I’ve been a parent since I was 18 years old. Beyond what I do now, writing and coaching women, I’ve never done anything but take care of my family. My entire adult life has revolved around my children.
Even when I worked a full-time job, I took kids to daycare and/or picked them up, came home, cooked dinner, did dishes and laundry, got them ready for bed and then, did it all again the next day. Also, I took time off work to go on field trips, to make it to after-school Girl Scout meetings, and to attend the Wednesday Family Dinner Night at our church.
In 2002, with the plan to have my third child, I left my job to devote my life to just to the household. I started leading the Girl Scout meetings and the community events, I kept score at my oldest daughter’s softball games (and did all the other paperwork for the coach who was my husband), attended middle school basketball games, and celebrated when my daughters were rewarded as the student of the month or in the County Spelling Bee. And that’s not even counting all of the various doctor’s appointments for passing out, epilepsy, ADHD, and other ailments that always seemed to come up – someone always had something going on.
I was a very involved parent… as much as they’d let me be until they no longer wanted me to care for them.
My oldest daughter left home in late 2011, just before my separation and divorce in 2013. My next oldest daughter departed suddenly, without notice, on her 18th birthday. And my youngest will be 17 in June, with one foot out the door – telling me if he had a better choice he’d already be gone. They could care less if I’m around, really. If they don’t need me for something, or I won’t provide what they want (I won’t be used), I’m useless in their life.
This can make anyone feel discarded! But after being abandoned by your husband, for someone else, it can leave a deep feeling of sadness and emptiness in your life once again. I hear these feelings very normal and even married parents feel them. Experts and those dealing with this, call it “Empty Nest Syndrome.”
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
This is not a clinical diagnosis, dysfunction, or disorder. There is no condition in the diagnostic manual called “Empty Nest Syndrome.” It is just the feeling of grief and loneliness that many parents experience when their child is leaving the nest and launching into the world. It’s despondency and feeling dejected. I’m sure this is especially true for mothers who were stay-at-home moms whose worth was wrapped up for all those years, being a wife and mother.
This was/is the case for me. I grieved each time my children left. And now I’m on my last. Although the prospect of experiencing life for the first time as a single woman without children at home is exciting, I’m also sad that none of my kids need me or see my worth. I don’t even feel they appreciate all that I have done for them over the last 26 years.
Married couples have each other to reconnect with and encourage each other. But divorced women are facing this experience all alone – just another reminder of the past, present, and future. The abandonment wounds that we thought had healed, could be ripped wide open again. Being an empty nester after divorce can be painful!
Empty Nest Feelings.
There could be mixed emotions, like what I’m experiencing, being so close to the end of my parenting journey. Feelings of discard, sadness, loneliness, and emptiness. Frustration over the lack of control over the situation. Anxiety about, if or when you’re children are going to be responsible adults, living life on their own. Mourning the loss of this chapter of your life or being a constant presence in your child’s life. Releasing the purpose of motherhood and the fact that they no longer need you.
You could be nervous about what you’ll do next or excited about this new beginning. Being able to just care for yourself without having to constantly pick up after someone else or rescue them from their drama. If you’re like me, you could be ready to see what life is like when you don’t have to be someone else’s caregiver. Your world doesn’t have to revolve around them anymore!
Personally, I’m ready to be a single woman for the first time, even if I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’m excited, yet nervous, all at the same time. There is a fear of uncertainty and the unknown future, but I also know that God is already there. He’s paving the way.
How to Cope as an Empty-nester?
1.) Accept this as a life change. It’s not you, although it may feel that way – especially if your ex-husband has turned your children against you. This is their life’s path that they’re on (taking them wherever God takes them) and you need to stay on yours. God has better things for you up ahead, that you couldn’t do before when you were distracted with a husband and children. This is a new chapter and as hard as it is, it’s easier to just accept it than fight for what’s in the past.
2.) Find others who need your care. This life may feel lonely, but there are a lot of other people, and animals, who also have no one to love them. I find it so fulfilling to take care of people in my community (via donating to the food pantry) and encouraging ladies online because I know people do appreciate how much I care and want to help. (I appreciate all the thank you notes in comments. It blesses my heart to know I’m doing something good in this world!)
3.) Find a support group to empower you on your healing journey. A divorce recovery group will help you feel less alone, help encourage your healing and focused on the future. (I’d love to have you in my Stronger Woman After Divorce Group Program! If you prefer an in-person group, check out my resources page for a list.)
4.) Find your place in this world. Travel the world or explore your current location. Network with other people to create your next chapter. Does it mean new friendships, more education, a new career, traveling, or something else? What path does God have you on and where would He have you go next? What did/do you want to do that you couldn’t do because you had children? (I have a divorced friend, without children, who jet-sets across the United States often. She inspires me to give traveling a try even with my chronic conditions.)
