There comes a time in a parent’s life when their last child leaves the home to begin their journey of living independently. Whether to attend university or start a job in the “real world”, this can be an exciting time in a young adult’s life. At the same time, this significant change can also trigger a host of emotions in parents, commonly referred to as “empty nester syndrome”. The term “empty nest” symbolizes the sense of loss and emptiness parents may feel after their children leave and the house feels less active.
Empty nest syndrome encompasses a range of emotions, including sadness, loneliness, and a sense of purposelessness. The departure of children often triggers a profound shift in the dynamics of the household, leaving parents feeling disoriented and unsure of their new roles. You may find yourself longing for the days of active parenting and struggling to adapt to a quieter lifestyle as you’re less involved in your children’s lives.
The good news is this chapter of life also presents a perfect opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery. With your new free time, you can reestablish your own identity, explore your interests, and find a new sense of purpose. Read on for some ideas of how you can fill your time once your children have left the nest.
Volunteering is an enriching and rewarding activity idea for empty nesters, enabling you to have a positive impact on your community, find personal fulfillment, and get your mind off missing your kids. Whether you choose to assist at a local food bank or participate in environmental clean-up initiatives, volunteering will provide you with a sense of purpose and connection. You can utilize your expertise, gain new skills, and forge meaningful relationships with other people at similar stages of life to you.
Planning a getaway (solo, with friends, or with your partner) is a fun way to get excited about this new chapter of your life and the free time it affords you. This may be the first time in a while you’re able to plan travel without having to worry about your kids’ schedules, from soccer games to the homecoming dance.
Take advantage of this new freedom by brainstorming a place you’ve always wanted to see and planning a road trip or booking a flight. Exploring a new place will leave you feeling energized and return home with a fresh perspective.
- Go back to work or start a side hustle
If you stopped working while you raised your kids, you may consider going back to work if that prospect sounds exciting to you. Especially if you loved your line of work, going back to a full or part-time job could add some welcome structure and purpose to your days.
You could also start your own side hustle. Brainstorm what things you already like to do and how you could potentially be translated into a business. Some options include substitute teaching at your local high school, making clothes or crafts to sell online, or growing your own produce you can sell at a farmer’s market.
A quiet house offers the perfect opportunity to declutter and simplify your living space. Take some time to do a big clean out and donate or sell items you no longer need, creating a more peaceful and functional environment. A bonus of decluttering is you may find some forgotten treasures, allowing you to reminisce on some of the memories you shared with your children. Plus, taking the time to declutter brings a sense of order and cleanliness and allows you to more fully let go of the past and embrace the present.
- Nurture relationships with friends and family
Being a parent is a demanding job, and it’s likely that your relationships with your friends and extended family members had to take a hit sometimes in order for you to fulfill your responsibilities. Now that you have some time back on your hands, use this opportunity to reach out to friends and family you’d like to reconnect with. For those that are far away, set up some regular Zoom or phone calls, and for the ones who live nearby, consider hosting a dinner party or setting up a weekly time to go for a walk.
- Try a new exercise routine
You probably don’t need to be told that prioritizing exercise can pay dividends, both boosting your energy levels and improving your mental well-being. Take advantage of your new free time to switch up your exercise routine and try out different options such as yoga, Pilates, swimming, or cycling. You could even join a workout group or class to help you meet new people and bake more social interaction into your days.
- Learn a language
Learning a second (or third or fourth) language is a time-intensive commitment, which makes it the perfect activity to do when you have lots of time to fill. Join a virtual or in-person class, or set yourself up with some resources for self-study (such as language books and an account with a self-paced learning website like Duolingo). Learning a new language enhances cognitive abilities and broadens your cultural understanding, so it’s a great new skill to pick up!
- Become a mentor
Just because you have no children in the home anymore doesn’t mean you have to give up mentoring and teaching others. Having a wealth of knowledge and life experience you can pass on to the next generation can be gratifying. See if your community has a local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter where you can be paired with a child from age 5 to young adulthood, or another community organization that’s looking for adults with expertise in certain areas.
- Spend quality time with your partner
As much as you love your kids, having them around can sometimes kill the romance between you and your partner. With more time to focus on each other, take this opportunity to reconnect and strengthen your bond. Plan date nights, weekend getaways, or even simple moments together without the distractions of parenting responsibilities. This dedicated time allows you to rediscover one another, create new memories as a couple, and embrace this new phase of life together.
- Exercise your creativity
A new chapter of life is the perfect time to lean into a new side of yourself, and that could mean leaning into your creative, artistic side. Tapping into self-expression through creativity is also a great way to work through your thoughts and feelings about your children leaving.
Try out whichever activities sound most appealing to you, such as painting, writing, sewing, or photography. You could also join art classes, workshops, or online communities to enhance your skills and connect with fellow creatives. Through unleashing your imagination in your creative pursuits, you might just discover a new passion and experience the transformative power of artistic expression.
- Try new recipes
Now that you have fewer people to cook for, why not expand your culinary repertoire? Take some time to experiment with different cuisines, flavors, and cooking techniques. Explore cookbooks, online recipe platforms, or cooking classes to discover exciting dishes that cater to your tastes. Getting creative in the kitchen and trying out exotic ingredients is a great way to spice things up, and once you’ve made something you’re proud of you can also invite friends and neighbors to join you for a delicious meal.
- Adopt a pet
With your kids out of the house, you may be craving more companionship and could consider adopting a new furry friend. Explore local animal shelters or rescue organizations to find a pet that suits your lifestyle and preferences. Whether you choose a dog, cat, or smaller pet, adopting a pet can provide unconditional love, give you a sense of purpose, and encourage an active and fulfilling lifestyle. Pets offer companionship, help combat loneliness, and become cherished members of the family. Opening your home to a new animal companion can bring immense happiness and a rewarding sense of responsibility.
- Read more books
All the new peace and quiet in your house means an optimal environment for reading all the books you’ve been meaning to get around to. Reading is a cozy activity that offers a wonderful escape into different worlds, which can be quite comforting when you’re going through a challenging transition. Take a visit to your local library, pick up some new books, and let yourself be captivated by the stories.
Don’t feel like you need to fill every single moment of your new free time. It can feel strange to have so much time on your hands, and exploring any of the above activities can be a great way to nurture your health, relationships and sense of purpose. But it’s also okay to spend time just resting and not doing much. You’ve spent 18 or more years juggling a million things at once, you deserve it!
Be patient and keep in touch
Adjusting to an emptier home can be a weird transition, so remember to be patient with yourself as you figure out what your new life looks like. Plus, don’t forget that keeping in touch with your children and nurturing that relationship can make a big difference in how you feel. Before you know it, you’ll be reveling in the newfound freedom of this chapter and welcoming your kids home for the holidays!