The Kids are Gone, Now What?

How to Navigate the Empty Nest Years

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you
have taught them to do for themselves that will make them
successful human beings.”
– Ann Landers

My friend, Coleen, said it best. When we both had three kids under age six, she told me, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Both turned out to be true. When your days are filled with diapers and temper tantrums followed by field trips and school projects, and eventually driving lessons and college resumes, it’s hard to imagine there will ever be a time when your time is your own. Then suddenly, it is.

My husband and I are two years into our empty nest adventure and just finding the sweet spot. But we didn’t get there without some blue days, wondering who we’re supposed to be now the kids are gone. Some things on our path toward becoming empty nesters we did well, and some we could have done better.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

I’m pretty sure I started crying in August of our youngest child’s senior year and didn’t stop until his second semester of college. And that’s okay. One of the best seasons of life was ending, and it deserved a mourning period. I still have moments now, like this month, when he accepted an assistantship in California, but I think giving myself permission to grieve helped.

Find Fulfilling Hobbies

This is one area where I scored a solid B+. About five years before our last one left the nest, I started building a small hobby farm. I began with a half dozen chickens, planted an assortment of fruit trees, and planted a vegetable garden. I got a couple of beehives and started teaching myself to can, forage, and concoct herbal remedies. Your hobbies might look different but finding something that excites and engages you gives you a reason to get up each day while keeping your mind sharp.

Don’t Stop Dating Your Partner

We didn’t do quite as well at this, but we’re making up for lost time now. There’s a reason you chose the partner you did, and the empty nest years are a great time to rediscover why. Look for ways to pamper each other as you did in your newlywed days. Plan trips and adventures together. You’ve earned it.

Invest in Friendships

I have some fantastic friends and plenty of time to reconnect with them now. Join a Bible study. Start a book club. Plan some girlfriend trips. Take a pottery class with a buddy. Volunteer together. Host a good old-fashioned dinner party. If you’re blessed to have a sibling, spend quality time with them.

Expand Your Culinary Skills

Your picky eaters are gone. Have fun learning new skills in the kitchen. Buy a new cookbook and cook your way from cover to cover. I like to have my husband rate each recipe from one to ten. Then I can go back and only cook his favorites.

There is life after the kids leave home, and one of the best things about this stage of life is those amazing people you’ve raised. Make no mistake, they still need you. It’s just on a different level now. 

Declutter, Declutter, Declutter

As a mom, it’s easy to become a packrat, hoarding all your favorite keepsakes. But decluttering the house now is a great way to unclutter your mind and soul and step into this new chapter on the right foot. Here’s how to pull it off.

  1. Select an area you’ll declutter first, perhaps one of the kids’ rooms.
  2. Start with two bags or boxes — one for trash and one to donate.
  3. Remove everything from the space (ala Marie Kondo).
  4. Allocate each item to keep, donate, or toss.
  5. If it helps, you can have a “maybe” pile, but only for a short time.
  6. Return the “keeps” to the space, toss the trash, and give yourself a deadline for getting the donations to the thrift store.

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