Empty Nest Syndrome (Sort Of) - Who Am I and What Now?

Updated on August 22, 2018
E.G. asks from Rahway, NJ
14 answers

My one and only daughter is nearly 19 and attending community college. Although she still lives at home, she's rarely here except to sleep. She works, goes to school and has a boyfriend. She's everything I hoped she'd be - responsible, hard working and sweet. Her life is just as it should be right now and I'm happy for her.

I, on the other hand, feel like I've been hit with a ton of bricks. I've been a SAHM since she was born (other than about a dozen years with a small home business that I did in my spare time). I've enjoyed every moment being home with her. She has had some rare health issues over the past 4-5 years and I put a LOT of time and energy into getting her diagnosed/treated. All is fine with that for now thankfully. She and my husband have strict dietary restrictions so I spend a lot of time/energy on cooking meals for them from scratch daily (we rarely go out). DH works very hard and has recently had a change of jobs that requires longer hours. When he gets home in the evening, he's exhausted - and goes to bed pretty early. We have a happy relationship. I have aging parents who live an hour away. I visit them weekly if I can.

So I'm alone during the day with enough to keep me busy, but just routine daily tasks. I meet a friend once or twice a month for lunch. I'm involved at our church to the degree I want to be. I have some health challenges that limit my energy and cause me to gain weight which I've been working on losing since January. It's going to be a long slow process which has been slowed down further after I had a bad fall in June.

So although I love my family, it's all hit me just now - I have some time to myself FINALLY - what do I want to do? It's been so long since I've asked myself this that I don't know what the answer is. I'm realizing that I'm one of those women who doesn't know what she wants. I'm feeling overwhelmed and a little depressed about the situation. I don't really want to work, although a part time job would give me a little extra spending money. I used to work a high stress Wall Street job and I have no interest in that kind of position again. I feel like my brain has gone to oatmeal anyway. How do you regroup and start to figure out what the next chapter is?

What can I do next?

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answers from New York on

Have you thought about taking up a hobby like crochet, knitting, tatting, embridery, sewing, pottery making, jewelry making, gardening or something.

5 moms found this helpful

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answers from Norfolk on

Tell me about it!
Just when you get parenting all figured out - they have the audacity to grow up and leave!

We just move our son into his dorm for his sophomore year at college.
Last year I cried and was thoroughly depressed for at least 8 weeks.
I sobbed over the tv remote control - son always used it and I had forgotten how to.
I had to totally relearn how to use it again.
Husband was in a funk too.
It was great having son home from school over summer and now he's gone again.

We're sad - but not nearly so bad as last year.
Son texts us often - so we hear from him.

You do need to spend some time to grieve a little bit.
Active parenting is over.
We should celebrate and give ourselves a pat on the back!
Did we ever dream this day would come when we were walking the floors with a screaming infant at 2am?
Now it's a whole new ball game and the rules have all changed.

As with last year - I'm off on a cleaning kick.
There's not as much to do this year - but cleaning will make me feel better eventually.
I have a few weeks left of possible jury duty twice a week.
Then I need to get my behind in gear and figure out how to get a job.
Once I find one - I'll find a new balance.

There's a site called Grown and Flown that has some interesting articles for our particular stage in parenting.


Cut yourself a little slack.
We'll figure it out eventually.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

my solution was to get a part time job. then i remembered that i've always wanted to write, and the old passion flared up. at almost 60 i've figured out what i want to be when i grow up.

root around in your childhood and teenage years. read your old diaries if you've got 'em. find an old dream and rekindle it.

or discover a new one!

take classes at the community college. volunteer. and don't overschedule yourself- savor the slow pace of this sweet, sweet time of life.

between my aging in-laws, my p/t job and my mid-life crisis horse i'm amused to find that i don't have as much time as i want to write. somehow i've got myself too busy again even without the boys here!

