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For years your life has been
defined, in large part, by your children. From the moment you gave birth, slowly but surely your interests and
pursuits took a back seat to your kids' wants and needs. Now, after 18-plus years in the trenches,
you're a free woman. No carpool, no playdates to organize, no Saturday afternoons spent on the soccer field. But the irony is, you may feel suddenly
adrift, no longer sure what you're passionate about or how best to spend your
time. It's almost like you've
forgotten how to put yourself first, because for so long you couldn't. Here are some ways to start reconnecting with yourself.
feel you have to recreate yourself in a day. "This is a new phase of your
life, and it's normal to feel unsure about your next steps," says Diane Lang, a counseling educator who teaches a class for women about dealing with
midlife. "You may be asking yourself: What do I do next? Where do I fit in? What is my identity?" Don't, however, put
pressure on yourself to figure out "what you will do when you grow up" in a few
weeks or even months, she says. It's a
to rush in. While figuring out your next move, "be careful
with the choices you make," counsels Nancy Williams, a counselor and author of Secrets to
Parenting Your Adult Child. Many
women find it hard to no longer be needed after years of child-rearing, so they
grab "whatever activities they can to fill the void." The trouble is, you may accept obligations
you later wish you hadn't, such as agreeing to chair the school carnival (again!) even though you no longer have kids at the school. Instead, spend time surveying your options
before diving into that new job, hobby or volunteer position, she recommends.
"shoulds." Another potential
trap: Filling your new-found free hours
with activities you feel you should
do rather than want to do, says Penny Donnenfeld, a psychologist based in New York City. One way to combat this
is to question the logic of a "should do" activity. For example, if you're feeling pressure to
spend all morning cleaning out the refrigerator, ask yourself, what would
happen if you didn't clean it right
then? Would all the food rot? Would bacteria spread rampant? Would a friend come over, take a look inside and faint with horror? No. This line of questioning can get you to
second-guess any "should" and open up your life to more meaningful activities,
out. Sit down with a friend and "muse about
what sort of things you'd like to do that you haven't been able to either at
all or regularly," recommends
Donnenfeld. It can also be instructive
to talk to other empty nesters to hear what changes they've made to their lives
or what they wished they'd done.
small. On the path to rediscovery, don't feel you
have to make Earth-shattering alterations to your life, like taking up skydiving or going back to school to get an MBA. You can add the newness and freshness you're craving by making small but
worthwhile changes to your routine, says Donnenfeld. Some
she suggests: "lunch with a friend, coffee by the river,
attending a concert or exploring a new part of town, going to a lecture,
exploring class opportunities online or some kind of house project."
to your childhood. Another way to figure out where to put your
energies is to ask yourself, "What did I like to do when I was 5 to 20 years
old?" recommends Lang, because early
childhood is a time we are free to dream without censoring ourselves. Then see if there is a way to adapt this
early dream to a present-day reality. Lang
tells of one empty nester client, who, as a child, had wanted to be an actress but
spent her career working in the more realistic field of education. The client took
her childhood desire, gave it a more practical twist that still satisfied her
deeper yearnings, and at age 47, became a stage manager.
with your husband or partner. Part
of finding your way back to you is
also refocusing on your identity as half of a couple, says Williams. After
all, you've probably neglected that side of you, too. One way to reboot your relationship
is to start something new together, she recommends, whether it's dancing, taking a photography
class or trying a different restaurant every Sunday night. The newness will rub off on your partnership
and reinvigorate your relationship—and you, too!