I remember so clearly when my youngest child left for college. Those who have entered the empty nest can relate to the sadness and dread that I felt as the impending moment came upon me. As a stay at home mom, this new chapter filled with free, unstructured time was quite overwhelming. How would I fill my days and my evenings? Would I be happy? Would I know how to parent an independent young adult? What would our relationship even be like? These are a few of the weighty questions I started asking myself at the time, most of which left me filled with fear and self-doubt. However, just like with any situation that you can’t change, I knew I had a choice about how I wanted to adjust. I chose hope. Hope that it would be fun having unstructured time all about me and the things I wanted to do, hope that I would figure out my “what’s next,” hope that I would enjoy this next chapter with my husband, family and friends. I knew I could wallow and pine away for the past, but I decided to transition into a positive, optimistic mindset and focus on what my world as an empty nester would look like. For me, that meant building my life-coaching practice, running a non-profit called Stand Up! Girls which helps to bring stand-up comedy classes to underserved girls, and launching a podcast with a college friend called MT Nesters, where we focus on helping women pivot and learn during this next pivotal chapter of their lives. It also meant fun dinners, trips with friends, and really learning how to enjoy my own company.
I couldn’t believe it would ever happen, but over time I became genuinely happy and adjusted to my empty nest… and then came the pandemic! An unexpected turn of events and my very empty house became a very full house once more, replete with my three twenty-something children and two significant others. Wow. What a gift during a time filled with so much fear and change for everyone. The laughter, the fighting, the love, and the bonds of family truly made me relish in our togetherness even as the world and my former personal life had become unhinged. In a nanosecond, the empty nest was behind me and I was a happy mom making meals, cleaning and keeping myself busy just like in the good old days when everyone was younger. I wished this full nest and new life could go on forever, but I knew that soon enough I would have to cut the strings once again. I tried hard to mentally prepare but had little success, and, one by one, the kids began to leave, and the nest is now empty again. Two are finished with school and are living on their own as young adults trying to navigate a new life in the midst of the pandemic. One is a college student and returns to a school that will function in a very different way from when he left. They have left once again but unsurprisingly feel uncertain about what life will bring them this time around.
For me, empty nest part two has begun. It is just me, my husband, and a new life in front of us filled with unavoidable uncertainty. I do feel much more grounded this time around though, likely due to the virus and the subsequent resilience I had to foster during it. The one thing that I know is that keeping myself happy will be a lot easier this time as I have reaffirmed what the keys to happiness really are. Having my physical and mental health, love around me, strong friendships, family bonds, gratitude, and the ability to recognize what is profoundly important in life. These are the keys to my enlightenment for round two. Through knowing this, I really believe I am already on the path to happiness for empty nesting once again. I have no doubt in my mind that whatever happens next, my life is going to be okay – I truly hope you all feel the same.