Empty Nest/Full Life: Three steps to help ease our “second adolescence”

My kids are 25 and 22 years old. Youngest is still in college, finishing his last year, but it feels as if he’s really left the nest. I never understood the loss associated with an empty nest, because when I was in the thick of it, nothing sounded better – an empty (clean) house!

But now I understand. This phase is not just about your kids moving out of the house, it’s about a shift in purpose, community, relationships and identity. Psychologist Elliot Jacques called this mid-life period a “second adolescence” and that makes sense to me. These days I frequently feel like I did when I was 13 – uncertain, insecure, shy, and disconnected.

So how do we get through this second adolescence? Well, the beauty of an “adolescent” period in your 50s or 60s is that you have life experiences (and maturity?) to lean back on.

The first step is to embrace it!

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. This type of psychological flexibility is one of the greatest gifts you can give your second adolescent self because it allows space for feeling “awkward”. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t judge your emotions, and don’t assume your peers are doing any better. This is a normal life transition, you’re not alone, and the changes you’re going through now can lead to significant personal growth.

Second step, start seeking.

Just like you did in your teens, you will have to find “your people.” A great place to start is with your interests. What hobbies fell by the wayside in the last couple of decades? What activities sound fun? (Pickleball anyone?) Is there something you’d like to learn? An empty nest probably equates to more time for yourself, so let’s put it to good use.

The third important step is to practice gratitude.

With each chapter of life there are losses and gains, not always in equal measure. We deserve to acknowledge the losses and express our feelings about life’s transitions, but we also need to acknowledge the gifts along the way. This can be hard, particularly when we’re feeling bad, but expressing gratitude is not just a nice sentiment. Science shows that expressing gratitude actually increases dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in our brains, which in turn improves our mood.

So, stop texting with your friends and get off the couch! The key to change is action. Do one of these three steps today and you’ll feel better tomorrow.

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