Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
– George Bernard Shaw
As first-time college students head off to the dorms this fall, many parents will be finding themselves with space and free time they haven’t had in a long while. Life as an empty nester can be exciting and intimidating at once. If you’re struggling in a home that is suddenly far too tranquil, read on for ways to conquer the quiet.
If you’ve forgotten what life was like before you became focused on parenting and helping your children achieve their dreams, you’re not alone. Whether you’re a self-described helicopter mom or more of a laissez-faire parent, children take up a lot of time and energy. It’s unlikely you are the same person now that you were before you had kids. In fact, you may not even want to revert back to your pre-parenting self.
If you have been making a mental checklist of things you are going to do once the kids are out of the house, now is the time to get to it. On the other hand, if you were too busy living in the now and suddenly you’re at a loss as to who you are without your kids around – consider returning to the activities that brought you joy in your childhood – or whichever period of life gave you that inner glow. Did you play an instrument as a child or love to dance? Sign up for classes or private lessons. Were you an athlete? Join an adult sports team or become a super fan. Do you miss being creative? Or having a variety of social activities? Bring your new self to these favorite parts of your identity.
Of course for many working adults, your career may be your biggest passion. Now that your nights and weekends are your own again, this could be the perfect time for setting new work goals. From returning to school for a higher degree to pursuing an entirely new field, students over age 35 accounted for 17% of all college and graduate students in 2009 and 9% of Americans over 30 attended post-secondary schools in 2022. If school is not for you, new career goals can include vying for a promotion, increasing your client base, or expanding your business. When setting up your next challenge, remember to start with the end in mind. Knowing where you want to end up can help guide you into understanding what the intermittent steps will be.
I’m not saying you should immediately convert your child’s bedroom into a craft beer brewing laboratory, but it’s important to begin making changes to convert your home into a place that is designed for a parent of adult children. What items of your kids are really worth storing as they head off to explore the world, live with roommates, or eventually begin their own families? Now is the time to begin thinning out those storage spaces of old toys, games, sporting equipment, outgrown clothes and other items you’ve been saving. It’s also an excellent time to consider your own legacy. What items in your storage boxes do you really need should you be downsizing to a smaller home as you age? By clearing out your home of the last chapter of your life, you allow yourself space to create space physically and mentally for the next chapter of your life. What will you fill it with?
Change isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s ok if you find yourself randomly calling your child at college in the middle of the afternoon to ask if they need anything else for their dorm room or to get the dish on their roommates. We get it. Being a parent is never going to stop being who you are. Your kids are going to need you for life, even if they might not realize it right this second. You might find yourself struggling to start over with careers or friends and feeling lost and like a 20-something year old kid again. That’s ok too. Be gentle with yourself. Give it time.