I don’t technically have an “empty nest” by definition. All three of my daughters are still living at home though they live their own lives. Two of them work a second shift full time job so I don’t see much of them and the youngest is going to the local college full time and working with an active social life so I don’t see her much either. Which is how it should be. This is what we parents train them for, going out and getting on with their own life. What they don’t really tell you is how that is going to affect you. When I say something about it to people who haven’t gone through it, they roll their eyes and say well you knew they were going to grow up or something equally as helpful. I always think in the back of my mind, well, you will be here one day too and I will offer you the same grand advice and sympathy. Okay, I’m a little vindictive at times, I’ll admit it.
Recently it has become more acute for me because my middle daughter who worked with me went to the second shift job at the place where her older sister worked. It was a great move for her, better pay and opportunity for her to advance. As much as I was excited for her, I dreaded the fact that my “buddy” wouldn’t be around to keep me company because she’s more a homebody than I am. So essentially it was rare I was alone in the house with all the different shifts and people coming and going. Until now.
Add in the fact my husband works a swing shift, I’m finding myself home alone much more frequently and not really sure of how I feel about it. One moment I am ecstatic I can hog the tv, the couch and play my piano as loud as I want. The next moment, I look around and think, this is weird. Where is everyone? For ten years of my life, I lived with seven people in my family. You were never alone and you never were in the bathroom alone. There were days I couldn’t wait for this day when I had the house to myself and could pee without an audience. Now it’s here, I stand in the silence of this house and I am not really sure what to do with myself.
What I’ve read about empty nest from experts and people that have been through it, we all feel somewhat the same. I’ve been lucky because it’s been a lot more slow process than some of my friends where it has been very abrupt. But much of the advice I read, falls short with me. Volunteer. Get a hobby. Travel. All good suggestions but I am finding myself wanting more purpose than that though volunteering is a great thing. I often feel like the girl interrupted. My life went in a completely different direction than I had hoped. Almost hijacked by narcisstic husbands and poor choices on my part but it’s straighten out. The chaos and craziness those relationships provided were like white noise that I did not have to face my own life and what I wanted to do. If you are too busy surviving, then you don’t have time to think about your dreams and hopes or your life purpose.
My oldest daughter is twenty-five and she is at a similiar cross roads. She had hoped to get into grad school and further forgo having to choose a direction for her life. As she said, much of her life has been orchestrated. You go to school, graduate high school, go on to college and then get out and get a job. She had taken a hiatus after my mom’s death Becuase we were all pretty shell shocked and needed time to heal. A little like me, she is asking the question, what does she want to be when she grows up because the old things just doen’t seem right to her. She is starting to look in directions and for paths she had never considered.
However, she still has most of her life ahead of her. She may marry and/ or raise a family. I’ve done that part. So check, family done. I try to imagine myself back in high school when counselors, teachers and parents are asking me what I want to do after I graduate. The biggest difference is I am established in life and when you become middle-aged, you start feeling that it is really important that you don’t fritter your life away. But the problem with that line of thinking is that you forget to enjoy life because you are too worried about making a difference, reaching that goal because you feel like you only have so much time. The flip side is you can become so concerned about making the wrong choice, you make no choice at all so you are stuck in limbo. Which is where I think I am at times.
When I was younger, early 20’s, I had a million ideas for businesses and actually had the balls to even go for a few of them. Now I come up with 100000 reasons why I shouldn’t do something. In a way, youth has the upper hand here because ou are more likely to take risks, even if they are stupid. The older you get, the more you learn and the more you think, I have to be crazy. I could lose my house, investments, savings, cars and the like. When you are just starting out, you have much less to lose usually. On the other hand, if I don’t ever try or reach for my dreams, I will regret it on my death bed. I feel much like I am frozen, paralyzed.
At the end of last year, I wrote down several goals and have achieved several of them or am on the verge of achieving them. Going back to school has given me a sense of purpose I did not have before and has also eaten up a lot of my free time. Now I am less than two weeks away from finishing and I am thinking, okay, now what? Having a goal and a purpose felt good. I was doing something for myself, just as if I was much younger without a family. This tells me that after graduation, it will be time to sit down and think up my next moves in life. In a way, this is daunting and exciting at the same time. Learning to spend more time alone is different but not a bad thing. It is much like being single and living alone when you start out, something I didn’t really experience.
Sure, my life is slowly changing and there are times I’m excited and other times I am sad or dread the change. Just like anything in life, any real change, there is positive and negatives but middle-age isn’t the end of the world. I will learn to adjust to this time, just as I learned to adjust to all the other times of my life. Some easier and others harder, but I always come out just fine.
In some ways, “empty nest” is like being given a second chance to find your path in life, your new path.