Nesting is intentional, hard work. As human beings, we think of “nesting” as the instinct to create a healthy, helpful, homey environment for our youngsters. When the nest empties, it can be excruciatingly abrupt. Or not. People have different responses, all of which are very normal. Licensed Counselor and Life Coach, Lisa Cashion offers tips to help guide parents on re-purposing their empty nest.
WRITTEN BY Lisa L. Cashion, MA, MDiv, LCMHC, NCC
Nesting is intentional, hard work. If you’ve ever observed the nest-building process in nature, it also looks gratifying and fun. True nest-builders—birds, insects and other industrious creatures like squirrels and muskrats—are operating on instinct. Their instincts are to prepare and protect. Finished nests, each one a unique work of art, are meant for nurturing physical health and growth—with the expectation that the young nesters will eventually outgrow the physical structure.
As human beings, we also think of “nesting” as the instinct to create a healthy, helpful, homey environment for our youngsters. And since our human offspring (biological or otherwise) tend to stick around for much longer, we get really accustomed to the work and gratification of updating and rearranging our nests. We respond to new schedules, preferences, health and education needs. We add and edit and sometimes groan about the sheer effort involved.
We celebrate and weep and lose sleep. We are surprised and energized and stupefied and exhausted. We organize and re-organize and re-stock, and then one day—it all stops. Or seems to stop. Or we anticipate it stopping and panic.
When the nest empties—either because our children have gone away to school or work or have left us in some other way—it can be excruciatingly abrupt. Or not. People have different responses, all of which are very, very normal.
Some people anticipate a big adjustment and start grieving or planning early. Some people get smacked with big emotions when the day finally arrives for a daughter or son to move on and out.
Some people feel primarily relieved and excited; some feel primarily lost. Either way, we all feel a whole host of emotions all at once—even if we don’t recognize them all. This is how it always is. We are always feeling a masterful mix of emotions at once; we just tend to focus on the one that is taking up the most space and energy. But it is likely that an empty nest causes pride and relief and regret and grief and hope and joy and fear and loss and excitement and confusion and curiosity and despair and gratitude—all at once.
And because each of these singular emotions has its own physiological component, well, the result is a pretty uncomfortable physical, mental and emotional disorientation.
So, if you have felt like that or are feeling that now, you are normal. Yes, normal.
The thing is, though, normal doesn’t mean that you have to just ignore or get over this disorienting, foggy “stuck-ness.” It means that you have a right to acknowledge the experience and find ways to do something with it or about it.
Which brings me to the concept of re-purposing…
Step One: Give yourself some major affirmation for paying attention to yourself.
Maybe this is the first time in a while that you’ve really considered that you need to nurture you. The first task is to consider your own needs for care during a big life transition.
Let your re-purposed nest be an environment for your own preparation, protection and growth. Let yourself sink in a little to the notion that you are worth it! You deserve a space to explore and feel safe and find your footing.
One of my favorite mantras is “Start Slow to Go Fast.” And this is a great time to go slow and easy. Take a breath. Take a walk. Take a friend or partner out to lunch and say out loud, “This feels different/hard/exhilarating/devastating.”
Curl up and cry for a few hours or days. Any transition involves grief. Even the best transitions require leaving something behind.
Dance around the empty house if that’s what feels right to you. Remember that you spent many years pouring energy and intention into a certain kind of nest-making and you’ll need to sort out how to re-purpose. Move some things around, add or edit, choose a nook to make your very own mini-nest.
And when you are ready—drum roll, please—here it is…
Step Two: Get curious about what your future can look like.
Imagine possibilities, dream big, get creative. And don’t rush into anything.
Your first excellent idea might not be as great as the third or fourth one. Don’t limit your imagination. But don’t jump in too fast, either.
Nurturing your own creativity is part of re-purposing. Make lists, paint, draw pictures, be colorful, read about your interests, watch shows or listen to podcasts that are informative. Make a vision board. Go on a retreat. Take a class. Gather data. Notice what gives you energy and reminds you of yourself.
Then consider the next phase…
Step Three: Get feedback from trusted individuals.
It’s important to gauge some of your ideas and objectives with input from people who know and care about you. These need to be people who are supportive and objective. Not people who are going to criticize your ideas but will instead offer valuable insights that you might not have considered.
And here’s an important tip: also talk to people who are doing something you admire. Don’t worry if some of these folks don’t “see” you in a similar role. That doesn’t matter right now. You are just gathering data.
Don’t get discouraged or too focused on someone else’s approval. If you haven’t caught on by now, this re-purposing is also about identifying a new sense of purpose for yourself. This doesn’t need to be a singular purpose—although that works just fine.
It is about re-energizing yourself and nurturing that energy. It’s creating a vision and a path and then finding smaller goals and objectives and letting yourself be a beginner for a while. Let your nest be a place to wobble a little and to experience some trial and error.
Let your environment be a place that nurtures and restores you. Let your imagination help you launch something new and fresh and inspiring. Whether it’s adapting some facet of your existing career or learning a new skill or organizing a group or traveling the globe, let yourself dream big and find ways to foster your own magnificent growth.
Lisa L. Cashion, MA, MDiv, LCMHC, NCC
Carolinas Wellness Collective — Working with Individuals, Couples and Families for Mental / Emotional / Relational Wellness