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Caring for Yourself as the Nest Begins to Empty

Deborah Porter

As your children begin to go after their dreams, have you given any real thought to what lies ahead for you? When everyone is gone, pursuing all that they desire, who’s left?

I’ve always said that motherhood is the one job you give your absolute all to, only to work yourself out of that job. A mother’s hope is that her children go and make the world a better place with every tool she’s given, every lesson she’s attempted to teach and with all the confidence she’s imparted.

But if they no longer need us, which is the goal, what do we do with all of the love, time and effort that we’ve so freely given for 18 years or more? Well, I’m glad you asked.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Empty Nest Syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home. Missing our kids is normal. There has been a certain rhythm to our homes and our lives with and for them for 18 years. Their sudden departure signals the start of a new and sometimes unsettling phase.

The Mayo Clinic also suggests ways to cope.

1. Accept the timing.

Avoid comparing your child’s timetable to your own experience or expectations. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when they do leave home.

2. Keep in touch.

You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Try to maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.

3. Seek support.

Share your feelings with loved ones and friends whose children have recently left home. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor or a mental health provider.

4. Stay positive.

Thinking about the extra time and energy you’ll have to devote to your relationships, work or personal interests might help you adapt to this major life change.

I’ve been an empty nester for five years and I had to ask myself a question: What did I want to do now? Take a few minutes and ask yourself the same question and let it sink in. You no longer have to ensure the kids are taken care of before making plans to do something, go somewhere, have people over. My husband and I planned a trip for just the two of us every time we dropped one of our three kids off at college.

Not only that, my girlfriends and I began planning trips. A weekend here, a day trip there. Yes, there are a lot of things you won’t be doing anymore. Parent teacher conferences, all day track meets, soccer. And yes, it’s sad but truth be told, I gave a quiet hallelujah at the realization of it. Why? Because sitting at a wrestling match all day was great then, but that was then. And it’s time for something new, something for me. What about taking the photography class you always wanted? Remember mentioning that you wanted to write a book? How about an impromptu trip to the mountains, alone if you’d like? Here’s the thing — self care is much more than a great mani pedi. What feeds you? What would you do right now if there were no boundaries, no obstacles?

Well, let’s plan that. Let’s DO that!

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

Learn something new, do something different. You don’t have to be great at everything in order to have fun.

You can also learn a new language. An actual language or just one word, the word “no.” As moms, we tend to say yes real quick to the outward things and no to the inward things. But think about it like this — if you learn to say no more often, it frees you up to say yes to yourself and to the things that really matter to you.

I hope I’ve convinced you to make an investment in yourself. You deserve it. You’ve birthed, raised and sent a kid off to college. You are worth taking time to do exactly what you want to do, for you and no one else.

Deborah Porter is the ultimate list maker, system creator and investigator of anything that will make things run smoother at home and in life. Having systems in place allowed her to achieve her personal goals in every phase of motherhood, while being married for 30 years to her college sweetheart and raising three children. Deborah is the Founder of Moms Mentoring Circle, a regular contributor on WTVR’s Virginia This Morning, and occasional guest on WJLA’s The Mother Side. Visit her website for a free gift,, or reach out to her at [email protected]
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