:D khairete

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Get a part-time job. I worked in retail for years and loved it the only thing is you will work a lot of evenings and weekends. You could also do some volunteer work hospitals, libraries, food banks always need help. If you like animals your local shelter needs your help.
You have learned a lot about nutrition taking care of your husband and daughter's special diet needs. You could always go back to school and get a degree or certification in nutrition and teach seminars or workshops.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

Well, I can tell you what i would do if I were you. I would find a part time job somewhere I think is cool...such as at a museum, a cool bio research group, an environmental/educational group. I would also start taking art classes at the local university. Just one at a time. I would also volunteer at the animal shelter and the environmental group. I might join a board of something I care about. I would garden more...maybe join the garden club to learn more. I would get some girlfriends to regularly exercise with me...hikes/daily walks. I would start taking some exercise classes at the YMCA. I would get tickets for my husband and I to the theater, concerts, musicals, talks, the opera. I would invite friends to join us. I would host dinner parties. I would plan an amazing place for my husband and I to travel to once a year. I might start learning a foreign language. I might do a home improvement project. I would try to hang out with friends more...maybe start a book club or something like that. I might take a class with the local Mountaineers club and learn something new. I would go on local wildflower hikes, birding hikes, and try to learn the names of plants and birds. I would try to make some new friends. I would try to improve myself. I would probably be sad and go through a period of mourning but then I would embrace this new stage in life.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Congrats at your empty nest. I'd probably write a list of the things that interest me and then figure out what I wanted to do.Then figure out if you want to volunteer your time or find a job.

When I retire I want to volunteer in a school system helping children practice their reading or writing. There are a lot of school systems with very low scores and I'm sure having a grandma sit one to one with a kid that needs just a little encouragement might help a little.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

One thing that jumped out at me was that you have aging parents that may need more of you at any time. You sound like a nurturing person and one that could get very busy when this happens. My point is, enjoy this time for yourself doing what you love. Maybe also start to figure out the next steps with your parents. Figure out their finances, do they want to move closer to you, etc.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Tyler on

I've been empty nesting since May of this year. My daughters are 23 and 19 and live in Houston, while mom and dad are in Tyler a full 3 1/2 hours away. They live together, which has been such a wonderful experience! They are bonding as sisters in a way they never really bonded while living at home! My oldest moved out for college right after her high school graduation in 2013, so they basically had not lived together since that time.

For me, I do work full time and manage our home as well as do the bookkeeping for my husband's business. I've decided to try reinvest in my neglected friendships with my new "me" time. I've rejoined a book club with a friend group I truly enjoy, reconnected over several long and wonderful dinners, taken some classes to learn new skills (one time only, usually involves wine and laughter). I don't go out with friends more than once, maybe twice a week, so my husband doesn't feel neglected and I'm getting some girl time!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I'm an empty nester.. in 2013 out daughter started college and we put her in a condo about 20 minutes from home. She came home weekly for family Sunday dinner and to do her laundry.

In 2015 my husband of 26 years dropped dead of a heart attack.

I live by myself in this big house on the first floor. I run our company from home. I had been doing all of the bookwork for years.

I see my daughter more often as we adjust to our new normal.

Back in 2000 when my daughter started school, I volunteered at the school so much I ended up subbing and bringing in extra money. This year I start my 18th year of subbing.

Subbing has been my outlet for years. I'm good at it, qualified, LOVE the children and environment.

I also volunteer for organizations in my community.

I love what Suz T said. You find yourself.. what you love.

Do something for you! Continue to grow and expand your social groups and friends.

You've got this!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

You have taken the first step by asking the question "what's next". You could explore what types of part-time jobs are available and see if any of them appeal to you. Did you like your prior home business? Any hobbies you want to get involved in now that you have some time; like sewing, painting, writing??? Perhaps you could explore an interest by taking courses at a local community college. Transitions can be difficult, but they can also be exciting. Give yourself a break and take the time to explore the possibilities. I'm almost 65, have a great life, and still don't know "what I want to be when I grow up"; lol.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

This is such a great opportunity for you! I would think about what has really piques your interest over the past few years. What have you had the chance to do that you thought was really, really interesting? For me, I found that I could easily spend all day researching things like educational stats - why does this town get X amount in funding but that district only gets Y? How is this district able to offer so many classes and activities yet keep per-pupil spending down? This came from understanding questions people asked when our town was trying to raise taxes to support more school funding. Or I could spend days and days reading about maternal health care and women's health. Or helping steer families through special education services in school.

