If you’re afraid to be alone after your kids leave home, you’re in good company. Here’s how to handle loneliness and tips for coping right now.
Tired of the silent treatment? Print this list of 50 texts to send your teen (that they will actually answer).
“Stand still and look at the sky or roll up in a ball on the ground.”
Those were the instructions we gave our kids if they were ever approached by an aggressive dog. We coached them in this behavior more than once. Why? Because the natural instinct when you see a snarling, sharp set of fangs coming toward you is to run as fast as your legs will take you.
And running from an aggressive dog usually doesn’t end well.
…once you’ve stopped and they realize you’re not going to run away for them to chase, they will generally walk away on their own.Dr. Sophia Vin, DVM
Afraid to Be Alone
Empty Nest is a tricky transistion for sure. How do we balance letting our kids know we still care for them without clinging for dear life to our past role of caretaker?
Maybe you’re a full-fledged Empty Nest parent or just starting to launch your children. Either way, the switch from being an integral part of our kids’ everyday lives to barely knowing their location can trigger the terror of facing down slobbering fangs.
Of course, behaviors like sending just the right care package, texting them several times a day and counting the hours till their next break all come from love. But, if we’re honest, they are also a reaction to looking in the face of that angry dog-fear.
Here’s Help Right Now
Not only does this phase of our lives require navigating a changing role with our children, but we are also coming face to face with middle age and all its challenges.
Although you may be terrified that your children will drift away, choose an unsavory lifestyle, or simply forget you exist, most of the time those fears don’t materialize.
Even if they do, fear is a poor motivator for the balanced, healthy parenting our kids desperately need as they find their way.
After all, our kids don’t need us to jump inside their drama with them. They need us to throw them a lifeline from a stable foundation. In order to fill that role, we must learn to stand our ground, even when we’re afraid to be alone.
Embrace the Fear
In spite of all the crazy situations and challenges this stage of our lives throws at us, we can find our footing. Start by recognizing fear, and even embracing it.
Interested in learning your Fear Archetype? Check out the Do It Scared website.
Fear first showed up, for me, shortly after my oldest child started college four states away. I remember the surge of adrenalin the first time I texted him and didn’t hear back within five minutes.
My mind raced with terrifying possibilities. Had he lost his phone? Was he hanging with the wrong crowd? Had he been kidnapped?
Of course, none of those scenarios happened and I needed to cut way back on watching crime dramas. I came to realize he was busy with normal activities-like making new friends and figuring out where his classes were located.
In reality, we should expect to feel afraid and even embrace it in small amounts. Instead of putting the local police on speed dial, recognize fear as a by-product of loving this person deeply.
Make a Plan
When I was young, I spent lots of time alone. Since my siblings were much older than me, I learned to entertain myself and enjoy my own company. In those days, I spent hours sitting in my window box reading Nancy Drew mysteries. I listened to records over and over and had a pretty good Karen Carpenter impression.
But, as I got older, I lost practice with being alone. My days were crammed full of meetings, carpools, and trying to solve the dissapearing sock mystery.
Once both kids were gone, my everyday busyness came to a full stop. For the first time since I could remember, my schedule was my own. And I had no clue what to do with it.
Take Yourself on a Date
Take yourself out for coffee and brainstorm a list of ideas, big and small, you’ve always wanted to tackle. Perhaps you’ve longed to update your wardrobe, visit a local museum, or learn to paint.
Update your wardrobe with just 10 pieces (you may already have them). Print the list here.
Nothing is off the table! Just writing your ideas down gives them power and moves you one step forward. No using your family as an excuse, either. Remember, the best gift you can give them is a healthy you.
Instead of staying stuck in fear, start writing down your thoughts and feelings. Write the story of your journey through Empty Nest as if it will be a best-seller. Who knows-maybe there’s an author inside you!
Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or the color of your pen. Doodle, cut and paste, copy quotes. The form journalling takes is nowhere near as important as the practice of doing it.
What if you could demand of fear its many gifts in exchange for the chaos it has created and the ways it tests you? What if you could replace your fear of the unknown with curiosity?Dr. Karen Finn
You can burn or shred your journal if you’re afraid others will see it. The important part is giving a name to your feelings and losses. Identify where you are now, where you want to be, and baby steps you need to take to get there.
Practice Being Alone
Obviously, fear of being alone can only be faced-well, by yourself. Although I thought my fear was about losing my kids, I soon realized it was a by product of becoming self-absorbed.
My family’s needs, over time, had made me a very ego-centric person. When I was honest with myself, I had to admit I prefered my familiar family cocoon to venturing beyond my comfort zone.
For starters, I had become a terrible listener. I had gotten in the habit of finishing other people’s sentences, changing the subject, and pretending to listen while I mentally reviewed my grocery list.
I’d become easily irritated by others’ needs. In carving out precious family time for so many years, I’d gotten in the habit of avoiding people outside my circle instead of sharing my resources and time.
I realized that I was struggling with loneliness and harboring such an intense distaste for spending so much time by myself because I was holding onto this internal belief that I wasn’t enough. That I needed more. That others were the solution to my problem.Kim West
Now, I was the one hoping someone would notice and reach out to me. I was the one looking for a place to belong.
Being alone takes practice, and time, to get right. You will make mistakes-and that’s ok. I have volunteered for a couple of groups that were a bad fit. People have pushed my boundaries on a few occasions.
When it comes down to it, we pay a high price for staying in our comfort zone. Maybe not right away, but certainly over time. Start small, perhaps by introducing yourself to a neighbor or smiling at a stranger. Pay for the car behind you in the drive through. Open yourself up to moving forward, even if imperfectly, and see what happens next!
Choose a Project
How can tackling a big project be a solution if you’re afraid to be alone? For starters, most jobs require help. Here’s a list of 10 ideas to consider:
- Organize an attic or storage room
- Learn a language
- Refinish furniture
- Start a blog
- Form a bookclub
- Plan a trip
- Train a service dog
- Research your geneology
- Reconnect with school friends
- Tackle a painting
Each of these giant undertakings means you will need to do some research, gather resources, and consult some experts.
“But I don’t have time or energy-or money-to do any of these!” I can hear you saying. Not a problem, since there is no timeline for accomplishing your goal.
Break the project into bite-size steps. Like that family size bag of M&Ms gets eaten, do one simple thing at a time. My walking partner dreamed of taking a dog to nursing homes and elementary schools after her kids were gone.
She began by researching dog breeds online. That led to contacting several local breeders. Now she’s a regular at obedience classes, making friends with other dog owners, and even taking Rosie to the local elementary school.
Not All Dogs Bite
If you’re afraid to be alone in Empty Nest, remember this: Just like running from an aggressive dog is the wrong action, staying busy and ignoring your fear will only make it worse.
Take the time and energy to work on yourself, if for no other reason than setting an example of balance for your children.
And remember, not all dogs bite. Even the angry ones usually lose interest if you stand your ground.
And remember most dogs that rush towards you on the street aren’t out to bite you. Try to stay relaxed and you’ll be much more likely to remain safe.Dr. Sophia Yi