongue-in-cheek signs of the empty nest syndrome: "When parents can't stand their child's room all neat and clean and the bed tidy and made up; they would give anything to have the child's room messy as before; they miss that loud music that used to irritate them; they miss their child's friends whom they had earlier fantasized about being relocated or abducted.

In a more serious vein, empty nesters have a greater opportunity to reach out to others than they ever had in the pre-empty nest days. They can reach out and fill that empty nest with compassion and love for others. I like this concept: the nest may be empty but the heart is full of wonderful feelings. Jeanette and Robert Lauer, authors of How to Survive and Thrive in an Empty Nest write about a wonderful experience that a young co-worker of theirs once had. Here is an abbreviated version of that story:

A young man was "near the end of his rope" when a frail and humped over old man stopped him on a street corner and asked for his help in crossing the street. The young man, burdened with his own problems, somewhat reluctantly took the old man's arm and led him across the street. When they got to the other side, the old man, with a broad smile, asked the young man if he was feeling better. The young man first taken aback by the question, pondered it and realized that he indeed had begun to feel a little better.

To continue with the story, the old man chuckled and said to the young man, "I am not as helpless as I look. But I told myself that here is a young man who needs to help someone who is worse off than he is." The old man then proudly proceeded to walk unaided down the street. As the young man stood there, he realized that he had thought about nothing but himself in the last several weeks.

You never know who is being helped more, the helper or the helped. It's not important to know. What is important to know is that reaching out and helping others can help empty nesters as well.

Empty nest is a transition to a new mode of life. While raising children, building careers, and taking care of family needs, marriage often gets out of focus. After the children leave, there are no schedules to be coordinated and no school reports and homework to be discussed. Some parents don't know how to connect with their partners without children in the middle. They slide into their own secluded corners.

Many empty nesters have a different outcome. When their children leave, many couples rediscover each other and experience the thrill of a second wind in their marriage. The "second honeymoon" without the interruption of children allows them to devote themselves entirely to each other.

Some begin to enjoy the privacy, the silence and the calm and peace of their empty nest. They feel relieved that they don't have to race against time and follow a tight structure dictated by children's schedules. They begin to appreciate less structure, greater flexibility and reduced time pressure. The span of their universe widens with greater social and spiritual commitment.

Empty nest is not the boogey bear as it is made out to be. It is however a challenging process. The process has three phases: 1. Mourning of the loss 2. Grief work and recovery 3. Renewal and reintegration.

As children leave home, empty nesters grieve over the loss of active parenting and care giving. They miss the routine and structure of life when kids lived under their roof. They work through their grief and learn to cope with the void that is created by the absence of their children. They go on to rekindle old passions. They create new interests, relationships and goals. The post empty nest period can become the most creative and productive time of life integrating family life and personal passions.

So, there is life before the empty nest and there is life after. Life after can be as exciting, if not more so than the one before.

E-mail a link to this article to a friend. 

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor