6 Ways to Thrive as an Empty Nester

girl moving out of the house saying goodbye to mom at car

The day my firstborn got his driver’s license and pulled out of the driveway alone with my two younger daughters in tow, tears streamed down my face. One or two lone tears gently flowed down my face, but one or two quickly turned into a river as I peered out the window. “This is it.  This is the beginning of the end.” Even then, with my son only 16, I was keenly aware that he would soon be leaving the nest, and my daughter, only 17 months his junior, would be following quickly behind. It was in that moment that I realized that I would somehow have to learn to live without my children in my home. I got pregnant with that son at only 17 years old, and the thought did not escape me that I had never actually been an adult without him. I had never lived without the day-to-day demands of motherhood on my task list. And yet, that morning I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before my daily motherhood duties would be in the rearview.

If you think that the day he got his driver’s license was bad, then you should have seen me the day I dropped him off at college. The summer before, I had spent more than an awkward amount of time with tears and doom, as I anticipated the fateful move. It was coming. He was leaving. The day we loaded his small fridge, tv, and bedding into the SUV and drove him to campus, I thought it would kill me. I smiled and took the obligatory dorm room photos with mom and son, as I hugged him and told him to “make wise choices,” but when I pulled away from that parking lot, tears flowed like a river and it easily took six months for me to get used to the new normal.  And then, my daughter left only a few months after that! 

As I have embarked upon the journey of moving toward an empty nest, I don’t mind telling you that I have probably not had the smoothest of transitions. I enabled my young adult children in those early years. I nagged. I attempted to control (which, good luck with that if you try it!). I didn’t edge into my next season with grace, so beware! The wisdom I offer here is peppered with the air of skinned knees and bloodied noses as I fumbled around with the right way to become something other than mom. Here’s what I learned:

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    1. Rediscover Your Dreams


    What did you want to be when you were a little girl? What did you dream of doing to change the world? How did you think you would make your mark on the world? God put dreams inside you that may have laid dormant in the last season, but perhaps could flourish in your new one. Begin to pray about what God would have you do next. Is he calling you to start a single moms’ ministry at your church? Teach a Sunday school class or Bible study? Serve in the nursery or choir? Start a new business?

    2. Relinquish Guilt

    Your young adult children will make mistakes. They have the nerve to have their own personalities and ideas! They will disappoint you with some choices they’ll make. Relinquish yourself from the guilt that it must somehow be a reflection of your poor parenting. We have an excellent Heavenly Father who parents perfectly and we still stray like sheep. Your young adults will fall off the proverbial wagon. Don’t allow it to immobilize you.

    3. Rediscover Who You Are

    Many of us have answered to the role of mom for so long that we can barely remember who we were before that. And while you are indeed still mom, you are also warrior and skier and dancer and aunt and sister and employee and friend. You have many hats. And it’s likely that in the midst of your hairiest parenting years, you may have had some of your other gifts, skills, talents, and relationships fall along the wayside. Pick up the old joys of yesteryear and learn who you are again. Who are you? It’s likely a question that you haven’t considered in some time and frankly, one that may take some time to discover the answer to.

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    4. Find a Hobby


    What do you enjoy doing? What new skill might you want to learn?  Photography? Dancing? Singing lessons? Scrapbooking? Gardening? Pottery? Organizing? Baking? Serving others at a local food bank? Find new ways to enjoy life. And take it a step further to find new ways to serve others who may need a helping hand. 

    5. Slow Down

    Take a moment to smell the roses. Stop at the roadside visitor’s bureau. Tour the museum. Take the wandering road trip. If your last few years were anything like mine, they were filled with basketball, baseball, football, track, swimming, volleyball, dances, and just about any other kids’ activity you can imagine. My days were spent as chauffeur and my nights spent as short-order cook and housekeeper. Maybe the next season for you includes your feet on the coffee table a little more taking some time to read the book you never got around to. It’s okay to slow down for a bit and embrace your new season.

    6. Grieve

    It’s okay to not be okay for a little while. It’s okay to take some time to mourn the loss of the old season. Yes, it’s exciting for the kids to be moving into their adult years and finding spouses and graduating college and landing new jobs. It’s exciting that your role is complete in “raising them up in the way they should go,” but it can also be hard for parents to let go and adjust to the day-to-day without children in the home. It can be especially hard for moms who carried babies in their womb and nursed boo-boo’s and rocked and made doctor’s appointments and did all the things that moms do for two decades. There is a time for everything under the sun, including mourning. Grieve. If you don’t, it may prevent you from moving on in a healthy way. It won’t be long before you’ll move right into your season of dancing again.

    Related: Listen to our FREE podcast, Single Mom 101. You can find all our episodes at LifeAudio.com. Click the play button below to listen to the first episode:

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    Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and serves more than 1,500 churches and 71,000 single mothers annually.  She is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She also hosts the podcast Single Mom 101, which you can find at LifeAudio.com. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com or check out her Facebook and Instagram pages.