Carol, my “type A” pal, is a high-energy corporate consultant, with a string of successful business ventures to her credit. She has an abundance of frequent flier miles. She's known and admired for her independence, strength and leadership. Amy, my sweet and constant friend, dedicated her life to raising a wonderful family. She's an amazing cook and gardener. She maintains a spacious, comfort-filled home in a peaceful landscape, where she entertains guests often. You wouldn’t think two such people would have a lot in common ... but each one recently said the same thing to me about a problem they felt at the core of their beings.
Amy wondered what she was going to do to fill her life now that the last of her children had moved out. She was feeling a deep and terrible emptiness, an ache that no amount of text messaging and letter writing and phone calling could ever begin to fix. She felt somehow stunned, confused, wounded. “It’s such a struggle to pretend that I feel like things are fine,” she said, “but they really are fine. So that just makes me feel more disoriented.” She felt like she’d become irrelevant, undefined. Calling it “empty nest syndrome” just didn’t cover it.
Carol said something very similar. “I always made my decisions around the family schedule. Now, the kids are off in a lot of different places and they’re taking care of themselves. Every conceivable choice has opened up for me but, instead of feeling excited, I feel overwhelmed. And I hate to admit it but I really don’t know how to sort it all out. It’s the first time in my life that I don’t have to consider anyone else’s interest. My life should be much easier now. It is not. This stage of life has been surprisingly hard.”
How each of us will find value in the Empty Nest stage of our lives is the core challenge that a large number of women tell me they share. Many of us derived our identities from our relationships with our families. It’s no wonder that, when we are finally able to make choices that strictly serve ourselves, we feel a bit lost.
I'd love to hear your comments on the empty nest, whether it brought any issues into focus for you and how you met that challenge.