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From Empty Nest to Happy Home: How Parents Can Thrive After Children Leave

Career • June 9, 2020 • Ventrice Shanklin


What you’ll learn

  • How to prepare for life as an empty nester
  • Activities and hobbies to keep empty nesters happy and healthy


My children have always been my sidekicks. They’re now 35 (my daughter), 32, and 29 (my sons). I was a single parent and we often had struggles, but the journey and the lessons along the way were worth it.

Their childhood and transition to adulthood was full of love and memories, and I’m so proud of who they’ve become. My daughter is currently a stay-at-home mom of a 10-year-old and a 1-year-old, and she has a degree in marketing that she put to use while working at a wholesale apparel company. She is a wonderful soul. My middle son is an electrician. He was the child who took things apart, only to put them back together. You can probably catch him in a shirt that says something like, “Don’t trust an electrician that has no eyebrows.” My youngest child, a successful entrepreneur, owns his own lawn service company and lives in another state. He is my quiet one who loves to read and learn, and we miss him greatly.

How I felt when my children left home

When my children left home, I felt a level of anxiety and loneliness. My hobbies had become taking them to school, helping them with homework, and driving them to playdates and sporting events. In my mind, it has always and would always be my job to hold them tight and protect them, and for 18 years I was in control of their day-to-day. I never gave any thought as to what my life would be like when they each left home. I also never considered the lessons taught and learned were my contributions to help them learn to leave successfully.

I guess those teaching moments, the ones that prepare them to go out and conquer the world, really started the day they were born, not just when they completed their first college application, took the drivers permit test, or registered to vote. So I have to be honest, after many years, finding out who I was without them was scary. I am not sure if it was the lack of being in control or the loss of purpose. Whatever it was, it stunk!

Creating a new normal

In just a few short years, I made the transition from my dream job of being a full-time mother, nurse, psychologist, teacher, taxi driver, and chef, to that of an empty nester. I was forced to create a new normal, which proved to be both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Now, instead of my wonderful children, the three people I had to take care of were me, myself, and I. I probably purchased about 10 books about life as an empty nester, and talked to friends and relatives about how they survived. No story was the same. I was now more confused than ever.

Hobbies for empty nesters

One day I made the conscious effort to cry it out, put my big girl pants on, and enroll in college to obtain my master’s degree. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. While it may not be the best path for everyone, I believe there is something that can bring almost everyone some joy or spark.

It’s important to find things to do that you like. Hobbies are a wonderful way to exercise a new part of the brain. You can start a new hobby by getting ideas from friends or maybe you had a childhood hobby that you loved. Here are some idea starters:

  • Are you a big fan of cooking? Find some local classes to entertain yourself or pick a challenging recipe to master each week! I really love baking and started collecting recipes from friends and families members to try. Now I have a collection of fabulous recipes that my grandmother and great grandmother made for us as children
  • Avid reader? I recommend joining a book club or heck, even beginning to write your own!
  • What about travel? Any locations you dreamed of going to, but couldn’t, because your kids needed you home? Well, now’s the time to get out there and see the world! Whether it’s a tour of the country’s national parks, a long weekend at your favorite beach, or a day trip to see old friends, planning and going on a little adventure can help recharge your spirit.
  • Want to do something closer to home? What about exercise? Even if you’re not an exercise enthusiast, there’s no doubt it’s good for your health. What better time than now to go for daily walks, practice yoga, dust off the bicycle, or even go for a nice swim?
  • Like to give back? A good hobby for you and others, volunteering is a great way to help your neighbors while connecting with people in your community.
  • Have an artistic eye? Another great hobby is photography! Use a camera you have around the house (even that Polaroid!), or invest in a new one, and capture moments for the next generations to cherish for a lifetime. We love taking pictures of our grandkids – our new group of tiny individuals who we can teach, influence, and love.

No matter what hobby you choose, investing in yourself is so important and rediscovering new hobbies can be a way to fill the void.

Activities for empty nesters

In addition to hobbies, maybe there are some new traditions or activities you can start! Whether it’s learning a new language, sprucing up your home, or turning every Saturday night into date night with your partner or friends.

My favorite new activity is our family and friend game and dinner night. A few months ago my husband and I got together with friends for a homemade salsa-making contest. Friends brought their favorite recipes, we paired up, and began to chop away! Lots of fun and very delicious!

My advice for parents who are dealing with an empty nest

The best advice I can give for parents in this chapter is to give yourself permission to feel emotions. Remember, it’s not the end of your story, it’s the beginning of new one - one you get to create! Take this time to invest in yourself. Soon enough, you may notice what was once your empty nest is now a lively, loving, and busy home again!


Ventrice Shanklin is a business development director at Sallie Mae. She loves to read and finishes at least three books each month.


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