How Baby Boomers can feather their empty nest
As your kidults begin to pack up for college, does the thought of creating a more grown-up nest sound good? Can you visualize more simplicity and less chaos? Think about what it would be like to clean out the drawers, give away the memorabilia your kids don’t want, get rid of all the stuff they’re outgrown and make your home yours again.
If you decide to make a change, it will be an ongoing process filled with both positive and negative emotions. This transition signifies the end of an important chapter in your life – the house full of family and activity, of growing children and all their antics. You may mourn the loss of many things, material and otherwise – valuable pieces of history relegated to the attic or sold for some ridiculous price, the hard discs of your past life, memories triggered by stuff. Yet, you’ll grow to feel content, surrounded by what is most important to you – perhaps the photo albums that trace your family history, souvenirs from your travels or your treasured books – and all the precious memories that you carry around in your head.
Soon, you may find yourself anticipating the changes and getting excited about making a fresh start. Altering your surroundings at home can stimulate you to modify your outlook on life. This shift can give you the impetus to explore new areas and discover adventures outside your familiarity. As you consider feathering a nest that works for you, here are some ideas to help get you started. Remember that any process takes time and, by definition, involves flexibility.
1. It is never too early – or too late – to begin gathering information about the changes you plan to initiate. What do you need to learn more about? Speak to as many people as possible who have already explored or gone through this experience. Surf the net and be on the lookout for books you can read or seminars you can take to learn more. Talk to anyone who is in a position to inform, educate and help you.
2. As the Greek sages told us centuries ago, know thyself. Increase your self awareness by examining who you are now and who you want to become. Are your old dreams still meaningful to you? What else are you committed to now? What ‘contracts’ have you made with yourself or your significant other that impact your choices today? Now that you do not have the daily responsibilities of 24 hour, hands-on parenting, will you have more time for yourself? Do you expect to work, play, volunteer, or continue to explore your options? Keeping a journal will provide some structure as you brainstorm, set new goals and put your plans in motion.
3. Once you have created the dream, let your priorities determine what is realistic. Are you alone in making the decision? Is this change financially feasible? Are there work or personal issues to take into consideration? Are there others in your household whose needs you will consider?
4. Understand that emotional reactions at times of transition are both common and normal. Allow yourself to express and accept your feelings as they emerge. Although you may regret what you have given away, you will also feel relieved about less clutter. Perhaps you will vacillate between enthusiasm about how your new digs reflect the current you and sadness about what you have left behind. Your interest in exploring new opportunities may fluctuate with your fears of the unknown.
As you begin feathering your grown-up nest, be mindful of what you need. Have confidence in yourself and trust that you will maintain in your life what is truly meaningful. While drawing from past experiences, traditions and values, you will create a present for yourself that is rich and rewarding.
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. & Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. are co-founders of www.HermentorCenter.com, a website for midlife women and www.NourishingRelationships.Blogspot.com, a blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers’ family relationships and publish a free newsletter, Stepping Stones, through their website. As psychotherapists, they have over 40 years of collective private practice experience.
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