At this monumental life moment, how can we find happiness in new ways?
As parents, we know children will ‘fly the nest’ at some point. But, although we ‘give them wings to fly and roots to grow’ it doesn’t make the void (and the shock!) any more bearable. The years fly by with memories, company, and life-long bonds formed. Suddenly our futures feel daunting and bleak, but they have their own lives, and we have to somehow find our own dreams in all the turmoil.
It dawned on me that we spend most of their lives preparing them to leave us, but we never prepare ourselves for when they do. On my son’s results day, the reality of my certain ‘abandonment’ made me cry with pride and a heavy heart. I searched for a new purpose, and this is what I found.
1. Relive your teenage dreams
Grieving for an empty nest can last months – that’s a long time to feel sad. I needed an escape from my everyday life. Instead of empty bedrooms and crying on the sofa, I contemplated where I could find joy in the silence as a bridge to my next chapter.
Travelling to new places, surrounded by art, culture and people-watching, always made me happy. As a teenager, I yearned to learn languages in Europe. So, when an opportunity for a language course in Florence arose, my heart soared, and I knew that was the place for my broken heart and troubled mind.
Focus on what makes you happy. Ask yourself, when did you feel free doing what you love? Who did you want to be when you grew up? What are you passionate about? What have you never had time to do? Take steps to embrace those dreams, and evolve.
2. Take a risk and face your fears
With a fear of flying and heights, I booked a ticket to Dubrovnik days after dropping my youngest at university. My flight was better than I imagined, as I moved at my own pace, laden with yummy treats, and settled in to enjoy a film in peace. I climbed the very high walls of the Croatian city alone, avoiding a group tour to not feel rushed, scared, or judged – I could always come back down again, if fear took me over. Instead, I stopped to take photos and enjoy spectacular views I would never have seen if I hadn’t done it.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can make your happiness soar. What has fear prevented you doing so? Is there a challenge you could try at your own pace? What is stopping you, except fear itself? You may surprise yourself! Take the time to face some of your fears alone, without judgement.
3. Make plans to find new hobbies of your own
Although raising children can be blissful, there are sacrifices. Singing was one of my passions, and joining a choir was on my ‘to-do list’, but the timing was never right as evenings were busy and clashed with family mealtimes. When the nest is empty, suddenly, you have time. I recently joined an award-winning soul choir, and now have a new community of like-minded singers. There is even a plan to go ‘on tour’, which I think is rather amusing!
What hobbies could you take up again that you stopped doing? Are there communities you would love to be more involved in now you are less busy? Is there something you would love to learn that you could commit to now? Find joy in a like-minded community with common interests.
4. Be an inspiring role model
Whether you want to change your work, your home, your interests, or who you spend your time with, you have the power.
Remember, others would love to be exactly where you are now, with the freedom to make their own choices, and ‘live’ rather than exist. I would encourage anyone to take that first step into the unknown. Do new things for yourself, such as mindful self-care. Write a list of places, and people that make you happy. Plan social events and trips to visit your children (you have more time than them now!) Trust and empower yourself. And change things that aren’t working. If your kids can see your independence, and that you’re OK without them, then they too will be inspired, and be OK without you.