During her daughter’s senior year of high school, Natalie Caine suddenly realized that her life would soon be radically different. Not knowing where to turn for support or guidance, the Los Angeles-based speech therapist started an empty nest support group at her home four years ago. From there, the seed sprouted and today, she is the founder of Empty Nest Support Services, providing consultation and support for women struggling during this time in life when children spread their wings.
“Once every two months I’d have five other moms of daughters over to my house. We did pot luck, sat and ate and talked and cried and laughed… It is a support for the transition and new beginnings all of us could be living,” Natalie recalls.
As with many good ideas, this small beginning blossomed after Natalie began searching for other resources for women.
“There really is so little out there. People don’t talk about this time in life and it’s not found often in media,” Natalie says.
Today, her organization helps hundreds of women across the country through phone consultations and through an active supportive message board where women can console one another.
As this topic is new for me, I was surprised to learn just how debilitating this change can be for some women. Natalie says that some moms, whether they work full-time or not—suddenly find themselves slipping into a depression after their children leave home.
“I recall talking with one woman who had been working as a top executive for twenty-five years and after her children left home, just found that she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. She found herself calling in sick. These women just need to know that they are okay—that they are normal. Talking with other women going through this is so helpful,” Natalie says.
Part of the problem for moms is that our identities are so wrapped up in being mothers—of nurturing others, taking care of our children and putting them first. When this is gone, the Earth suddenly seems a foreign place and women can find themselves searching for meaning, searching for identity, and taking stock of their lives. Rather than run from these thoughts and keeping busy to avoid facing these issues, Natalie strongly suggests that women embrace them: face them and obviously, with the support of others.
“Like new year’s resolutions, I always say take the time to reflect. … Let yourself be open to ideas, don’t rush out to fill the void and get terribly busy without reflecting. Try to stay still, quiet and let your new life unfold,” Natalie advises.
So how does one do that? With baby steps.
“The hardest part is actually getting up and getting going every morning. If you’re not ready to get out of the house yet because you have the blues, then, sit in bed with a journal,” Natalie suggests.
Since women typically don’t take the time to value themselves and their accomplishments, Natalie says a good exercise is to do just that by making a list of what you are good at. Include lists of what compliments you typically receive from others as well. And, make a list of what you’d like to do, your dreams, “if you had someone to hold your hand and help you achieve them,” says Natalie.
Finding New Interests
Trying something new is critical during this time, and Natalie reminds women that they can always keep their new venture a secret and they can always change their minds.
“After my daughter left, I took a voice lesson one day. I was very nervous, but then did it and it was so empowering. I loved it!” she recalls.
To help determine new interests, Natalie suggests keeping a treasure box filled with pictures that you cut out of magazines.
“The treasure chest is great. Tear out pictures from magazines. So I might have a picture of the Eiffel Tower, certain shoes, a landscape and I put them in this box and mix them all up. After a few weeks, open it up and scatter it across the floor and see what message that gives you,” Natalie says.
Another good exercise is to journal dreams and to open yourself up to finding messages in them, she says. To do this, Natalie keeps a tape recorder, notepad and a flashlight by her bed at night. Before going to sleep, Natalie suggests saying three times, “What’s next for me?” Afterwards, say “I will remember my dreams” three times as well.
Natalie says this technique has worked for many of her clients, and herself as well.
“I found my inner writer that way! I had lost it in the third grade,” she giggles. “In my dream, I’ll never forget it. My third grade teacher appears to me and says, ‘You’re getting an A for penmanship. This essay was really good—you could be a writer some day.’ I got up, wrote it down and dated it in my computer!” laughs Natalie.
From that dream she began journaling in earnest and now writes a monthly Empty Nest newsletter and is currently completing her first book: “Empty Nest: Life Beyond Parenting.”
As we all know, there is life beyond parenting and it sometimes take a little jolt to remind us to embrace our interests and to nurture ourselves. Certainly, moms who have nurtured others for years, deserve it.