Surviving the pre-empty nest experience

When my youngest started first grade last year, his first year as an all-day student, my world turned upside down. A stay-home mom, I’d lived my whole life for my kids for the past eight years. Every minute of everyday had been scheduled around their needs, their tears had been my tears, their successes my successes. I hadn’t had my own life, apart from theirs, and I hadn’t had time to realize that I didn’t. With both my hands full of the hands of my two little ones, I hadn’t needed anything else in my life. 

I’d avoided thinking about what I’d do with my life once they went off to school. Those seven hours of quiet and, in theory, peacefulness. As a freelance writer I worked from home part-time; a wonderful job when one had children at home and didn’t want to pay for childcare, but suddenly quiet and lonely without the constant interruptions from hungry and bored kids. 

What I’d prayed would be a much needed break each day, to focus on my writing, grocery shop in half the time, and maybe even sit down to eat a meal, turned out to be enough silence to drive me crazy within the first month. I found myself staring into space for hours at a time, accomplishing nothing, and panicking over this new life I had found myself in. I had to do something to keep my sanity, and to block out the loneliness—the pre-empty nester syndrome that had crept up on me. 

That first year I got a full-time job. Something to take my mind off my newly independent children, and to fill it with a purpose. It worked, and I enjoyed it, but there were issues. Trying to keep up with my writing career on the weekends, along with all the other chores and errands that come with having a family, meant every minute of my week was spent running in circles. It was too much and I quickly knew it. How to find that balance? Nearly a year later I’m faced with that question once again. While I’m enjoying having my kids at home for the summer, I know I’ll soon be faced with sending them back to school again, and wondering how to find the right balance between being too busy and having too much idle time. 

At the advice of a family member I’ve started making a schedule. She advised me to learn to be okay with “me time”—that down time that involves taking an exercise class, reading a book, or taking the dog for a walk. Those things that seem selfish and impossible when your children are young. She made me promise to include at least one of those things in my new schedule, explaining that it was all part of finding my own life, my own purpose. 

Between writing and helping my husband run the family business, the grocery shopping, cleaning, and laundry, and the newly built in “me time,” my schedule for the upcoming school year is complete, and full it is. That time for myself was truly the missing element, the thing I knew I needed but was afraid to allow myself to have. That same family member explained to me that life is full of “new normals” and that this was just one of many. This year, I’ll be learning to find and be okay with my new life, one that includes finding myself again, apart from my kids, and giving myself permission to take some me time each day: the new normal for a stay-home mom of school-agers.