Whether you’re moving your baby into his first college dorm, walking her down the aisle, or putting her on the bus to kindergarten, it can be challenging. From birth, your children are your focus. They expand your heart exponentially. For some, letting go can only be done kicking and screaming. And seeing their parents behave like that can be embarrassing for kids, regardless of their age.
Engage Your Wanna-Be
Those who raise children are too familiar with the lack of self-time. Sneaking in a one-hour fitness class every week keeps you in the game, but not as the first-string player you could be. Throwing weights around (beyond just your kids’ sports equipment) might include a trip to the Exercise Floor on lucky days.
Perhaps you’ve always wanted more: to become a weightlifting competitor, marathon runner, or a swimmer. You may simply want additional time on the treadmill. Do you possess an inner yogi struggling for time out?
Seize the unencumbered moment.
Try a new Group Fitness class, take your land workout to the pool, or learn to meditate. By cultivating established interests (e.g., fitness), you can expand them into a lifestyle (e.g., exercising frequently, attending nutrition and wellness seminars, eating healthful foods). Creating additional outlets for your hobbies helps fill a void. The extra time gained (think: significantly minimized laundry piles, as one of many) can be used for self-improving enjoyment.
Learning something new is especially helpful. It requires total concentration so you aren’t dwelling on the quiet house that waits or flashbacking to toddler soccer days. A new hobby or class also delivers a message: You, too, continue to grow. You are taking a proactive approach to transitioning your role in life. With exercise, you can improve your physical and mental self, which is often neglected while children roam the house.
Invite Your Co-Parent
That person who has spent the first “lifetime” with you, raising the kids through tears and laughter, is also struggling to adjust. Use this opportunity to reconnect. Romance, dinners quiet enough for conversation, and quality couple time is suddenly possible. Consider setting fitness goals together. Reach them with the motivation you previously spent on getting your teen to cut the lawn. Your encouragement skills are surely perfected by now.
Challenge your partner. Create a fitness program, complete with rules and a point system. Enjoy a little healthy competition. The prize can be simple, such as the winner gets to make the next call to your child’s new abode. Or, indulge in your new freedom and go somewhere by yourselves. You, too, have gained your independence, and you certainly deserve it.
Here is a suggested fitness challenge for Mom versus Dad:
- Develop an exercise program. Seek input from a personal trainer and Group Fitness instructor, or attempt to create customized challenges for each other. See how well you know your partner. Maybe he daydreamed about swimming alongside the team at your kid’s swim meets. Sign him up for water workouts.
- Include opportunities for extra points. For example, an extra half-hour walk on the treadmill in addition to already familiar Group Fitness classes.
- Include the duration of the contest and amount of exercise to accomplish per week. As a suggestion: You might wish to require a minimum of 20 minutes high-impact activity per day, with 5 trips to the Center per week, for a total of 8 weeks. That extends beyond the 6-week standard for making an activity a habit.
- Make it official with a personal contract. Share comments on your fitness experiences along the way in the margin. Discuss them over a healthful meal (for some extra points).
- Display score cards and keep them updated. Encourage and be encouraged, with this visual inspiration to go further.
- Keep it fun! The purpose is to grow healthier together as you embark on the next phase of life. Don’t end up a sore loser sleeping on the couch.
Don’t Wait Until the Rooms Echo
“Parents need to have social outlets and interests. They need their lives to have meaning outside of their kids before children leave home,” according to Grattan Giesey, MSSA, a licensed social worker in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio.
Well before they drive off into the sunrise, their need for daily parental assistance decreases. Instead of micromanaging the prom or trying to jump in as a last-chance coach to school teams, recognize your need to cling as a sign. Get started on a project of your own. It will make the transition easier for both you and your older child.
The Center is an ideal place to make new friends who share an established common interest of healthy living. Such support can get you out of the house and established in a fresh fitness routine. A workout buddy eliminates the temptation to consider roaming empty rooms of your home as daily exercise.
Enjoy new people and get in touch with lost contacts. Stock up on books and movies from titles written on scraps of paper over the years. It’s the “sabbatical” for which you’ve been preparing since those teething days.
Make Those Appointments
You know you’ve been delinquent with your own wellness physician checkups. Or, maybe you’ve been delaying checking that weird dry patch on your skin. No one could blame you with sports physicals, immunization schedules, and standard throat infections constantly sending you to the pediatrician’s office. (When will they develop drive-through lab testing?)
Now is the time to be diligent about your own health issues. Chances are good that you could spend your child’s first month away getting well-overdue scans, tests, and checks. Keep yourself well as you begin the rest of your life.
Redefine Your Role
Anyone with a child, or dear one they spent significant time raising, recognizes this relationship is a lifelong commitment. Roles change, but the basic need to love, care for, and deliver endless advice is always there. And, even if your adult child might not admit it aloud, they do recognize you’ve “gained” some smarts since their early teens.
Keep active in your grown child’s life. You haven’t worked yourself out of a job; you’ve simply been promoted to a new job description. Enjoy this advanced parental role as friend, confidant, and consultant. There are new delights in this relationship, and the hours are much better.
With the central focus of your life moving on, it’s time to adjust the lens and see yourself. Take time to nurture the person within.
“Help for Empty Nest Syndrome,” by Diana Rodriguez at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Parenting Tips for Staying Close to Your Adult Child, While Letting Go,” by Jackie Burrell at www.about.com.
Empty nest (introduction picture): Leah Sharpe
Packed van: www.flickr.com/photos/chewonki_mcs/3324104702/