To Everything there is a Season - Navigating the Empty NestDec 02, 2023
I just watched a video on Instagram of a woman cooking dinner in her farmhouse with lots of little kids. There are messes, and noisy voices and children helping to make homemade bread, spilling flour everywhere. She’s pregnant with her 8th child. Her life seems so full of purpose and meaning. People need her all the time and there’s always something to do. I remember those days. I miss the feeling of being needed and wanted and accomplishing tangible tasks like feeding a crowd, teaching skills and nurturing children.
In my 50’s I don’t have the same physical energy to even WANT to do that, but boy, do I miss that automatic feeling of purpose!
As I watched for the 10th time, I wondered how many other moms my age were watching that video with tears pouring down their cheeks. I started to feel a familiar grief over the season I’m in. My brain offered all kinds of conclusions about it - you’re lonely, depressed, aimless, used up, purposeless, unwanted, etc… Those thoughts and feelings threatened to carry me down a sad little stream on a pity party boat.
Perhaps it’s a homeschool mom phenomena - we had such a rich, full tapestry of living and learning when our days were spent teaching and learning together. It can feel difficult to match that deep purpose.
Thankfully, I remembered the full picture. I had to fight for joy then too!! In the midst of all that meaning and purpose and love, I also felt exhausted, overwhelmed, and inadequate at times. I had to choose to love those days of messes that never ended, no time to myself, etc.. Truth is…
To everything there is a season.
Nothing has gone wrong. It’s always been this way.
We are always fighting for joy.
Mothers have ALWAYS had to adjust to a new chapter when their help is not always wanted and honestly, not really needed. Mothers have ALWAYS had to balance their instinct to connect and be involved with their children with healthy separation and respect for their adult children’s own lives. We maintain good relationships with our children when we can let go of the “glory days” and move into our next chapter, finding meaning and purpose in a new calling.
To everything there is a season, mama.
A time to every purpose under heaven.
The season when kids have left the nest brings freedom to pursue other interests - work, hobbies, education, rest & self-care. Often, the examples I see of women living in the next chapter involve having plenty of money to spend - on nice trips, a more beautiful home, and little luxuries. We comfort ourselves with the finer things in life and it's fun - we deserve it, as long as we aren't trying to fill that lack of purpose hole with pleasure alone.
One of my favorite fantasies is to sell my house when my youngest leaves for college and travel. Going on a grand adventure sounds very empowering and exciting. But I'm also aware that I would be doing it so that I can FEEL better about my purpose. There would be an element of, "Fine, if the world no longer needs my service, I'm going to treat myself!" I even imagine selling all the STUFF I'm managing that no one is no longer using - all the children's books and homeschool curriculum. All the baby gear and extra bedding, Is it for grandkids someday? I don't know!! But, you can't travel forever and selling everything you own might be rash, right? To be honest, a trip would be much more enjoyable if it didn't carry the pressure to solve an existential midlife crisis.
Owning nothing and sitting at a cafe in France would still leave me with my own thoughts - the ones creating all my feelings anyway - happy or sad. Wherever you go, there YOU are! And perhaps it’s a balance of enjoying the little pleasures while also pursuing meaningful contribution.
Here are 2 ways I’m finding to fill my next chapter.
- Beauty - seeking out and noticing details in the world around me brings me comfort. A bird in a hydrangea bush, fluttering her wings in the rain. Flowers blooming. Fabrics and patterns in home design. Color. Time to visit new places and take in new scenery.
- Helping others with my work. Coaching, teaching, mentoring, solving problems. Finding a new audience for my gifts and skills because, while my children’s needs no longer fill my days, I can still help someone and it’s still rewarding to do so.
I have so much more to learn about the second half of life. If you’ve been there, please share what is going well for you.