6 Ways to Thrive Through an Empty Nest

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The day my first-born got his driver’s license and pulled out of the driveway alone with my two younger daughters in tow, tears streamed down my face. One or two lone tears gently flowed down my face, but one or two quickly turned into a river, as I peered out the window.  “This is it. This is the beginning of the end.” Even then, with my son only sixteen, I was keenly aware that he would soon be leaving the nest and my daughter, only seventeen months his junior, would be following quickly behind. It was in that moment that I realized that I would somehow have to learn to live without my children in my home. I got pregnant with that son at only seventeen years old, and the thought did not escape me that I had never actually been an adult without him. I had never lived without the day-to-day demands of motherhood on my task list. And yet, that morning I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before my daily motherhood duties would be in the rearview. 

If you think that the day he got his driver’s license was bad, then you should have seen me the day I dropped him off at college. The summer before, I had spent more than an awkward amount of time with tears and doom, as I anticipated the fateful move. It was coming. He was leaving. The day we loaded his small fridge, tv, and bedding into the SUV and drove him to campus, I thought it would kill me. I smiled and took the obligatory dorm room photos with mom and son, as I hugged him and told him to “make wise choices”, but when I pulled away from that parking lot, tears flowed like a river and it easily took six months for me to get used to the new normal.  And then, my daughter left only a few months after that!  

As I have embarked upon the journey of moving toward empty nest, I don’t mind telling you that I have probably not had the smoothest of transitions. I enabled my young adult children in those early years. I nagged. I attempted to control (which, good luck with that, if you try it!)  I didn’t edge into my next season with grace, so beware! The wisdom I offer over the next few moments is peppered with the air of skinned knees and bloodied noses, as I fumbled around with the right way to become something other than mom. Here’s what I learned: 

  1. Rediscover your dreams // What did you want to be when you were little? What did you dream of doing to change the world? How did you think you may make your mark on the world? God put dreams inside you that may have laid dormant in the last season, but perhaps could flourish in your new one. Begin to pray about what God would have you to do next. Is He calling you to start a ministry at your church? Teach a Sunday school class or Bible study? Start a new business?  

  2. Relinquish guilt // Your young adult children will make mistakes. They have the nerve to have their own personalities and ideas! They will disappoint you with some choices they’ll make. Relinquish yourself from the guilt that it must somehow be a reflection of your poor parenting. We have an excellent Heavenly Father who parents perfectly and we still stray like sheep. Your young adults will fall off the proverbial wagon. Don’t allow it to immobilize you.   

  3. Rediscover who you are // Many of us have answered to the role of mom or dad for so long that we can barely remember who we were before that. And while you are indeed still a mom or dad, you are also a warrior and skier and dancer and teacher and sibling and employee and friend. You have many hats. And it’s likely that in the midst of your hairiest parenting years, you may have had some of your other gifts, skills, talents, and relationships to fall along the wayside. Pick up the old joys of yesteryear and learn who you are again. Who are you? It’s likely a question that you haven’t considered in some time and frankly, one that may take some time to discover the answer to. 

  4. Find a hobby // What do you enjoy doing? What new skill might you want to learn?  Photography? Dancing? Music lessons? Running? Gardening? Pottery? Baking? Serving others at a local food bank? Find new ways to enjoy life. And take it a step further to find new ways to serve others who may need a helping hand.  

  5. Slow down // Take a moment to smell the roses. Stop at the roadside visitor’s bureau. Tour the museum. Take the wandering road trip. If your last few years were anything like mine, they were filled with basketball, baseball, football, track, swimming, volleyball, dances, and just about any other kids’ activity you can imagine. My days were spent as chauffeur and my nights spent as short-order cook and housekeeper. Maybe the next season for you includes sitting at the coffee table a little longer or taking some time to read the book you never got around to. It’s okay to slow down for a bit and embrace your new season.  

  6. Grieve // It’s okay to not be okay for a little while. It’s okay to take some time to mourn the loss of the old season. Yes, it’s exciting for the kids to be moving into their adult years and finding spouses and graduating college and landing new jobs. It’s exciting that your role is complete in “raising them up in the way they should go,” but it can also be hard for parents to let go and adjust to the day-to-day without children in the home. There is a time for everything under the sun, including mourning. Grieve. If you don’t, it may prevent you from moving on in a healthy way. It won’t be long before you’ll move right into your season of dancing again.   

Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others. 

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