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What happens to mothers when there is no one left to care for?

Being a caregiver is a natural part of what many mothers do for a comprehensive period of their adult lives.  So when it comes to an end, as when children grow up and leave an ’empty nest’ at home, the transition can be painful and disorienting.  Shone in a different light, this time in a woman’s life can be not so much an ending, but a shift in where we focus our energy.

The empty nest experience is akin to, and often coincides with, menopause which is another significant midlife change in and of itself.  Often women don’t expect the emotional tsunamis that accompany the journey simply because they have never been there before. You don’t have a clue what it will feel like, and once you are in it, you can’t believe somebody didn’t warn you about the ride.

Women report that their emotions are often raw and overwhelming.  So much of their identity has been wrapped up in giving to and doing for others.  Doing – for their husbands, life partners, pets, parents and primarily their children.  They cry easily and profusely and spend quite a bit of time wondering, now what?  It marks a period of time when a woman enters into the ‘second half’ of her life.

Exactly! And face first into all of those unanswered questions that somehow are still waiting for her.

What do you do when there’s no longer someone that needs you to watch out after them, or is waiting for you to cook for them and get up in the middle of the night when they are sick, help with their homework or just do their laundry?

What do you want to do with the rest of your life?  And the ever present question – Who am I?

Whether you were a stay-at-home mom, or a women also juggling a career alongside child-rearing, women wind up feeling like a huge part of their lives is over.  It can be emotionally devastating and leave you feeling like you are at a significant crossroads in your own life. If only you had known what lay ahead, you might have planned differently.  Or so you think.

A Midlife Crisis

There’s a reason this part of your life is referred to as a crisis. Crisis: a dramatic emotional or circumstantial upheaval in a person’s life. Midlife qualifies as a time when you desperately need a good support system including family and friends.

Often while women are dealing with children leaving the home, they are also dealing with concurrent issues such as:

  • a career change
  • starting a job for the first time
  • divorce
  • dealing with unacknowledged relationship flaws in their marriage
  • health problems including raging hormones, and
  • aging parents who require more time and attention

How to Start to Make Sense of it All

Plenty of parents who have gone through the empty nest caution, “Don’t worry, they’ll be back.” So calm yourself with the knowing that your children might have left home, but they will always be your children.  Acknowledge and accept that you will be guided to your next purpose in life just as you have been guided through today.

Be strong in considering what’s best for your child’s welfare and don’t get caught up in feeling sorry for yourself.  They need encouragement when they first venture away from home because they will probably be afraid to admit how nervous and sad they feel about this change in their lives.   As much as part of you may want them to come home, remember back to your own transition and ask yourself, “What is best for this child?”

Stay in touch with your kids by phone and/or email. Arrange to spend time with them as a family. Visit them on the weekend or take them to lunch if you are close by and it is possible. When you are feeling weak, reach out to your support system first, and avoid the temptation to share your sadness with your child. The last thing you want them to feel is guilty for leaving home.

Self-Esteem and Defining Who I Am

The inevitable fact about the empty nest is that if you haven’t faced your own growth issues, you won’t be able to avoid them now. One of the main characteristics about this midlife transition is that it forces you to take a long, hard look at your life, backward and forward.  Where have you been and how do you feel about your life so far?  More urgently, just what comes next?

Plenty of women have discovered at this crucial time that they have self-esteem issues they can no longer avoid. Like those extra 30 lbs you’ve conveniently kept on for all these years because dealing with the kids was far more important. All of a sudden, YOU are your first priority.  And it probably feels strange because now you are having thoughts about that class you always wanted to take to learn to write or sing. Your untapped desires start flooding to the surface and you need to sort through them.

Make this time of awakening a celebration.  Now is the moment for you to fulfill some of your lifelong dreams.

As in any other stage or moment in life, the most important thing to remember is where you put your focus.  Put your energy on feeling good and enjoying new things.  Send love to yourself and your children every day.  If you are showing signs of ongoing trouble such as depression that will not go away, reach out for help. There is help all around you.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.