5. Make space for healing and rest. Feel all those feelings while you work through them – I know I have been. Talk with a trusted mentor or write things out in your journal. Sit with Jesus and feel His comfort – I’ve been doing that too. Trust God to walk with you on this journey and to direct your paths. We’re all walking together!
6.) Keep seeking God as the only source of real healing and comfort. When He is all you have you find that He’s all that you need.
Positive Aspects of Being an Empty Nester:
I’ve always found it healing and beneficial to find the positives that come out of these negative experiences after divorce. Keeping a list of gains and losses helps to keep a positive and thriving mindset when the emotions want to overtake you… and try to bring you down.
- Not being tied down by any one person or location. You are free to move about and make your own decisions – based on what you want or need.
- You always get to pick what’s for dinner without arguments from another person.
- Not having to make sure the fridge and pantry are full of food or mostly snack foods. (I’m looking forward to eating healthier!)
- Keeping your home as clean or as messy as you like. When you come home it looks the same as when you left.
- Freedom to decorate everything to your taste.
- Not having to share the internet with video games. (I’m excited about that!)
- No worry about the toilet seat being up! 😉
- The only smells are your smells! (Am I the only one who doesn’t like stink?!?!)
- Fewer distractions while trying to get things done, praying, meditating, or especially sleeping. (I’m a light sleeper!)
- Less to clean when you do decide to clean. Same for laundry.
- And most importantly, no one will put the toilet paper roll on backward… or leave it empty… and then ask you to bring them some!
Are you faced with or living the empty-nester life after divorce? How do you cope and what positive aspects have you found that help you to survive?
God bless your healing journey,
I understand the “empty nest” feelings of missing your children and all that goes with it.
For me, I became a volunteer tutor at a school with a large population of non-English speaking students or students in poverty. After volunteering for a year and a half, I was hired as a part-time paid tutor, I have started taking Spanish lessons, and I have pursued more training for literacy tutoring. All of this has given me a whole new “mothering market” if you will. I have even had students remark that being at the school is their “home” because they spend most of their time there. We have to have new eyes at this stage of life.
Jen Grice says
What an awesome way to cope with those feelings, Laura. Such important work. Thanks for sharing!
Loretta V. says
All you have said is true! The hardest thing just recently was having my Uni student return for 5 weeks, took a bit to get used to the mess and having him home, just when I felt calm again he had to return to uni. Once again leaving a void. Just before he left I brought my new puppy home, I’m not sure whether my son liked it as he gruffly called her his replacement. It is hard to be alone when all you have ever known is to have been a daughter, wife and mother, living with and answering too other people.
With the children leaving home it is a great time to look into finding yourself and studying, I have one more module to complete for my double Diploma. Can’t wait, for the first time ever I can put me first and that has been the weirdest feeling. I am about to become a Leader’s Assistant in the newly formed Girl’s Brigade and am involved in my church. I have found keeping busy has helped.
My son assures me home for now is where here with me, in the house he grew up in, which warms my heart and is why I haven’t moved.
Jen Grice says
Good for you for working on your education and getting a puppy! Great advice for others.
Before my divorce, my husband wanted to live closer to his work so we sold our home and moved 50 miles away to shorten his commute. I’ve tried hard to create a “home” for my son in this small town, we moved to in 2012 for my ex, but it’s not been the same since.
Barb P. says
I am an empty nester for 22 years now. And only divorced for 4 weeks, At this point I am still in the spin cycle of emotions and still trying to sort the all the lies I am finding out, all the verbal and emotional abuse and how much I am effected by it. Going to divorce care for a second time, seeing a counselor also going to a supportive church. I have no clue how to be alone or what I want to do. I know I am feeling for the first time in 5 years as I had shut down to survive another affair and was not allowed to talk about how I felt it was not allowing the sound to heal. It has been six months since I demanded he leave. I am so grateful for all you do and share!!!! Thank you!
Jen Grice says
You’re welcome! I’m glad you have your DC group and a counselor to support you through this time. Glad to have you along here as well. Stay strong!!
I am an empty nester. My only child just moved out last August. We had (past tense) a great relationship until he went off to college and no longer walks a Godly path. I just left my husband of 26 years last week after finding his online porn that he admitted to for at least the last 5 years(no remorse, no sorry, not cheating in his mind). He hasn’t physically touched me for at least 16 years so I suspect the porn had been at least that long. He is an angry, sad man and I finally gave up and decided to move out. My pastor says that that is not what God intended a marriage to be. I’m coming to grips with that and dealing with the sudden quiet loneliness. Though I was so lonely before! I have no family support around nor friends and only been attending my new church for a year. I am in two women’s bible studies so that helps my heart. It’s going to be a long rough road. I’m glad I found this sight. As a devoted Christian, I feel like Ruth, an outcast. Blessings to all of you and your journeys.
Jen Grice says
I’m glad you found this website, Gayle, just at the right time. I’m sorry for all you’re dealing with. Yeah, I think it’s worse being in a lonely marriage than being “lonely” after divorce. Thanks for sharing and glad to have you along on this journey to healing.