We all know the empty nest means change. What we often don’t understand is the importance of the transition. You don’t just step into a new season of life without a time of transition. There’s a process of letting go of old thought patterns and habits. Letting go of expectations and routines. And with each letting go, choosing what to put in its place — learning how to think new thoughts, act in new ways, and even take on a new identity. If you make a few important decisions now, you’ll someday reflect the time, love, and effort you took in the transition.You will someday reflect the time, love, and effort you took in the transition. #emptynest #empowerednester Click To Tweet
A wise lady helped me to better understand the awkwardness of change. “Transition,” she said, “is an unstable place between two stable places.” She couldn’t have been more accurate. I’ve thought of her words many times over the years as I pictured myself crossing a ravine on a narrow, swaying rope bridge, making my way to a new season or adventure.
Does that sound a little like your introduction to the empty nest?
- Up in the air.
- Somewhere between exciting and crazy scary.
- You know you can’t turn back, but are still thinking of trying.
You’re not alone. Transition is inherently uncomfortable. While everyone doesn’t react to the empty nest in the same way, everyone experiences conflicting emotions and wrestles with unexpected questions. To cross safely through this unstable phase, it’s important to take your time, focus, and not panic.
In an effort to help you get your footing, I’ve complied a list of simple, practical tips. To download the complete list, go here: 7 Keys to Help Process the Empty Nest Transition. Today, I’d like to expound on the first key.
Take your time.
- Let the dust settle. Matt and I found ourselves in the middle of a blinding dust storm a few years back while driving across Idaho. Newly plowed fields, together with high winds, brought us to a complete standstill. For a few seconds we were unable to even see the hood of our truck. Thankfully, a pause in the wind allowed the dirt to settle and us to drive out of the storm.
When you find yourself in a whirlwind of emotions or decisions, pause. Take a deep breath and let the dust settle. Tell your emotions to come back down to neutral. Sit with the Holy Spirit until the voices within and around you quiet down. Lean into the words of Jesus in John 14:27 (NASB).
Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled,
nor let it be fearful.
Change brings upheaval on many levels. Choosing to be still in the midst allows for a more clear perspective.
- Catch up on rest. For many years, I enjoyed burning the candle at both ends. I love quiet night hours, but also hate to miss the first light of day. Sleeping always seemed like wasted time that could be better spent reading or writing. There came a point, however, when I realized my body needed more rest. We are not created to run on empty.
When you’re tired, normal everyday events can zap your energy and take your emotions on a roller-coaster ride. Many health issues are also exasperated by a lack of sleep. If the future feels overwhelming, if small decisions wear you out, step back and get caught up on your rest. Most of the time, what looks like a mountain one day shrinks back significantly after a good night’s sleep.
- Adopt a “don’t rush” mentality. “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” The on-going chant of a parent. Even if your kids had a minimal sports or academic load, the hours fill up in no time and rushing becomes normal. I remember when my mother-in-law retired, my brother-in-law gently reminded her that she didn’t have to rush anymore. There was no need to speed through traffic. She could choose when to get up and when to say “No.” She could eat her meals at leisure. But it took a conscious decision on her part to not rush.
With a little effort you can retrain yourself to slow down. Start with everyday activities. Learn to savor life again. Enjoy simple details. Take time for deeper conversation. Linger. Give yourself time to think and be purposeful. You don’t have to run at full speed now. Pull back from the habit of busy and allow your body to restore itself.
- Don’t make any sudden, knee-jerk decisions. While you cannot totally control how you’ll react after the kids leave home, it’s wise to take your time before making any big decisions. Often one change can trigger other changes. The empty nest transition may be the unexpected opportunity for other areas of your life to bloom.
Maybe your marriage has been dry and lacking for years. Now that your attention is not on raising a family, take time to focus on each other and nurture your relationship before calling it quits. Maybe your emotions are screaming out to sell the house and move thousands of miles to be closer to your son’s college. But what if he decides he doesn’t like Florida and transfers to Seattle next year? You’ll be making plenty of decisions in the next 10 years. Take your time and make them carefully.
- Allow time for emotional processing and release. Most empty nesters fall into one of two categories. Either you’re broken and lost now that the kids are gone, or you’re already making travel arrangements and selling the house to downsize. Either way, you need to process how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and where to go from here. Don’t be surprised if some fear, anger, resentment, or other emotions come out of nowhere. As parents, we often stuff our own issues back in a corner while focusing on the kids. Now they have room to come to the surface, demanding to be dealt with.
Take time to look at why you feel rejected or scared of the future. Ask yourself the hard question of what you’d really like to do next, and why. And even if you’re not a writer, I highly recommend taking time to journal about your feelings and ideas. I’ve learned that thoughts usually swim around our minds without ever reaching a conclusion. Taking time to write words on a page brings resolution. Just 20 minutes of stream-of-conscious writing can unlock answers and give understanding. Try it and let me know how it goes.
Closing thought: Don’t get stuck in transition.
There is no set time frame for transitioning. It is not unusual to take five to seven years to settle into this next season of life. Just remember, though: Transition is supposed to be temporary. Take your time to process, but keep moving forward. While it’s good to gather with others for support, don’t make the mistake of setting up camp around your mutual loss. So much more is waiting up ahead.