Self-care for Empty Nesters

It's a day of tears, joy, and pride. This turning point in your child's life is also a huge one for you. For most parents, it is a moment of reluctantly letting go. It's a day when the clock starts ticking, reality sets in, and you realize your child will not be home again until holiday break. There's no turning clocks back, even if some may want to linger in the past for a little longer.   

By Sharon Callender — August 29, 2022


Self-care for Empty Nesters

Move-in day can be bittersweet.

As you unload the car and help your newly minted college freshman settle into their dorm room, you witness their shift from the little human you raised into a bourgeoning adult right before your eyes. This realization can create a wellspring of emotions, from panic to elation.

It's a day of tears, joy, and pride. This turning point in your child's life is also a huge one for you. For most parents, it is a moment of reluctantly letting go. It's a day when the clock starts ticking, reality sets in, and you realize your child will not be home again until holiday break. There's no turning clocks back, even if some may want to linger in the past for a little longer.

Memories of first steps, the first school bus ride, removing first training wheels, and so many other milestone moments tug at our hearts in the months and weeks leading up to move-in day. It is a time of adjustment for parents navigating the transition from a household with children to an empty nest. For some parents, this transition comes with many challenges.

I've seen parents experience a wide range of feelings—moving between beaming with pride, overwhelm, and excitement. The entire experience can feel like an adrenaline rush. In some cases, it unleashes an understandable sense of anxiety and grief for both parents and their children.

After move-in day, when parents begin the long drive or plane ride home, having a project or routine to look forward to is extremely important. This moment begins a new chapter in your life. Creating something new in this season revolves around prioritizing your self-care. Both provide an excellent way to step into your new beginning.

Here are some simple ways to jumpstart your empty nester self-care routine:

Create a Gratitude Practice

When we practice gratitude, we tune into the healing power of joy.

Begin with an easy five-minute or less practice that you do three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening). Ask yourself: what am I grateful for at this moment? Reflect on this question and allow yourself to discover at least three things based on your environment and what you do now. It could be sipping a great cup of coffee, a conversation with a friend, eating dinner with your spouse, or seeing the sunset in the evening. Taking note of the simple gifts in your life allows you to be mindful of how abundant and blessed your life truly is.

Spend Quality Time Enjoying Nature

Nature has a beautiful way of nurturing us. Being in its presence instantly soothes and relaxes. It recharges our mind, body, and soul with its beauty. Committing to a five-minute walk around your block, local park, or a nature trail gets your endorphins circulating. Walking also creates a sense of calm and peace while helping you experience emotional grounding if you struggle with bouts of empty nest sadness. While on your walk, pause and take three deep, cleansing breaths to center yourself and repeat if needed. Moving our bodies, along with deep breathing, assists with releasing stuck emotions that hinder joy.

Start a Thankful Journal

As you lean into embracing gratitude, designate some time in your day to chronicle in writing what you discover. You can start each entry with the following writing prompt: I am full of thanks for my life and ____

When we intentionally zoom in on what goes well in our lives, we see our glass as half full instead of half empty. Seeds of positivity arise through this journaling process, and it helps you not to take anything for granted. Your journal can also become an inspirational resource when you have a rough day and need encouragement.

Make a Celebration Box

Get a decorative box or container where you can deposit notes about what you love most about being the mother or father of your child. You might write down sweet or humorous memories from pre-school to the present. There are no rules, but the goal is to express your love. Creating a celebration box is a healing activity that builds a bridge of connection with your child while they are away. And if you choose, you can share it with them after four years or sooner!

Connect with Other Empty Nesters

Find people who are going through the same situation. There are hundreds of online groups on Facebook and meetup clubs where you can get together offline.

The Empty Nester Community on Facebook, with over 11,000 members (https://www.facebook.com/groups/emptynestcommunity), is a great place to start!

Get Back to You and What You Love

Since you are no longer on call for pick-ups and drop-offs to and from practice, games, school, or any errands you need to do for your child, you probably have some precious free time. Extra time is a reason to get excited! Is there a hobby or activity you neglected or didn't have the time to put your full attention into before your child left for college? Now is the perfect opportunity to get back to it.

Reconnect with Friends, Host a Get-Together

Do something social that brings a smile to your face! Host a potluck dinner or a game night with friends.

Start Your Learning Journey

Take inspiration from your child's educational pursuits. Lifelong learning is a great way to navigate your new role as an empty nester. Self-care may also look like personal enrichment and growth as you expand your knowledge. Some options might be taking a pottery class at the local community college, joining a book club, or learning a new language on an e-learning platform. Whatever you decide, do something you love and feel passionate about pursuing!

Sharon Callender

Sharon Callender

Rev. Sharon Callender is an interfaith minister, assistant registrar, and coach with certifications in life purpose, mindfulness & spiritual coaching. She specializes in helping individuals discover clarity, healing, and self-love through creative expression. Sharon is also a published fiction author and poet who is currently pursuing her Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree at The New Seminary.
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