By Lucia Tedesco
Picture this: your kids are all grown up and have flown the coop. You’re standing in your empty house, wondering what to do next. Do you sit in the corner, crying over every memory Facebook throws back at you? Or do you put on your favorite playlist and dance around the house like nobody’s watching?
As someone who recently became an empty-nester, the latter is the way to go (after you clean up your child’s room and bask in the joy of knowing it will stay clean, at least until they come to visit.) I call it “being a free bird” because that’s precisely what you are––free to spread your wings and fly wherever you want.
But let’s be honest—not everyone feels this way. Many people encounter “Empty Nest Syndrome,” “the sad feeling a parent experiences when their children grow up and leave home.” It can lead to depression, marital stress, identity crises, and alcoholism. Yikes! But it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, how do you become a free bird?
Here are my top 10 tips:
- Congratulate yourself—you did it! You have successfully helped your children become confident adults, and they are now ready to move on.
- Be positive: It’s like being twenty but with money! Sure, your kids may be gone, but now you have the time and money to do all the things you couldn’t do before. Embrace the change and look at it as an opportunity for growth.
- Focus on you! After years and years of focusing most of your energy on your kids’ needs, now is the time to prioritize self-care. Work out, eat healthy, and take classes. Or don’t—enjoy being lazy; you have earned it.
- Reconnect with your spouse. You both have successfully navigated through exhausting nights, demanding routines, juggling carpool duties, dealing with endless tantrums, and surviving the tumultuous teenage years! Can you return to being the couple you were before all these experiences? Perhaps, or maybe not. You are both different now and may have to discover the new “us.” Regardless—the best is yet to come.
- Set goals: Whether saving up for a big trip or learning a new skill, having a goal to work towards can help give you purpose.
- Rediscover a passion you put on hold. Did you used to love reading but struggled to finish a chapter because every time you picked up a book, one of your children needed you right at that moment? Well, now’s the time to load your Kindle or buy a crisp new book and read to your heart’s content.
- Plan fun weekend activities, getaways, and travel. All those weekends you spent sitting on a gym seat watching your child play basketball, driving four hours to an all-day soccer tournament, or, in my case, at a pool in the middle of nowhere watching your child play water polo? Well, now you can go and do whatever you want.
- Catch up with friends. Those people you used to hang out with before you had kids? Yeah, they’re still out here. Give them a call and start making plans to reconnect. Or, reach out to some of those acquaintances you have met over the years, and make a new friend, it is never too late.
- Declutter your home. Make your space your own. Get rid of all your kids’ things they no longer want or need. Who knows, you may even find some treasures you forgot you had. And isn’t the hardwood floor in their room beautiful now that you can see it?
- Join the parents’ group at your child’s college. It’s a great way to stay connected with other parents going through the same thing and being “in the know” with everything happening on campus. And most importantly, you can visit your kid because you happen to be there for a meeting, though they might have to squeeze you in between their club meeting and studying.
Remember, just because your kids have left the nest doesn’t mean parenting is over. They come back. Or they move to London. Either way, relish the time you have on your own and with others while you enjoy watching them soar.
Embrace your freedom, try new things, and enjoy being a “free bird.” You just might discover a new passion or two. And yourself.
Lucia Tedesco is an obsessive knitter, avid reader, amateur runner with a passion for political activism and social justice. Born and raised in Roma, she moved to Silicon Valley twenty years ago for “just two years” and made this country her second home. A statistician by training, she has twenty years of experience in fundraising and donor relations. She firmly believes that almost everything in life can be solved with a good spreadsheet or a well-designed database.
Throughout the “Sandwich Years” section of this blog, we will provide you support for launching children into adulthood while caring for aging parents.