Recently sent your little ones off to school full-time and struggling with a sense of purpose, mama? You may be dealing with ‘Early Empty Nest’ syndrome!
I’m sure you’ve heard of the classic empty nest that usually comes when the kids fly the coop and set out to explore the world. But I’m talking about what I like to call an early empty nest – the one that comes when our little toddlers aren’t so little anymore and don’t need us as much as we probably need them. It’s the one where they’re generally over the I-need-mommy-for-everything infant age, are in school from early morning till late afternoon, and – even then – are largely self-sufficient when they’re in the house.
When my twin boys (now almost 10) were younger, I never seemed to have enough hours in the day to get anything done, and I always thought, It’ll be better once the boys grow up a little and start going to school.
But now that that time has come, I feel like I have way too much time on my hands and simply don’t know what to do with myself on most days. I know it seems horrendously hypocritical, but it is true. I’m neither a culinary goddess nor a great fan of housework, so I make for a horrendous homemaker anyway. Of course if you’re one of those people who live the glamorous ‘tai-tai’ lifestyle – socialising, wining, dining and indulging in retail therapy – then please stop reading right here. For the rest of us who lead more ordinary lives, how do you survive if you don’t have a full time job to keep you occupied? Because. You know. An empty mind is a devil’s playground.
Indeed a UK-based study published in the Daily Mail a few years ago reported that a whopping 84% of mothers suffer back-to-school blues and are struck by feelings of sadness and loss. So please take comfort in the fact that you are certainly not alone if you’re going through this phase in life.
Ironically, while as moms we actively encourage our children to grow up, become independent little people, know the difference between right and wrong to slowly start making their own choices in life and be self-reliant, the actual experience of letting them go can be somewhat unsettling – even if it is only for a few hours a day. I consciously chose to give up work and become a full time mom, but I know the first time I was left home alone (kids in school, husband at work), time just seemed to stand still. I remember feeling lost and quite useless because I didn’t have anyone to fuss over or to keep me occupied.
Luckily, my writing stints now keep me busy and take up a fair bit of my day, which makes things easier. But how do you deal with the empty nest syndrome if you’re not working?
Actually, there is a lot you can be doing to help yourself, and thus, your family. Says psychologist and marriage & family Therapist Anoushka Beh, “Make a list of the things that you are interested in learning but haven’t had time for in the past, including hobbies you might have wanted to take up. Explore what’s available in the neighbouring community or online and start integrating them into your calendar.
“Investing in even just one thing can change perspectives, help build a community around you and be a real opportunity for growth.”
Another thing she recommends is starting a gratitude diary is also an opportunity for self-reflection and reconnecting with yourself and what’s important to you in your life right now.
Golden words – what’s important to you right now at this moment in life. Too often, when asked what we (as moms) like doing in our spare time, the usual response hovers somewhere along the lines of “I don’t know. It’s been so long since I’ve thought about just doing something for myself.” Sound familiar? Then the first step that life coaches or counsellors suggest is to identify what it is that YOU would like to do and take meaningful strides to achieve that goal.
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Here are a few things you can do to start focusing on YOU:
- Stay positive. We’re talking about a major change in your daily routine, so accept that it will take time and probably lead to frequent frustration. But make ‘stay positive’ a daily mantra and have faith that things will soon start going your way.
- Tap on your support system. Now is the perfect time to get back in regular contact with those who are important to you, but never had the time for before. Even if it’s just a phone call! And don’t be embarrassed to vent your feelings and lean on loved ones for support, because surprisingly, most people can empathise with what you’re presently going through.
- Accept reality and don’t waste time moping. Learn to let go and look forward to creating a better future. Get out of the house because otherwise you run a high risk of moping and dousing yourself in negative feelings only.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. Take advantage of the free time on your hands and get healthy, because better physical health automatically translates into better mental and emotional health. And don’t just limit yourself to indoor gym or yoga classes. Get sprint walking outdoors in the fresh air, go swimming, or start training for the next half-marathon in town.
- The bucket list. What better time than now to start ticking things off your bucket list? Try new things you’ve always aspired to, even if it’s something as simple as taking up an art class or going to the National Museum. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you might even end up making new friends.
- Get back into work. If you’ve put your career on hold for your kids, think about getting back into something professional if you think it’s the right time for you.
- Re-invent yourself and own your new identity. Be open to change. Yes, things will change for everyone, but instead of fearing the unknown, embrace change and what lies ahead. Try something new and be open to it –failing, perhaps, but don’t give up! Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity for you to try something else that you might enjoy.
It’s actually quite liberating if you look at this phase like a second chance at life. I took a career break when my kids were born and found myself bored silly six years later. Frustrated at not being able to find something meaningful (but also part-time), I finally resorted to writing – which had always been a passion – and now after three amazing years, it’s my current career choice. And I couldn’t be happier because I get to do what I really like (and I get paid to do it), yet the flexibility of my part-time freelance work allows me to work best around my family’s schedule, so it’s a win-win situation for us on most occasions.
So there you have it, mama: start small, recognise what you like doing, minimise what you don’t, and grab this opportunity to create something immensely meaningful and fulfilling for yourself! Because this is just the beginning of the next chapter in your life. And like me, I’m pretty sure you’ll be an even better mom if you’re happier being the woman that you are.