I like being emotionally ready for life’s major transitions.
In my mid-30s I was already reading articles on midlife. In my 40s I would read up on perimenopause. Now that I’m in my 50s I’ve started reading up on the next decade, and preparing for life after the corporate world.
It’s not that I’m never in the moment; on the contrary I’m more mindful now than I’ve ever been, always so cognizant that the present moment—who I’m with, what I’m doing—will never come again.
I’ve become very good at prioritizing the things that truly matter, within the hour, the day, the week ahead.
As I grow older, the days just seem to zip by; there’s never enough time for anything and everything.
After much trial and error, I think I’ve found a balance between the professional and the personal because I’ve also been surrounded by bosses and peers who help make it so.
So there is more time now, in a sense, to do the other things I love because I have an adult daughter, and a son who just entered college. It’s a conversation that my girlfriends, who are in a similar life situation, love discussing—this pseudo-empty nest we find ourselves in.
It can be an emotional transition, and one I think that is still part of the “midlife crisis,” which I’d rather refer to as midlife opportunity. Suddenly, we realize that we have our children only for a short time. Even now, they already have their own worlds you aren’t part of, and are older and capable of exploring the world on their own.
Partner or spouse
On our last trip, it was the eldest child who planned the itinerary and booked the hotels. As I write this, my son is out with friends, and my daughter is on holiday in the province with her friends.
It’s easier, I think, when you have a partner or a spouse. In a way, you have someone to share the empty nest with. Then again, it can be a testy time as well, and you have, in all probability, if you haven’t yet, recalibrated the dynamics of your relationship now that the children are gone and it’s just you and him.
I’ve come to enjoy my solitude and am no longer afraid of it. For now, at least, I use the alone time to do all the things I’ve long wanted to do but was unable to when the children were younger and needed my full attention.
I’ve learned to go to the movies by myself, have a great meal just with a book in hand, or spend a couple of hours sweating in the gym. And then, of course, there’s my writing, which keeps me company wherever I am. And travel, either by myself or with the children.
In all probability, I will have my children to myself only for the next five years before they truly fly away, so I’ve set my mind to make the most of that time and build memories with them, memories they can call on, and inspire them to keep coming home to their momma.
So, how can one prepare for this “empty-nest”? Here are a few things I’ve tried out.
First, you need to prepare yourself emotionally. When sadness comes, acknowledge it and listen to it because it has lessons to teach you. Cry, if you must; mourn, then start planning what you can do to hedge against the sadness that comes and goes with the empty nest.
Second, don’t dwell on those feelings. When I know that there is an evening or a couple of days when I’ll be by myself, I plan ahead. I either call a girlfriend and plan to meet up, or take a trip out of town to a place I’ve long wanted to see. It can also be as simple as a visit to a mall or a new restaurant, or an afternoon all to myself at home catching up on reading, writing, or sleep, and waking up ready and refreshed.
Third, don’t be afraid to let go. This, I had to teach myself again and again. It doesn’t get easier no matter how many children you have, because each one is unique.
When my son entered college this year, I was constantly on pins and needles the first week, wondering about many things. Seeing how well he seems to be adjusting, I realized it was useless worrying.
As long as you have prepared them well, and continue to monitor safely from a distance, they will be all right.
Fourth, now is the time to really think about yourself, too. Before you became a wife and a mother, you were a woman with dreams. Some of those dreams you needed to place on the back burner because you had to focus on everyone else. Now that the kids are grown up with lives of their own, you have more time to pursue your dreams, either as a couple or as an individual.
Start ticking off those items on your bucket list! Don’t let it remain a “bakit hindi ko ginawa” list. Take classes. Learn a new skill, a new sport, a new hobby or return to an old sport you once excelled in. It’s so easy to fill the empty hours as long as you plan ahead.
Fifth, get healthy and stay healthy! I always like to say that after 45, the warranty runs out, and you must, by all means, strive to exercise and eat right. The junk you used to enjoy in your 30s and early 40s must be put aside. If you want to live long and healthy, after a certain age, you can dine and party only until a reasonable hour.
Sleep is my greatest indulgence, and like Cinderella, I’m dead to the world after a certain hour. I’ve accepted this with no shame or regret, and the young people I work with and live with know this very well and have become very accepting. The upside is that I am able to catch the sunrise now on most days, something I find very calming.
Lastly, laugh, a lot. Fill your life with laughter and music. Surround yourself with people who lift your spirits. Watch funny movies or plays. Laugh as often and as hard as you can. Last weekend I finally went to see the wonderful musical “Rak of Aegis” at Peta with my high school girlfriends. We were falling off our seats in laughter, and it felt so good! What a great production!
The other night, I saw “Inside Out” with my children and we had the best time ever. It’s a film you must not miss because it has so many layers, and something for everyone, whether you are 7 or 70. What a wonderful, wise, and warm film!
Sadness and joy really do co-exist in one’s life, and the trick is to appreciate each one for the gifts they bring. When you are able to make friends with all those feelings, everything becomes much easier. You accept that everything is fleeting, and that tomorrow will always be a better day.
E-mail the author at storiesbykate @gmail.com Follow on Twitter @cathybabao.