Question of the Day: Empty Nest
“I feel so strange. My oldest just left for college, my youngest has started her junior year of high school. These are busy and exciting times but I’m nervous about the empty nest. I distracted myself with the busy-ness of college but deep down, I just don’t want to think about what’s next for ME. I’ve had the same job for ages and it’s fine. My marriage and my friendships are fine. My health is fine. Being a mom gave me purpose, adventure and community…..I loved it. But now what? I would like to be excited about the next season of life, but I don’t know how to get there.” Amber
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Episode 35 – We are being brainwashed:
Do you remember being pregnant and setting up the nursery, folding cute little onesies and socks? The anticipation of this major life event was exciting! We didn’t know what was going to happen. There were risks involved with bringing that baby into the world and keeping it alive. Women gathered around to help us prepare and celebrate this milestone event.
We were warned about the lack of sleep, the poopy diapers, the breastfeeding nightmares, but we didn’t care. We naively walked into this love-filled prison called parenting.
And it sucked!
And it was amazing!
We laughed and we cried.
Argued with our partners.
Lost old friends. We gained new ones.
Why did we think it was exciting instead of terrible?
In a word….HYPE
The media images made it look soft and sweet, lovely and clean. We saw adorable babies and cute little clothes Darling pictures of pastel-coloured nurseries and beautiful pregnant women.
The reality of being pregnant: nausea, swollen feet, stretch marks and peeing on oneself, never made it into these media images.
New moms spend a lot of money and companies want to capture this market so they create a lot of media hype. But we got a lot of hype from friends and family, too.
Everyone around us was excited for us. Telling us to savor the moments and enjoy it all.
Imagine for a minute there was just as much media hype about the empty nest. That every college brochure contained pictures of parents having the time of their lives. Sipping margaritas on the beach, hiking on beautiful mountain trails, enjoying outdoor concerts at wineries under sparkling lights.
Picture friends rallying around you, telling stories of how amazing their first year was. Jealous and excited for you to be saying goodbye to your college student. They agree it’s hard but plead with you to “savor every moment because it goes so fast.” They tell you, “You are going to do great”
Friends and family shower you with gifts. These gifts don’t add clutter to your home (moms at this stage don’t need more things), these gifts are experiences: An Italian cooking class, a bioluminescent kayaking tour, a road trip to explore the national parks, an intuitive painting class. Your presents are all about fun, friends and freedom.
I think it’s time we start creating some HYPE around the empty nest.
If the dominant emotion about becoming a mom is LOVE. The dominant message about the empty nest would be FREEDOM.
The beautiful (and terrifying) thing about this stage of life is there ISN’T strong external pressure telling you what it should and shouldn’t look
like. Whatever your parents did during this transition, is probably what you expect to do. If you look around, you’ll probably notice many divorces happening in this stage. You’ll see people embracing long-forgotten passions, reinventing their careers, or taking up a hobby they always longed to try.
Just like a prisoner who is released from prison, freedom doesn’t always feel good. We find comfort in the familiar, rather than fully enjoying the freedom that comes with this stage of our life.
When too much freedom feels scary, we start saying things that make us feel safe: I have to pay these college bills, I can’t do what I want, No one will do it with me.
We settle back into our comfort zone, only without the love that filled it when our kids were younger.
Supermom Kryptonite: Not Understanding The Cycle of Change
In order to embrace this season of life and make the most of it, it’s best to understand the cycle of change that Martha Beck teaches. She claims that change always happens in a predictable pattern.
Square 1 – Death and Rebirth
Mourning your old life and exploring your new one. This stage often feels terrible (and most of my clients come to me during this stage). We feel empty and aimless. We can’t go back, and yet our future isn’t clearly defined yet. It feels terrible but it doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong. In fact, the mantra to help one through this transition stage is “I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s ok.”
This is your opportunity to choose a new identity. Without a lot of social pressures, you are free to tune inward and listen to what your heart really yearns for. Only if you follow this internal compass will you find happiness and excitement in this stage of your life.
Square 2 – Dreaming and Scheming
Once you have truly let go of your old identity and former life, and tuned inward to listen to your heart’s desire, you’ll start getting ideas for a life you are meant to live. You might see something on Facebook and think, “That looks fun” or you might get a picture of how you would redecorate your child’s bedroom. It starts as an image in your mind that lifts you up.
When you give yourself permission to dream and scheme, these inner visions will slowly become clearer in your mind. Eventually, you will know which action steps to take. The mantra for this cycle is “There are no rules and that’s ok.”
Square 3 – The Hero’s Saga
This is where the rubber hits the road. You take your dream from imagination into reality. Eight times out of ten, things don’t go the way we planned so the mantra for this stage is “This is harder than I thought it was going to be and that’s ok.”
If your idea is to start a business, move out of state, start dating again after divorce, or train for a half marathon, this mantra will help you through. It’s called The Hero’s Saga because this is what Joseph Campbell identified as the “Hero’s Journey” that folk tales, movies and books are all about. The trials and tribulations of square 3 make for really good storytelling.
Square 4 – The Promised Land
This is the stage where our dreams are finally coming true. The blood, sweat and tears of square 3 have mellowed out. You are now a runner. You are settled into your new job, home, or identity. There are minor tweeks and improvements but it’s generally easier to navigate.
The mantra for this stage is, “Nothing is changing and that’s ok.” Some people don’t like square 4 and will deliberately enter into square 1 (possibly in another area of their life) just to shake things up. Generally, though, this is where we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Supermom Power Boost: Finding a metaphor to represent your life
Today, I was walking through a garden with a big patch filled with pumpkin vines. It was full of bright pumpkin blossoms, big, sunshine yellow flowers, shining gloriously against the green vines. A few had started to close and on one, I noticed a small, little green pumpkin had started to grow.
I thought to myself, we are like these blossoms, happy and settled in our roles as a mom to our kids. When they leave the house, it’s like the blossoms are closing. It feels sad, it feels like a death, we don’t even realize that we are meant to become pumpkins.
These blossoms were never meant to permanently bloom. We were always meant to have a second stage of life, equally as important, lovely and exciting. Saying goodbye to raising children doesn’t have to be sad. You can be excited for this stage of life if you recognize how the cycle of change works and that being a pumpkin is just as good as being a flower.
All you need is a little hype.
If you find yourself feeling stuck in an empty nest, and aren’t getting the feelings of community, adventure and purpose, then hiring a life coach is a great idea. If you have this longing, then you are meant to have it!
Going after your heart’s desire will make your life exciting for sure. Just like the pumpkins, we are meant for growth and transformation. When everything is “fine” it’s a sign that you’ve stopped growing.
It sounds to me like you are perfectly set up for an exciting year. You just might need someone to help you across the scary parts to get to the amazing parts.
Got some goals you’d like to set for yourself? Schedule your free strategy call https://LifeCoachingforParents.com
Quote of the Day: (paraphrased)
“Don’t fear loss so much that you abandon yourself in order to keep things stable. Losses aren’t cataclysmic if they teach the heart and soul their natural cycle of breaking and healing.” -Martha Beck