Maybe it's an issue, a service, or something more fun like a craft, hobby, etc. Whatever it is, see if there is a way to dip your toes in the water by volunteering or working part-time. If I weren't working FT, I'd either be a substitute teacher, on our school committee, spend time with NICU babies, or decorate cakes and cookies. Also there is a group in my state that pairs volunteers up with special education students in foster care so that they have a "surrogate" parent representing their interests in IEP meetings (their foster parents and those running group homes can't fill that role, they need a trained volunteer advocate) - I'd do that too.

With a finance background, there is opportunity to help on a volunteer basis...I know plenty of small non-profits who desperately need someone who can help them set up their books, properly register with their state and get a federal EIN, file their 990, etc. For a small group, they don't really even need a CPA, just someone comfortable with working with money who can sort out the basics.

Enjoy this time!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

This is a terrific opportunity to find YOU, and it's a lesson to all women (including your daughter) not to immerse ourselves so much in the service of others that we lose our own way.

Your daughter is telling you in many ways that your parenting has been successful. She's in college, she's independent (to some degree) and she has a happy social life. It's time for her to develop one more life skill - cooking for herself. Your husband needs to learn this as well. They are the ones with medical issues - why are they not taking responsibility for this? I would force myself to stop being responsible for 2 grown adults. To have more time together during the transition, perhaps you should schedule 4 family cooking sessions (every other Sunday, perhaps) for hubby, daughter and boyfriend. You would accomplish several things: make them more self-sufficient, welcome the boyfriend into your home, and reduce the stress and servant mentality on you.

I think you should start to look at long-term options for your parents. I don't know how flexible they are or whether moving them closer would be a good thing or just more for you to do. You could look into assisted living or an active senior community too, so that at least someone is looking in on them daily in a low-key way.

As for what you enjoy, it's hard to know. I agree with JB that you dip your toe into things slowly. You're involved at church, but you says it's enough. It's good that you know this. It sounds like you want to get a handle on your own health - also a good thing. Perhaps a carefully designed program at a gym would be good. I joined a class of women ranging in age from 40-70, and the exercises could be adapted to various strength levels and medical issues. The social group was so important, and everyone encouraged each other to come to class. We even started having pot luck dinners once every 4-6 weeks.

Another friend does kayaking - they have a group called "Ladies Who Launch"! While this might not be for you, the idea is that there are other women in the same boat (no pun intended). Find them! I'm also in a women's chorus that meets one morning a week, and then visits nursing homes and assisted living residences for 4 concerts in December and 4 in May. Again, it's a social group that also provides a service, and our members range from 40-90! Some members can't stand for the whole concert - so chairs are provided and they just sit in the front row of the chorus. Super easy to accommodate limitations.

There are schools that would love to have volunteers to read to kids. Sometimes they just need occasional help with a seasonal bulletin board display or to help kids "publish" their written work (my son's school had a program where we created There are senior centers that need someone to help run the lunches or the game/activity of the day. Pick a 2 hour window of time one day a week, no more. I would be careful about choosing to cook/serve food since you are sort of stuck in the cooking rut right now, but greeting people or keeping track of the bingo cards might be a good start. Will your health allow you to be a museum docent, giving tours? If not, how about working at the info desk? Maybe working/volunteering at a college would give you a chance to take a course or two for free (even if it's just to audit something interesting, not necessarily for credit).

Yes, you can get a job, but maybe you need to have something that is just for you right now and not working on a schedule for someone else while you figure out what interests you. And something for just a few hours would give you a chance to work on your own health.

What I do know is that a woman your age would be in great demand. Take time to figure out why you seem to define your worth only by how much you cook for others, and try to refocus on taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Great question and love the answers :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

You got some good answers to your question. I too am an empty nester. What I did many years back is know that I wanted to do something for me so that when the children left home I would/could handle it. So I worked full time. Now, I am about to retire (70) from university life I will continue doing my own thing of sewing and crafting from home. Some items are entered into craft fairs and sold.

Think of what you wanted to do as a child and go from there. Try a course or two at the community college, try helping at a local school, get your hair done. Do things for you and you alone.

Consider the future and what might be needed with your in-laws. I just did this with my husband. His mom fell down again and is now living in long term assisted living (she is 98) and now has aids 24/7. It's hard on her because she has lived alone for so long but she does need the help and we live 12 hours away.

Just take your time and try out everything. Something will stick and you will enjoy your life.

the other S.

1 mom found this helpful
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