If you’re a seasoned mom who woke up one morning and suddenly wondered, OMG, how did I get here? and then cringe, you just might be experiencing what is commonly referred to as “Empty Nest Syndrome.”
To summarize it in a simple sentence: not only is your nest (home) empty of your children, you’re now feeling a type of perpetual emptiness or loneliness often associated with that. There are different manifestations of Empty Nest Syndrome, which can include anger, bitterness, regret, disappointment, guilt, or feelings of abandonment or loss. If unchecked, an empty nest parent can experience anything from depression, weight gain and illness, to a recluse lifestyle, loss of self-esteem or identity, and divorce.
In fact, let’s look at just one of the nationwide statistics about the subject. There is currently a 51% divorce rate in America; for empty nest moms, however, that rate increases 16% the first year after the children have left. It is in this way that some moms struggling with Empty Nest have, in a sense, lost or buried themselves in their own nest. Some have even abandoned it altogether.
Enter Tammy Hotenspiller, a mother who, after experiencing Empty Nest syndrome herself, learned not only how to conquer it but how to then enhance all aspects of her life – from the physical and mental to the emotional and social. Now as the President / Owner of Total Life Coach, a coaching company that helps people actively create personal change, Tammy is helping teaching other moms her tips and tools for self reinvention…personally and professionally.
What To Expect?
Life Coach Tammy identifies two key emotions that most empty nest moms have in common: loneliness and regret. The loneliness hits some of these moms the moment they first walk into their child’s empty room. The physical reminders of their child’s upbringing – stuffed animals, trophies, drawings — create a sense of nostalgia of how they happily watched him or her progress through life. The milestones. The little things. And then they realize it’s only the objects and memories that remain. There will be no more teeth under the pillow. There’s no more laundry to pick up off the floor. There’s no child to say good-night to before bed. And then that mom sits on the empty bed and thinks, “What now?” Life has seemed to move on without her: the child is in college or married, the spouse is at work. It’s then when the mom realizes she is now alone.
That’s when, as Tammy tells us, the feeling of regret haunts many of these empty nest moms. The child is pursuing his/her dreams, the husband is still active in the career track, but life is now different for those moms whose world centered around raising their kids.
“For many of us in our late ’40s, early ’50s, we’ve reached our ‘peak’ in terms of our most important life’s goal, which was to raise our children,” says Tammy, whose three children have all left the nest within the past few years. “We prepared them to do everything…to learn how to have successful lives…but we forgot to prepare ourselves. We didn’t put a little on the side just for us, and as we watch the rest of our family pursue their dreams, we regret we didn’t pursue our own.”
I ask Tammy what empty nest moms least expect after their children leave. It’s the anger that surprises them, she says. It’s not anger in the traditional sense in that it pertains to hostility. It’s more of an anger that is wrapped up in disappointment, hurt and frustration. This ‘anger’ is three-fold: anger towards oneself for not preparing for life post raising kids; situational-anger that some children leave the nest and rarely look back; and anger towards the husband because he doesn’t understand what she’s going through. Yes, some fathers do go through empty nest, Tammy explains, but it’s usually not as much or to the degree as women.
This anger then plays out in different ways. Sometimes it’s depression or weight gain. Sometimes it’s manifested in the woman changing herself. The idea is that a sense of her own identity is lost now that she’s not actively raising kids. To cope, many women start to reinvent themselves; they lose the weight, dress different. Some become the cougars. It’s this anger that can separate the woman from her family or her friends. It’s this anger that causes her to act out. But, it’s this same anger that can be dissolved with the right coping tools.
How To Cope
Tammy teaches women to reinvent themselves in healthy ways and develop an identity…that is independent of their children. Her clients range from the soccer mom to the celebrity mom. After all, Empty Nest can affect any mom, even if she has a very close relationship with her kids.
Many studies show that the number of empty nesters is increasing, with children leaving the house earlier. More women are beginning to acknowledge the seriousness of empty nest syndrome, and the media is responding. For example, Tammy is starting a weekly radio show on KKLA that will life-coach women and talk about opportunities for empty nest moms. She’s also in talks with TV networks for a reality show that deals with the subject and will spotlight empty nest moms who will be reinventing themselves. (Expect some new female sky-divers.)
