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5 Ways to Make the Empty Nest Feel Better

margaret rutherford, dr. margaret, midlife boulevard

After giving my 2 year post-empty-nest report card last time here on Midlife Boulevard, a reader sent this comment and great question.

…. Please address healthy, good ideas for finding your new place where you fit in their life and staying close. I realize also, that there is nothing you can do, really. They need to be left alone….. The hardest part for me is the not sharing life, anymore, not knowing the friends, as one blog connected to yours said so well… ‘Knowing  them a little less’ and the author said she ‘never wanted to know her kids less.’ I do not struggle to accept this stage, as I know we pray, trust God and embrace where we are. It is just lonely, hard.

The reader is quoting Lisa Endlich Heffernan of Grown and Flown.  I read the same post.  It was incredible.

As a therapist, I am always trying to focus not just on  concepts, but on tangibles.  Concrete change.

So what are the things to help yourself get on with life after empty nest?


How to Deal with the Empty Nest:

1)  “Find something you love as much as you loved mothering (parenting…).”

This is a quote from our own editor-in-chief, Sharon Greenthal on the Katie Couric show, June 4th!  She and Lisa Heffernan gave advice about empty nest.  They really did a bang-up job.

This was thought-provoking and challenging advice.  Probably those who suffer most keenly from empty nest are those that threw themselves into parenting.

They were there.  All the time.

Searching for and finding another passion that might feel at all similar to that kind of energy might seem difficult.  But when I ponder it, parenting developed a part of me that would have lain dormant if I had not had that opportunity.

Maybe that’s the point.  Perhaps we can all find another part of ourselves to be developed.  Another aspect of ourselves lying asleep.  Waiting to be discovered.

Your spiritual self.  Creative self.  Maybe physical self.

Just try it.  And have fun doing it.

Maybe it’s something you wanted to do “years ago”.  And the excuse of, “Oh, now I’m too old for that?”.

Unless it’s vying for the Miss America title, I’d say go for it.  There’s bound to be some form of almost every activity that could be enjoyed at any age.

2)  Nurture and deepen your primary relationship.

Now is the time to get out that bucket list with your partner.  Talk about goals you have together.  Things for the two of you to share.  That you can both work on.  That will bring you closer.

A garden.  A trip.  Volunteering for an organization.  Reorganizing a room in your home.  Learning to dance.

Talk about any emotional hurts that are keeping the two of you stuck in the past.  So that you can be in the present together.  Enjoy each other’s company.  Maybe even in ways that you could not when kids were around.

3)  Make new friends while honoring the old.  

Your child’s life is moving on.  They are making new friends.  Traveling to new places.

You need to have fresh things to look forward to as well!   Have a neighbor over that you have always wanted to get to know.  Join or form a book club.  Being socially connected keeps us invigorated.  Keeps energy in our lives.

Honor friends that have been there for you.  Now that the little rascals are gone, there is more time for them.  Reach out.

4)  Get comfortable with your “not knowing”.

It does feel awkward to ask, “Do you like tomatoes on your salad now?”.  He didn’t used to like tomatoes.  In fact, he hated tomatoes.  Now, he replies, “Oh yeah, I really like them.”

As Lisa Heffernan writes, the “not knowing” them as well.   She is so right.  It is a gift that is hard to give.

If we see this from their perspective, our children are often proud to tell us how they have changed.  Proof of their independence.  That they have done just great without us. They have even mastered tomatoes.

Even though we are wishing we had been there to see them eat their first one.

Realize, at their core, there is much we do still know.  And they will turn to us.  As they need us.

5)  Play more music.

I used to always wonder why my Dad always had music on when I came home.  Now I know.  It was to fill up the quiet.

Kids leave and suddenly, the house is… dead.  Unearthly quiet.  I got so tickled when I saw Sharon and Lisa on TV.  That was one of the first things they said. We must all feel it.

So fill that house with whatever kind of music you love!

“Musick has Charms to soothe the savage breast”.  William Congreve. 1697.

Guess the guy was an empty nester.

Thanks to this reader for a great question!  Please comment below and give more of your own ideas.  I will look forward to more comments and questions! You can send them to me privately at  

midlife boulevard, columnist, midlife women, middle-age, midlife crisis

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford has been in practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas for over 20 years. She began blogging in 2012 with the website “NestAche”, and following with in April 2014. Her work can be found here on Midlife Boulevard, as well as the Huffington Post, Boomeon, WeWantMore, BetterAfter50 and Arkansas Women Bloggers.

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Rena McDaniel-The Diary of an Alzheimer's Caregiver

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

My "emptynest" came while she was still in the nest. The year before she went away I was panicked. Couldn't for the life of me figure out how I was going to get along without my only daughter. It didn't help that my only son was serving in Afghanistan as a convoy leader for a year. So when she finally left imagine my shock when I realized I actually loved it!

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

You go girl! I would love to hear more about that! What did you love so much?? Good for you Rena. Thanks so much for commenting!


Wednesday 11th of June 2014

Yayyyy! Thank you Margarat for re-posting this. I was not able to find the other one you wrote on NestAche. I have come to the conclusion there is just no way to get ready for this time of them moving out and going away to school in another town. We were "those parents" often people spotted us in the crowd of being the "only child parents" before they realized our daughter was an only child. We went to everything and did EVERYTHinG she has been involved with for 17 years. I think I was thinking I could just go threw the steps instead of the heartache when they leave. I finally realized it is totally impossible to avoid it. There are no stages in my household of "letting go" during these last couple of months when she needs me the most for things like dorm room decisions, and all that goes into transitioning your child to college in another town 3.5 hours away. When you know something is changing you can do things slowly to get yourself ready for the change. But not with children. I will be fine. I just had to accept the fact that when we drive away after "move in weekend" I will cry, and hurt and cry and then I will get up and do the next right thing. Life.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

Wow Kary. So heartfelt! Just know that my first "NestAche" post was about me being balled up in fetal position in my son's car, (he couldn't take it to college). Screaming and sobbing. "I have changed my mind!!!! You can't leave. It hurts too much!!!". Then I went inside and went to a movie. Dried my tears and like you said, "do the next right thing". Beautifully put. And btw, this is a new post. Some of the old ideas that you remember. And some new ones. Thanks so much for commenting!


Wednesday 11th of June 2014

Thanks for these great tips. My nest isn't quite empty yet, but in anticipation, I started blogging. It's only been two months but I have found the most wonderful, supportive women! The thing I'm most worried about is not seeing the kids every day and missing them terribly. I know I'll get used to it, but right now I just can't imagine.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

That's wonderful Lana! I did the same and look where it's landed me! You will become accustomed to it. But at the same time, let yourself grieve a little when you need to. Don't divert your attention away from the sadness. It won't kill you. Just feel and work your way through it. I did mine and still am. There are lots of blogs out there to help you.

Anne Parris

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

Thanks, Margaret! My nest is half empty (or, since I'm an optimist--half full!) I have four years left actively parenting, so I'm planning now for what I'll do afterwards. In fact, you are looking at it!

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

And aren't we all luckier for that? The planning is a great idea! Really relish these last 4 years as you probably have already been doing! Thanks Anne!

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