Six Ways My World Relaxed When I Became An Empty Nester

A perfect afternoon to me at 56 is sitting in my backyard with a good book, listening to the windchimes and watching the birds. I’m not expecting anyone to drive up from school or ask what’s for dinner. And dinner can be a bag of popcorn or three frozen eggrolls I pop into the microwave at 9 o’clock at night. It’s sublime. 

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. I loved being a mom (still do) and seeing my kids’ faces every day. I ran a tight ship between my part-time job at the library and volunteering with my sons’ high school marching band. It was meaningful, fulfilling and more than a little exhausting. 

Now, not only do my evenings not revolve around the kitchen sink, but the only sad sigh I hear when the fridge door opens is from my husband, who does his own grocery shopping. Once we became empty nesters, I began to focus on the new freedoms that come with this stage in life.

My husband and I now take the dogs when we eat out. (Photo credit: Courtenay Rudzinski)

6 things I love about empty nesting

1. I’m more selective with my time

When you’re a parent, there’s a slew of non-negotiable social obligations—school events, fundraisers, PTO meetings. Even my son’s college orientation required me to attend multiple seminars and an awkward group dinner. 

Last year another couple we saw frequently when our kids were growing up asked us to dinner. The conversation quickly turned to their over-achieving kids, with no questions asked about our own (we couldn’t get a word in, anyway). My husband and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. 

Now we have no problem turning down a dinner invite (politely) or saying no to an event that doesn’t interest us. We’re both homebodies who love to stay in. Now we can.

2. My wardrobe changed drastically 

I’ve attended my share of band recitals, scout ceremonies and school open houses wearing uncomfortable shoes and nice pants. Nothing gave me quite as much joy as editing and revamping my closet once those days were over. 

Each week I purged a section—pants, dresses, tops, shoes—and took my time trying on each item. I got rid of more than I kept, including any open-toed sandals (never liked them), pants that weren’t stretchy (love that Spandex) and most of my black tops. Tastes change and I prefer navy blue now.

I wear a seasonal uniform, as my neighbors can attest who see me walking my dogs each day. I’m also over shapewear. And if Skechers doesn’t make a shoe for it, I’m not interested. 

3. My hair and makeup routine evolved

Since my 20s, I’ve always been a full-makeup girl. That changed when I began spending more time at home, and my big outings for the day were Target or the grocery store. 

Years ago, my family toured the USS Lexington, an old naval warship in Corpus Christi. I was fascinated when the tour guide told us that soldiers were given only 90 seconds to shower each day. I challenged myself to do this once I got back home, and it’s easy enough on days when there’s no shampoo or shaving required. 

I also whittled my makeup routine to five minutes max, with a more natural look (so long, eyeshadow and liner). Blush and lip gloss were always my favorites anyway. And recently I traded my straightener for an electric hairbrush, which does the same job, only much faster. 

4. I tuned into my circadian rhythm 

Once I no longer had to rise before dawn to make sure my kids were up, and then stopped staying up til 1 a.m. just because I could, I found that I loved getting into bed after dinner and a shower, and winding down early with some Hulu or a book. This would’ve been impossible when my kids were home. Like most teens, they were night owls and I was the sleep police. I had to make sure their devices were off before I could ever think about turning in. 

It took some experimenting to find my sweet sleep spot, especially after menopause, but I felt my best the next day when lights were out by 11:30. Sometimes my husband and I reminisce about the days before kids when we could sleep until noon, but neither of us can sleep that late anymore even if we tried. 

5. My life doesn’t need to look remotely like anyone else’s

As an introvert, I’ve never enjoyed group activities—bunco, mahjong, book clubs, wine tastings. I’d see Facebook posts of other moms enjoying these gatherings with their large group of friends and feel like an oddball. Now, with time and age, I fully embrace what feels best to me: one-on-one lunches or just staying home. 

My friend circle is a la carte as opposed to a pod—and I’m perfectly fine to do things alone. I stay away from people who deplete me, and don’t want to feel obligated to meet up with anyone or talk daily. 

After my mother passed, I discovered that I loved taking long-distance road trips by myself. It gave me time to think and heal. Plus, I enjoy my own company. 

6. I adore eating alone 

When my kids became teens, they started taking their meals upstairs so they could eat while “studying” (code for playing games). So the transition into just my husband and me at the kitchen table wasn’t a big adjustment. 

Gradually, we began to do our own thing, too. I adore eating meals alone while watching a Bravo show or reading the latest Lisa Jewell thriller. And my husband likes to relax in the living room watching sports or anime. When my kids are home, nothing clears a room faster than me putting on “The Kardashians” or “The View.” It’s my time to take a break and indulge in guilty pleasures with no interruptions.  

To me, being an empty nester is one of the sweetest stages of parenting. I still catch glimpses of the little boys my sons used to be, and proud moments of the men they’re becoming. We made it through a lot of challenges and now get to take a beat.

It’s their time to fly. Ours, too.

More Great Reading:

21 Things You’ll Love About Your Empty Nest

About Courtenay Rudzinski

Courtenay Rudzinski is a freelance writer in Houston, where she lives with her husband and two rescue pups. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Wired, HuffPost and Business Insider. You can find her on Instagram.

Read more posts by Courtenay

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