A close friend and I were recently discussing our new mutual status as empty nesters and were feeling a bit sentimental as a long chapter of our lives was winding down. Her youngest had just moved out of state for her first job after graduating. My youngest had just moved out of our house to transfer to a college out of town. Our older children are established in careers and graduate programs. And while many of our friends have married offspring or are planning weddings, or are grandparents or expecting to be, we acknowledged that we had a ways to go before we entered into that particular season.
Instead of seasons, I sometimes like to think of life as chapters of a book, which seems more open to creative permutations and unpredictability. Maybe it’s the avid reader in me. However you look at it, chapters or seasons, life is a story that is constantly evolving.
I’ve pretty much competed the first main chapters of childhood, marriage, raising kids, etc but I’m not yet living out the golden years of retirement and grandparenting.
I’d say I’m in an “Interim Season” – Kind of between seasons, or to go with the book analogy, I suppose I’m in the second book of a trilogy. My children are technically adults. One in graduate school, one in college. My husband and I are still several years from retirement age and have only just started to hint at what we want to do once we retire. We are both healthy and active “fifty somethings” and with any luck could be looking at 40 more years on this planet.
We are entering into those middle years where we have the freedom to enjoy life without all the demands and stress of launching careers and raising children. So why does it sometimes seem so disorienting to change gears? Or maybe the question is, why wouldn’t it be?
For the past 25 years, I’ve been raising a family, maintaining a career and staying at times insanely busy and “productive”. And now I’m left wondering what to do with this unclaimed bonus time.
I should be reveling in this new freedom! Evenings are up for grabs! And while I dutifully helped my kids with homework and school projects, I was ready to relinquish those duties. I also enjoyed attending my kids activities, helping out in the classroom and volunteering for various committees, but when all that that wound down, the transition to fewer school obligations was relatively painless. There were always plenty of opportunities to volunteer in the community.
Being empty nesters means that we can eat out, order in, have cereal for dinner or pretty much anything we want, without feeling guilty for not preparing a nutritious home cooked meal. And talk about not being tied down, other than our two pups, there’s not much preventing us from those last minute getaways. This is what people dream of, right?
Well, yes… But although the transition from having young children who depend on you for everything to having grown children is gradual, it still hits you like a ton of bricks at that final juncture when empty nest becomes a reality. Sure, our young adult children often ask for advice and come home for weekend visits. We still take family vacations whenever everyone’s schedules line up. Parenting never really ends, but our role as parents constantly evolves, and learning those new roles requires a type of surrender.
There will come a day when I will be planning weddings, babysitting grandchildren (and most likely also planning joint replacement surgeries). Until then, I really should be taking full advantage of this time in my life, being in the present.
And so, I’ve put together a list of some of interim years goals and resolutions. Perhaps you’d like to try a few yourself?
- On occasion, do nothing productive, and enjoy it dammit!
- Learn to cook delicious meals for two. Blue Apron has some great menus..
- Go on long walks (with pets, friends or enjoy the solitude of being alone).
- Learn new things. Ballroom dancing, painting, cake decorating..
- Get manicures, pedicures, massages and facials and do NOT feel one bit guilty for doing so! Take Caremark of yourself!
- Volunteer for causes you have a passion for.
- Make time for coffee (often) with girlfriends – talk about all kinds of meaningful topics.. or talk about celebrity gossip!
- Read (and write) more. Challenge your mind.
- Travel. Even if it’s just short distances.
- Redecorate…Or move!
- Practice gratitude for family, friends, health and opportunities.
- Remember that everyone’s timeline and path is special and unique. There is no deadline for milestones. There are no required milestones for that matter!
- Live life as it happens, adjusting to each change, chapter and season with acceptance and enthusiasm.
Whatever chapter, volume or season you happen to be in, don’t just live it. Thrive in it!