The 3-D’s Strategy
This reinvention process will be wrapped around Tammy’s “3 D’s” strategy: 1) Discover, 2) Define, and 3) Develop. Discover who you are – find out what motivates / inspires you. Then define who you are – create a life template for yourself, what you should keep in it and what you should remove. Tammy would tell you to practice subtraction before addition. Remove anything from your life that doesn’t fulfill you and who you are. Finally, develop it. Actively do it. In other words, don’t just think it. Embrace it, and then behave it.
Healthy, positive living starts with your thoughts. Most of the thoughts that run through your head are usually negative. But thinking is a habit, which fortunately means you can change it. Retrain your thinking from negative to positive. In fact, if you talk with Tammy for a few minutes, you’ll most likely hear her say, “Don’t let your thoughts captivate you….captivate your thoughts.”
If you’re an empty nest mom, Tammy would tell you to start simple. In the many years she’s counseled women, she always asks moms (especially young / new moms): “Tell me your favorite thing to do in your spare time.” The most frequent answer, “I don’t know. It’s been so long; I haven’t thought about it.” Their task is then to figure it out.
A powerful assessment tool is to look in the mirror and tell yourself something you like about yourself. According to Tammy, it’s one of the hardest things for moms to do. What was most inspiring for me, a young mom, in interviewing this life coach is to hear her say that it’s never too early or too late to change your life. You can’t look back, but you can definitely look forward. You might have reached one ‘peak’ in raising your kids, but you can find or create new peaks…as many as you want.
Tammy’s 10 Tips for Empty Nest Moms:
1. Prepare Yourself - Plan ahead of time, and be prepared for the unexpected! Maybe it’s grief, maybe it’s joy; you may experience the opposite of what you thought you would, but welcome it. It’s okay as long as you acknowledge your feelings. Talk about them or write them down.
2. Learn To Let Go – Don’t be afraid to let your children go! Help them become independent young adults earlier rather than later.
3. Don’t Mope – Get out of the house — literally and figuratively! Plan day trips. Start projects.
4. Try Something New! Now’s your chance to try on a new identity. Buy an outfit you wouldn’t normally wear. Go to places you would normally not visit. Go to a bookstore and sit in each section for 20 minutes and read. The point is to push past your normal way of doing things.
5. Focus On Yourself – Start talking about YOU! As moms, we’re always in the habit of talking about our kids and their lives. Shift the focus. Talk about yourself more often.
6. Make New Friends – Depending on when your children leave the home, your friends may or may not be empty nesters. But, seek out those who make you feel good about yourself or challenge you to try something new.
7. Get Healthy – Mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It’s about balance. Your mind, body and soul all interact with each other, so make sure to work on each aspect of yourself on a daily basis. If your children are not living with you anymore, that probably means you have more free time. So, take advantage of it! Try doing one thing every day that improves your physical, mental, and spiritual/socio wellness. Joining clubs is always a great idea. These can include book clubs, walking clubs, social awareness activities, church activities, etc. Just be active…at least more than you already are. You’re no longer running the kids around; so, run yourself around…or walk really fast.
8. Get Creatively Courageous – Make a bucket list. Visit museums and galleries. Travel, even if it’s just in your own community. Take a cooking or art class. Train for a sprint triathlon. Try things you always wanted to do, but never had time or money… And then share about it with your kids. Let them see that they don’t need to worry about mom.
9. Laugh! There are so many physiological and psychological benefits from laughing.
10. Rekindle Passion …for your spouse, yourself and your life! Fall in love all over again. If it’s concerning your spouse, start with scheduling a date night.
I asked Tammy if there’s one thing that an empty nest mom could do today, in the next few hours, what she would recommend. She immediately responded.
“Walk into your child’s empty room, and give it a makeover. Turn it into a room that embodies one of your passions, whether it’s fitness, fashion, crafts, reading, or whatever. Plant new seeds in your nest and learn how to fly high.”
About Tammy Hotenspiller: As a certified life coach, Tammy’s clients range from the every-day mom to celebrity moms, Fortune 500 CEOs, world leaders, and UN representatives. As an entrepreneur, Tammy creates and develops one-on-one material and coaching concepts that have radically changed lives. In addition to life coaching, Tammy is an author and speaker at conferences around the world. Believing that healthy living should embrace the mind, body and soul, Tammy is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor and leads the largest weekly fitness class in Orange County, California. She is also a social activist and has started community-wide 5-10K runs to fight against world poverty. For more info, visit her website.