How to Survive Empty Nest Weekends
Once the kids leave for college, fill your weekends with new or favorite activities
Paula Durlofsky may be a psychologist, but that hardly made her immune last fall to the emotional wallop of her second daughter heading off to college, leaving Durlofsky and her husband Larry, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., living in what felt like an extremely empty nest.
The toughest time for both of them: weekends.
“It was a really hard time and there were periods when I found myself crying,” says Paula Durlofsky, whose youngest daughter, Hope, went off to Lafayette College last fall, several years after their oldest daughter Sarah left for Colgate University. “Those feelings don’t last forever. You have to allow yourself time to settle into that new time in your life.”
Especially on weekends.
It's all about finding a new sense of self-worth that's not entirely wrapped up in your kids.
On weekdays, most empty nesters can invent ways to deal with the sudden change at home by using such common tactics as working later or even arranging to meet with clients or co-workers in the evening. But once the weekend rolls around — a time when so many empty nesters are accustomed to running their kids to the mall or to soccer games — everything changes big-time.
So, just how do suddenly kidless parents deal with being kidless on weekends?
Pre-Planning Helps Avoid the Pain of the Empty Nest
Next Avenue spoke with three experts on empty nesting to find positive coping actions for empty nest parents on weekends.
Sometimes it involves delving deeply into long-delayed personal projects or hobbies. Sometimes it’s about connecting — or reconnecting — with friends or friend groups. Sometimes it’s about finding a regular out-of-town weekend escape that brings pleasure to both parents. And sometimes it’s about devising creative new ways to continue scratching your inner-parenting inch.
For Paula Durlofsky, successful navigation of empty-nesting — particularly on weekends — required lots of pre-planning. She created a long-term project for herself that would positively eat up lots of weekend time: She decided to write a book.
Actually, she spent much of her time over the past year crafting a lengthy book proposal on the basis of which she ultimately sold the book to a publisher. Logged On and Stressed Out: How Social Media is Affecting Your Mental Health and What You Can Do About It has been a great pastime because it’s a subject she feels so passionately about.
“This is a lifelong goal I actually wanted to pursue that had been put on hold,” she said.
Larry, who is a psychiatrist, began to indulge in his two favorite hobbies: comedy and jazz. The couple started to attend a lot more live comedy and jazz performances on weekends.
Paula Durlofsky also organized two book clubs with other empty nest mothers whose kids were in her daughter’s grade at school. When the book club isn’t meeting, they typically plan outings with friends. “We’re fostering friendships that weren’t a priority when our daughters were home,” she said.
To help add spark to the end of the weekend, the Durlofskys have scheduled a weekly Sunday night video phone call with their youngest daughter. “It’s a nice way to incorporate your kids into your weekends,” said Paula Durlofsky.
Just to make sure the house is never empty — not even on weekends — the family dog is always close at hand. When their first dog died shortly after their oldest daughter went off to college, the couple quickly bought a new one, a cockapoo called Mindy.
Consider Helping a Child in Need
Although Becky Bell Scott isn’t an empty nester, as a senior lecturer in the Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University, she knows how to help parents who are. She is a parenting expert who has interviewed mothers and fathers nationwide on all aspects of being a parent. Scott’s top recommendation for empty nesters who find weekends to be emotionally vacant: help a child in need.
“Maintain your relationship with your children, but consider giving the gift of parenting love to those who may not have it as much as they would like,” she said.
Scott specifically suggests becoming a volunteer advocate for a child who has experienced abuse or neglect. This can be done through organizations like The National CASA/GAL Association, which supports a network of nearly 950 state and local programs. CASA/GAL volunteers are appointed by judges to advocate for children’s best interests.
Scott notes that the organization’s largest network of volunteers are retired people — many of whom are empty nesters. What’s more, she noted, the time spent with the child is often on weekends.
“You get real one-on-one time with a child — and can make a huge difference in their lives,” she said.
Rely on Existing Support Networks
Another excellent weekend option for empty nesters: Create and organize a group project that improves the community.
Scott knows one couple who did this by donating land and creating a community garden just about the time their first child went off to college about a decade ago. It has energized the entire neighborhood.
Perhaps the most natural way to form weekend relationships after the kids disappear is with the same support networks you took part in while your child was in high school. Scott suggests selecting one or two parents from the parent network that was part of your child’s after-school or weekend activities. These might be other parents from, say, the school soccer team. Or it might be ones whose kids also were in school musicals.
“We don’t tend to legitimize these support networks, but there is a real loss from not having a natural reason to gather,” Scott said.
In the end, successful empty-nesting — particularly on weekends — requires parents to indulge in something new to many of them: self-compassion.
“You have to learn to turn that lens of care from your kids to yourself,” said Kristin Neff, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “This is an important time for self-compassion.”
Women — more than men — have a particularly tough time adjusting to not being weekend caregivers, said Neff. It’s all about finding a new sense of self-worth that’s not entirely wrapped up in your children.
Embrace Old Dreams or Create New Ones
Those who tend to handle empty nest weekends best are parents who are truly willing to chase old dreams or create new ones, said Neff. Some take up art forms they haven’t explored before. Others embrace weekend traveling.
That’s precisely what the Durlofskys did. The couple has indulged in their shared passion of spending weekends in New York City. Since Bryn Mawr is less than a two-hour train ride away, they’re begun visiting New York regularly on weekends.
Now that they spend so many weekends there, The Big Apple has almost begun to feel like a second home. And, yes, there is a special side benefit. It is New York City, after all, so the couple's daughters are often enticed to visit them there.
Perhaps that makes the nest only half empty.