Guest blog by Dr. Kathleen Hall
Author of Alter Your Life: Overbooked? Overworked? Overwhelmed?
Did you know that empty nest syndrome occurs most often in October, well after children have left for college? When the children leave home, parents may feel sadness, loneliness, emptiness, guilt, and uselessness.
Does this situation sound familiar? Waving goodbye to your last child, you begin the long drive home. The reality of your empty nest sets in during the next few weeks. Your decades-old primary role of "mom" or "dad" has been instantly eliminated, creating the most disturbing identity theft of your life. Your life has essentially revolved around your children's busy lives. Now the busy years are over. You have invested so much time with your children that when your last child leaves the nest, you don't know how to deal with a household of two. You look at your partner and wonder who he or she is. At home you mechanically open the refrigerator to prepare dinner and find that it's nearly empty. The years of shopping for the special treats each child enjoyed are over. Now the refrigerator is bare and in your confusion, you don't know what to buy at the grocery store either.
How can you put your life back together and learn to cope with the stress of empty nest syndrome? Ignoring the problem is not the answer. Check out these solutions designed to get you back on track toward the next chapter of your life.
Solution #1 Be proactive not reactive.
Prepare for the feelings before they come. Learn to experience a sense of power and control in your own life. By facing the situation straight on without compromising your feelings, you choose not to avoid the pain, the confusion, and change, but to deal with it in a healthy way. This is a time of adventure, discovery and creativity.
Solution #2 Use loneliness as an opportunity to develop your Self.
Now that the children are gone, there are only two of you in the house. But don't be alarmed! This is how you began this family all those years ago. Make a date with your husband once a week that takes place outside of the house. Play music in the background each day, be creative with your talents and abilities, and find a reason to laugh each day. It only takes five minutes of laughter to improve blood-vessel function!
Studies also show that pet ownership lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, not to mention your health insurance rates! Sharing your new empty nest with a four-footed friend can also ward off depression. Enroll in that cooking class or pottery seminar you always wanted to take. Read the books you have been putting off for years. Enrich your mind by attending a classical music concert or a lecture. What about a career change or volunteer work? You will meet new people that will change your life.
There are countless ways you can develop your Self when your kids leave the nest. Make sure you have a group of friends to support you in this transformation of your life.
Solution #3 Choose crisis or rebirth.
The empty nest period can become a crisis or a glorious time of rebirth. Honest self-evaluation and assessment is the first step on that path toward rebirth. Conduct a simple inventory of your life: mental, physical and spiritual.
· Get a journal and start writing. Answer these questions: What is the state of my mental health? Do I live with anxiety, depression, anger, fear, or shame? Can I improve my mental health by reading, joining a group or seeing a counselor? Get a therapist and enjoy the personal growth.
· Take off your clothes and stand naked before the mirror. What do you see? How do you feel? Do you need to begin a different exercise program or learn more about nutrition? Try something new like Pilates, Tai Chi, or Yoga. Are there medical tests you have been putting off? Are you taking a multi-vitamin, drinking green tea and avoiding unhealthy foods?
· Ask yourself about your spiritual life. Are you regularly experiencing a deep connection with your Source? If not, why not? Have you outgrown your religion or church? Should you learn about other theologies? Are there spiritual practices that you do each day to stay connected?
Solution #4 Create a new marriage for your new life.
Many marriages are frail or fractured at empty nest. During the empty nest phase, the divorce rate rises 16 percent for married parents. The empty nest, however, can be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a true "love nest."
Plan a vacation to someplace you have always wanted to go together. Learn what each of you like and dislike-movies, food, programs, vacation spots, sports, spirituality and religion. Review the home chores, list them all, and make a fresh decision about who will do what in this new marriage. My husband now does the laundry, vacuuming, dishes and has begun cooking! Get to know each other all over again.
With no children in the house, you can play again. Shower together, watch movies on the couch in sexy clothes, wear even less around the house and see what happens. Sex can become the best ever during the empty nest. Have sex in more than just the bedroom!
Solution #5 Live Your Intentional Authentic Life.
The empty nest is an opportunity for you to spend the rest of your days living your intentional authentic life. Your other roles in life have taken a back seat to "your life." Begin an exciting plan for the rest of your life. How long do you both want to work? Where do you want to reside in retirement? Where do you want to travel? What will your financial needs be for both of you? Discover how you can create the rest of your life organized around the purpose you were born-"your authentic life."
Our family of origin is an incredible gift. Families can be the most fertile place for spiritual development, the catalyst for our growth potential. When your children leave the nest, this spiritual process does not have to end. Rather it can serve to create the happiest and richest time of your life. This is your life, and you can choose to plan a new life beyond your wildest dreams. Live intentionally.