After the last kid grows up and flies down the road to chart his or her own path, get ready for a new adventure: you have more time, the house is quiet, and you don’t to hide your favorite ice cream behind the frozen ham hocks anymore. But, what should you do now? Here are some excerpts from my article “Empty Nest” to be published next month in Going Bonkers Magazine.”In hindsight, I was totally unprepared for the truth. I will live without my children much longer than I lived with them. That’s a difficult reality after submerging twenty years of my life into the responsibilities, joys, and frustrations of raising kids. Now that they’re happy, productive adults, I can look back at those years as a brief, marvelous moment in time when I had the privilege to be their mother. If you’re in the same precarious predicament, here are some suggestions to cope with the empty nest syndrome.1. Remember the Song “Cat’s in the Cradle”. Yes, the lyrics from the song by Harry Chapin are true. We’re so busy when our children are young that we forget that they’ll be grown up and gone in the blink of an eye. Take time to savor the years with your children. Besides, you need to keep a good relationship with your kids because you’ll need their assistance when you’re old and feeble.2. Prepare for Parting. If your child is getting ready to leave for college, plan for a family vacation or adventure before he or she leaves home. Celebrate the future and provide encouragement because your child may be just as apprehensive as you are. However, don’t feel too bad if he or she runs out the door shouting “Alleluia”. That just means you’ve given them some powerful and positive wings to fly.3. Give Them the True Gifts. Your children should leave home with the ability to survive. They need to know how to do laundry, balance a checkbook, cook a meal, and get a job. They also need to know that they always will be welcomed home any time with open arms, a clean bed, and a warm meal waiting for them.4. Reorganize your Life. It’s all different now and will never be the same. You need to assess your personal transition from primary caregiver to part-time peer. Your children want you to be happy, and they don’t need any guilt trips on their journey to independence. You can have the same feeling of freedom that they have if you’re willing to explore your own potential.5. Don’t Start “Pre-Grieving”. There is an online web site that actually has links to regular blogs for people who are “pre-grieving.” Even though their children are still at home, the parents already have begun to lament the time when they kids will leave home. With all due respect, it’s time to get a grip and a life.6. Relish Your Relationships. If you’re married, you now have an opportunity to rekindle the dormant passion that was put on the back burner while you dedicated your time to raising children. You may have to dig out the old photos, songs, and costumes to remind you of a friskier time. If you’re single, find some groups that cater to single men and women. You don’t have to rush into a serious relationship, but it’s nice to have a friend to share dinner and a movie.7. It’s Time for Self-Discovery. Your young adult children are out finding themselves, so maybe you can do the same. Have you always wanted to write? Or experiment with interior decorating? Or learn Spanish? Or take a computer class or a cooking class? Now is the time. Make a list of things you want to do and then design a plan for how you’re going to do them.8. Volunteer to Fill the Void. You may be lonely, but there are other people in your community who also have problems. Find a charity or organization that needs dedicated volunteers. You’ll feel better and productive when you help someone else in need.9. Schedule Appointments for Yourself. It’s easy to avoid doing activities unless you make a detailed schedule. Get a central calendar and make appointments that you intend to keep.10. Take Time to Travel. Look on the bright side. If you want to take a trip, you don’t have to have a NASA-type command center to organize a family excursion. Just throw a few things in a backpack and take off. And you won’t have to hear the incessant whine of “Are we there yet?” 9. Search the Internet for trips to take by yourself or with your significant other.11. Reconnect with Friends. Remember your best friend from college? Now is the time to find her and make plans to get together again. If she had children the same time you did, she’s probably wallowing around in her own empty nest. Call her and find out how she’s doing.12. Join a Club. Check your local newspaper for a list of clubs and associations in your area. You could join a gardening club, a book club, a scrapbooking group, a bird watching club, or a writing group. Find an association that relates to your career field. It’s a great way to keep the brain working.13. Focus on Fitness. Now that you don’t have to get up to make breakfast or lunches for the kids, take the time to concentrate on your physical health. Join a gym or participate in some exercise programs on television. As you age, you could experience problems with weight gain, lack of energy, and other physical issues that can be improved with regular exercise, a healthy diet, and daily vitamins. After all, you need to live long enough to see how your grandkids deal with their own empty nest.14. Anticipate Health Issues. Admit that you’re never going to relive your cheerleading days. Soon you’ll be lucky to participate in the tap dance group down at the senior citizens center. And menopause is just waiting to attack your senses and sanity. Be prepared.15. Baby your Brain. It’s time to concentrate on concentration. Keep your brain alert and active by doing word games and crossword puzzles. Watch documentaries instead of soap operas. Research ways to challenge your cognitive abilities and to keep your wits about you. If you become too forgetful, invest in sticky notes. They’re invaluable.16. Read More Books. When you kids were home, you were lucky to sneak time to read a chapter of a book. Now you can make a pot of tea, prepare a plate of goodies, and curl up with a good book with no fear of interruption. That’s a luxury, indeed.17. Get Political. Are you worried about the chaos in government? Now you have time to get involved in politics, campaign for a favorite candidate, or even run for office. Why not?Remodel the House. Your children have moved out, so you have every right to turn their bedrooms into a delightful guest room, or a creative hobby room, or a home office. Give them advance notice to pack up their treasures or you’ll put everything in boxes in the garage. It will be like having a new home.18. Go Back to School. Are you interested in completing your degree? Or in learning a new profession? Consult the catalogs for your local community college or university. Also, there are many online courses available. If you just want to expand your knowledge, consider taking classes for no credit.19. Relate to the Relatives. Now you have time to care for aging parents or to visit other relatives that you didn’t see when your children were small. Reconnect with family and plant some seeds to strengthen the family tree.20. Keep the Music Playing. Join a choir. Take dance lessons. Learn to play piano. Sing in the shower. It’s great for your attitude.21. Get Cultured. Search for events at museums, libraries, and concert halls. Get the best tickets you can afford, wear a new dress, and expect to be enlightened.22. Anticipate the Reality of Grown Children. Don’t fret if your adult children don’t call regularly. They’re busy with their lives and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It just means they’re busy. Even though your relationship will be different from now on, your love remains just as strong as ever.23. Keep in Contact with Your Children. Emails and pay-as-you-go mobile phone vouchers are efficient ways to communicate with your kids. Schedule regular telephone calls and send letters. For college students, a care package from home is always welcome. Include the hometown newspaper or some photos. Learn how to take and download digital photographs to share.24. Children are Human, too. Your young adults will probably make some mistakes, just like you did. They may struggle as they find their way, just like you did. Let them know you love them and are proud of them. They need to know that.25. Consider Retail Therapy. Remember when you had to struggle with strollers, noisy children, and demanding teens every time you went shopping? Now you can meander through the mall for hours without distraction and then improve your outlook with some rambling retail therapy.”
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