Over the past week or so, I’ve been thrilled to see so many of my friends moving their kiddos to college or helping them navigate the next steps of their journey in this life.
I love the idea of all the possibilities lying before these kids, many of whom I’ve watched grow up. At the same time, I feel tenderhearted for the mamas and daddies (but mostly the mamas) who are watching their fledglings take flight. There are a lot of big feelings: happiness and excitement for them and this new chapter of their lives, maybe some worry or fear about how they’ll navigate it or all the unknowns involved, but also, for many of us, the nagging sensation of “what comes next for me?”
Of course, many of my friends, like myself, aren’t truly empty-nesters yet. We still have younger children at home who still need their mamas on a day-to-day basis for some things, but it’s not like having littles who couldn’t survive without you. For most of us with teens at home, they may, like my 16-year old high school junior, have their eyes aimed at the door, be spending more time with friends and extracurriculars, and, if you’re lucky, driving themselves.
These pangs of “uselessness” and questions about how to fill up the hours can feel especially intense for parents who devoted themselves to their families on a full-time basis, but even working parents can feel a shift in their sense of self as their parenting roles shift and change when kids level up to their next phases of life. If this is where you find yourself right now, think about this as the perfect time to invest more into your own passions and interests as your kids become more independent and require less of your time and focus.
Not sure what your true passions and interests are after nearly two decades of investing yourself in everyone else’s interests? I’ve got tips!
First of all, I want you to remember (just in case you’ve forgotten) that you are a whole human who deserves to feel the breadth and depth and all the wonder of the whole human experience.
There’s no shame in this game of figuring out what lights you up and gives you joy outside of taking care of other people. If you haven’t been doing that already, friend, it’s time to start!
I want you to get out some paper and pens – fun colored ones if you’ve got them – and start by writing down any hobbies or interests you had before you had kids that you may or may not have put aside to focus on those kids. Did you write? Paint? Take acting classes and perform in local theater? Do improv? Play on a softball team? Golf? Take gourmet cooking classes or participate in any kind of club like a wine club or book club? Put it all down.
Next, think about the things you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t pursued. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of learning to do ballet, tap dance, or ballroom dancing. Maybe you want to learn Spanish. Maybe you want to learn to paddleboard or do yoga. Maybe you want to lead a women’s Bible study. Maybe you want to volunteer more. Whatever calling is inside of you, write those down.
Now, I’m going to pause here, because maybe you feel stuck.
After years of sublimating your own needs so you can be on-call 24/7 for the people you love, you may have no idea what speaks to your soul. That’s okay. Take some time to sit with this idea. Go for a walk or meditate; let your imagination run wild and try to picture what you’d do if you could do anything you wanted. Or alternately, imagine yourself trying out different things. Picture yourself walking the streets of Paris or Bruges with your partner or a friend. Imagine yourself working with the elderly at a senior center or cutting a rug in a dance class. Can your picture yourself on stage performing in a community theater or writing a novel? When you envision these different scenarios, which ones excite you or make you vibrate with joy? Which ones do you know are a straight up “NO WAY!” Gauging how something makes you feel in your body can be a good indicator if it’s something you want to pursue. For instance, does it make you smile and feel tingly with anticipation or does it make your chest get tight or maybe feel nothing at all? So, if you don’t instantly have a list of interests that are calling to you, try this out and see what comes up for you.
Before you dive into new or rediscovered interests, don’t forget self-care.
If you’ve neglected your own health for the last several years as you’ve taken care of everyone else, maybe you just need to start by meeting your basic needs. Schedule a physical. Book the mammogram, skin check, or colonoscopy there was never time for before. Start walking or doing yoga or running. Plan healthy meals based around the foods you love. Take more naps. Spend some time each day just being quiet and reflecting. Journal. Meditate. Let yourself just sit on your porch with a cup of coffee and watch the breeze in the leaves. Let yourself be still and calm.
There are so many opportunities for you, Mama! And Chattanooga is full of them. From interest-specific meetup groups and adult dance classes to the Chattanooga Language School and numerous organizations that need volunteers to fun day trips you can take solo or with a partner or friend, there’s no shortage of ways to find yourself again.