FAMILY ALMANAC

Anxious about empty nest

Posted March 19, 2012, at 12:23 p.m.

Q: I have been a stay-at-home mom for more than two decades and have adored my children at every stage in their development.

And that is my problem. I’m facing an empty nest in the near future and I’m dreading it. I am much more talkative than my taciturn Yankee husband and enjoy the liveliness and unpredictability of a house with kids.

Perhaps this is because my temperament thrives on challenges. This has led me to become involved in municipal level government and to immerse myself in it so I could survive the transition that’s ahead. In the process, I’ve discovered abilities I never knew I had and people in the field tell me that I “have what it takes.”

My family, however, will be horrified because they’ll think that a job is more appropriate for a woman in my stage in life.

A: You are in for a big surprise.

Life without children isn’t a challenge; it’s an adventure and it comes at just the right time. You’re at an age when you know your own mind and have the time and the energy to try new ideas, explore new interests and learn new skills. There is a window of opportunity between the time your last child leaves home and your first child has a baby and you should open it wide.

If you can afford it, however, it might be better to perfect your skills as a volunteer, which would let you qualify for a more interesting, better-paid job in the future than you could get right now. For some reason, bosses usually let volunteers learn on the job but they expect a paid worker to have a degree in that field and five years of experience, too.

While you’ll ask your husband and your children what they think about your plans, you should follow your own instincts, just as they follow their own instincts even though you don’t like their choices.

You don’t want to immerse yourself in your job completely, however, because it might jeopardize your marriage. Your husband may be a taciturn fellow but he still needs your companionship.

If the two of you used to go fishing or shopping at the flea market, you ought to ask him to do these things with you again and also to go away for an occasional weekend. Just getting away and seeing someplace you’ve never seen before will put some sunshine in your life and give you some good memories, too.

Your nest also won’t feel so empty next year if you invite a neighborhood teenager to dinner sometimes or maybe give one of them a place to live for a few weeks if he’s having trouble at home. If that’s not enough, you can always hire them.

You may not realize how often your children empty the dishwasher or run to the store for you until they leave home. At that point, you and our husband should put your pride in your pocket and ask for some occasional help.

There may still be days, though, when your children’s absence may leave you awash with self-pity but then your cell will ring and you’ll jump out of the shower to answer it without ever grabbing a robe on the way. That’s when you’ll realize that an empty nest has advantages all its own.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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