It’s that time of year when summer is winding down and the flurry of back-to-school shopping is in full swing. It’s also the time many women have been dreading as they face the empty nest. They’ve thought about it for years, but now that it’s actually arrived, they are crushed. How did this happen? How will my baby survive without me? What am I going to do now?
I’ve heard far too many times “I have no purpose in life anymore,” to which I quickly respond, I know just how you feel. I was a stay-at-home mom for 24 years, pouring myself into being a super-wife, super-mom, super-volunteer and occasionally, serving in part-time ministry work at my church. I rose through the schools from the PTA to the board room, serving nine years as a school board trustee and four years as president. My “work” was not traditional, but I was passionate about what I did every place I served.
When my youngest left for college, I resigned my position on the school board. That’s when my identity seemed to fall apart, and I was terrified. Who was I? What would I do with myself? Did I even have anything to offer to the world? Who on earth would hire someone like me? I totally discounted my value. Actually, I thought I had none.
Today, I’m here to tell you that you were created with immense value, and your purpose in life is not to raise children. Through my own experience, deepening faith and training, I know each of us was put here for something bigger than ourselves, with a calling that transcends the seasons of our life.
Raising responsible adults is one of the most important roles you will have, but life doesn’t end with the empty nest. As long as you are breathing, you have purpose.
Take it from someone who has soared out of the empty nest, as a first-time solo-entrepreneur at the age of 53: Excitement begins when you allow yourself to follow the dreams you’ve put on the back burner, or to you create new ones you’d never imagined a few years before.
Here are a few tips to make the new chapter of your life a bit easier.
- Let go. Your young adult is looking forward to independence, to exploring the world and living on his own. Don’t smother him. My daughter had a friend in college whose mother called her several times a day. That poor girl was saddled with her mother’s needs for years. Know that you’ve taught your child well, and there is no need for you to check in daily. Stepping back will allow him to grow, and when your help is needed, he will ask.
- Focus on YOU. You have devoted years to your children. Now it’s time to take care of yourself. Spend time nourishing your mind, body and spirit with a spa day or girlfriend getaway. Take a class, read that stack of books, do something creative. I know you’ve said “when the kids go away, I want to…”
- Rekindle the romance. Chances are you have been so busy raising your children that your love life has been put on the back burner. Make a concerted effort to get to know your husband or significant other all over again. I remember sitting in our living room the first few nights after my son left, looking at my husband and asking, “what do we do now?” We’d not even taken a vacation by ourselves in 25 years. We had a lot of catching up to do.
- Cultivate new friendships. Now is the time for you to choose the friends you want to have in your life. Look around for groups that focus on your interests, filled with women who are interesting and fun. If that seems overwhelming, start small and invite someone to coffee or lunch. Chances are she’s looking for new friends, too, and will be glad you reached out.
- Reinvent yourself. Go forward in eager anticipation of what your future holds. Allow yourself to “dream big and step out on faith.” Set new goals that will stretch you and make you grow. It’s time to do something you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the chance. Are you ready for a career change, or a chance to start your own business or a world-changing non-profit? Go for it. Live with purpose and excitement as you turn your “empty nest” into a rich and fulfilling time to spread your own wings and fly.