Ideas for filling an empty nest

April 10, 2012

Q. I have been a stay-at-home mom for over two decades and have adored my children at every stage in their development. I treasure the time I spend with them! And that is my problem. I’m facing an empty nest in the near future, and I’m dreading it. I am much more talkative than my taciturn Yankee husband and enjoy the liveliness and unpredictability of a house with kids.

Perhaps this is because my temperament thrives on challenges. This has led me to become involved in municipal-level government as a volunteer and to immerse myself in it totally so I can survive the transition that’s ahead. In the process, I’ve discovered abilities I never knew I had, and people in the field tell me that I “have what it takes.”

My family, however, will be horrified because they’ll think that a job is more appropriate for a woman in my stage in life.

A. You are in for a big surprise.


(Hadley Hooper/For The Washington Post)

Life without children isn’t a challenge; it’s an ad­ven­ture, and it comes at just the right time. You’re at an age when you know your own mind and have the time and the energy to try new ideas, explore new interests and learn new skills. There is a window of opportunity between the time your last child leaves home and your first child has a baby, and you should open it wide.

If you can afford it, however, it might be better to perfect your skills as a volunteer, which would let you qualify for a more interesting, better-paid job in the future than you could get right now. For some reason, bosses usually let volunteers learn on the job, but they expect a paid worker to have a degree in that field and five years of experience.

While you’ll ask your husband and your children what they think about your plans, you should follow your instincts, just as they follow their own even though you may not like their choices. This is as it should be. The people we love know us well, but we know ourselves even better.

You don’t want to immerse yourself in your job completely, however, because it might jeopardize your marriage. Your husband may be a taciturn fellow, but he still needs your companionship even if he doesn’t say so.

If the two of you used to go fishing or hiking or shopping at the flea market, you ought to ask him to do these things with you again and also to go away to a bed-and-breakfast for an occasional weekend. Just getting away and seeing someplace you’ve never seen before will put some sunshine in your life and give you good memories.

Your nest also won’t feel so empty next year if you invite a neighborhood teenager to dinner sometimes or maybe give one of them a place to live for a few weeks if he’s having trouble at home. If that’s not enough, you can always hire them.

You may not realize how often your children empty the dishwasher or run to the store for you until they leave home. At that point, you and our husband should put your pride in your pocket and ask for some occasional help. A 12-year-old is quite capable of standing on a ladder to change the light bulbs on your ceiling fixtures for $6 an hour, and a teenager can lug a table and other furniture up or down stairs (or scan your pictures or file your papers) for $8 an hour. A little walking-around money will do wonders for their self-esteem, and an hour or so with a teenager will fill your nest nicely.

There may still be days, though, when your children’s absence may leave you awash with self-pity, but then your cellphone will ring and you’ll jump out of the shower to answer it without grabbing a robe on the way. That’s when you’ll realize that an empty nest has advantages all its own.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Read more Check out a transcript of a recent live Q&A hosted by Kelly. Her next chat is scheduled for April 26.

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