How Do You Nurture Yourself Once the Kids Have Gone?

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Now that our son’s first semester at college—away from the nest—has come and gone, I have a few additional thoughts on the topic, and some more suggestions to ease, nurture and even enjoy this oft-times challenging transition.

RE-DESIGN YOUR SPACE

Now that your child is gone, why not take over areas that were otherwise occupied until his or her departure? My son spent a lot of time watching TV in our family room, which is adjacent to our living room—with only a non-soundproof set of glass doors between them. So if I wanted to read or bathe in some quiet, I’d have to squirrel up inside my bedroom or somewhere else on the second floor. Now, my living room has become my end-of-the-day sanctuary. I usually light a candle, sip some tea and read or work, with my dog cuddled at my feet. It’s the room I spend the most time in nowadays, and despite his recent month-long break during which I happily binge-watched a new TV series alongside him on the family room couch, I’ve developed a whole new appreciation for the coziness and serenity of our living room.

Are there any areas in your home that you can reclaim or modify to suit your needs and desires? Maybe make an art studio where the kids used to play? Craft a meditation or exercise space? Create an office area?

RE-CONNECT WITH YOUR PARTNER

With only my husband and me, and our dog, in the house, things have shifted in interesting ways. To make dinners feel more special, I’ve begun to light a pair of candles—poised in candlesticks that were a wedding gift—on our kitchen table every evening. Yes, I am using the flickering glow to mask the now three empty chairs (all three of our kids live out of the house). But it’s working. The candles add an element of romance, a feeling of “it’s us here now,” and we’re celebrating that it’s just us. After dinner, sometimes Rich will join me in the living room, where we’ll catch up our days, read, or play a game, and of course, talk about the kids.

"There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it."- Chinese Proverb

In our renovated nest, I’m also taking the opportunity to join Rich on the occasional business trip. We both love to travel, and whether it’s near or far or for only a couple of days, it’s a great chance for us to reconnect—when he's not working—in a new environment that includes some getaway time together.

In what ways can you connect with your partner? Take a class together? A movie night—at home or in the theaters? If you’re a single parent, are there friends you’d like to reconnect with that you hadn’t previously had time for?

EMBRACE THE QUIET

The early evening hours always felt bustling before my son left for college. No matter where he was in the house, I was typically in the kitchen, tidying up after my work day, going through the mail, emptying groceries, and preparing dinner for my husband, Simon and me. I looked forward to this time, simply because my son and I were both around, and whether we interacted or not during that time—mostly not as he was either studying or staring at an entertainment screen—I simply liked being here for him, just in case he wanted to chat or needed some feedback on…anything.

To get little kids to be quiet, lower your voice instead of raising it. This forces kids to focus. Got a whole pack to corral? Whisper, "If you want to hear what we're doing next, hop on one foot." Goofy jumping is bound to be contagious.

In the fall, I found these were hard hours for me to be in our house. The silence made me feel sad, marking his absence even more deeply and the fact that well, my nest really did feel empty. Over time, however, I began to embrace the quiet. I started using the quiet time to read, as mentioned above, and to meditate which I used to do in the early morning. In the cold weather, I make a fire, put on some music and catch up on emails until I feel like getting dinner ready. It’s a different environment, but one that I’ve come to enjoy and even look forward to.

Is there a time of day when you feel the absence of your child more than others? What can you do make this time more joyful? Invite a friend over for a cup of coffee? Go outside and take a walk? Take a bubble bath?

TRY SOMETHING NEW

If you’re curious to know how my ukulele lessons are going—my effort to bring a new challenge into my life after Simon left for school—I will say that they are coming along. Progress has been slow, and after attempting to self-teach via the internet, I enlisted a college-age cousin to give me some pointers, which was helpful for learning the basics. While I’m not nearly ready for that family concert I’ve threatened, playing a new instrument and working towards strumming the Beatles’ “Let It Be” has been both rewarding and frustrating—common components of any new challenge and growth. That said, I’m more often smiling, even laughing, as I struggle to get my fingers from the G chord to the F chord. Not sure I’ll master the ukulele, but already have canasta, a card game, on the docket as another new activity to try.

Normal rules apply. Discipline the child who stutters just as you do your other children and just as you would if he didn’t stutter.

Is there something you’ve been wanting to learn? With the extra time you hopefully have without your youngest kid at home, maybe you can try a new hobby or learn a craft. Maybe you'd like to work on your poetry writing skills, or take up golf? Many women I know love to knit and find it very relaxing—and it also has some health benefits . That’s on my list too.

JOIN A COMMUNITYNO MATTER THE SIZEWITH COMMON INTERESTS

I recently returned from a weekend away at a tennis camp. Invited by a friend and fellow player who organized a group of eight women, we had loads of tennis instruction, ate three meals a day together, played board games, engaged in interesting conversations and had many laughs over the weekend. It brought me together with old friends, and allowed me to make some new ones.

If you have an interest or hobby and would like to be part of a community that shares them, there are ways to seek them out. Do you like to read? Perhaps the local library can guide you to a book group. Interested in taking a painting, literature or computer class? Local continuing education classes, community centers, churches and synagogues are excellent sources for finding like-minded people wanting to learn something new.

KEEP ON MOVING

Whether you have kids or not, and whether they live at home or not, exercise and movement are vital to our wellbeing, both mentally and physically. Among the many benefits of exercise is the prevention of chronic illness , such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and dementia.

Pick your battles. Kids can't absorb too many rules without turning off completely. Forget arguing about little stuff like fashion choices and occasional potty language. Focus on the things that really matter - that means no hitting, rude talk, or lying.

Exercise is also a positive way to experience a group activity, and as I wrote in the earlier piece, a new study , published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, found that group activities—team sports and exercise classes—have the strongest association with mental health.

Do you have a favorite (or most tolerable) form of exercise? If you like to hike, maybe you can form a hiking group. If spinning is your thing, maybe try bicycling outdoors when spring arrives. And if exercise is not to your liking, maybe try something new and off the beaten path—like rock climbing, aqua fitness or aerial yoga? The key is finding something that is fun. When it loses its allure, time to try something different.

GET SOME SLEEP

Did you know that the average woman between the ages of 30 and 60 sleeps only six hours and forty-one minutes a night during the workweek? Sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing, and a lack of it can affect our ability to focus, our metabolism and weight, our mood, our heart health and more, according to the National Institute of Health .

Here are a few suggestions for getting a better night’s sleep:

• establish a nightly, relaxing bedtime routine that includes no screens for 30 minutes before going to sleep.

• get regular exercise

• go outside every day

• avoid caffeine after 3:00 pm

• nap only if necessary

NOURISH YOUR BODY

As parents, we try to provide our kids with well-balanced, nutritious meals. I’ve disguised many a veggie in my day, burying zucchini in pasta sauce and mixing broccoli into fried rice. But sometimes, we focus so much on our kids that we forget about the importance of our own diet and nutrition . With the kids are gone, you can turn the focus to you—eating well, along with physical activity and sleep, makes a big difference in maintain your health and avoiding disease.

Apps for kids – do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as "interactive" should require more than "pushing and swiping." Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.

Maybe now is a good time to look at how you eat on a daily basis, and consider ways in which you can improve your nutrition levels. Here are some tips for healthy eating.

Remember—it’s okay for this to be a time when you take care of you. You’ve done your job as parents (don't worry, it's not over) and your kids are learning to navigate the world on their own. And hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before they return to see how well you’ve adjusted in your renovated nest.