Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Invest in your work

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Image: Some rights reserved by San José Library

By Chris Little

In my last two posts I wrote about adapting to the empty(ing) nest—how do you manage the transition from being a mother with kids at home to being a mother whose kids are off on their own? I suggested, first of all, taking some time to reconnect with yourself and your hopes and dreams after all those years of child-focused living. Then I suggested expanding your nest—broadening your circle of concern to include not only your immediate family but your local community, and investing in that community through volunteer work.

Now I want to think about investing more in your work. Many moms who step “off the merry go round” of full-time work remain connected to their careers through part-time, home-based, or freelance work. If you’ve scaled back your work for the kids, then as the kids move out of the house, now might be the time to pick things up again. Because even though we’ve loved being home with our kids, having work we love can be immensely rewarding and provides a sense of purpose for a lot of us, especially as we transition out of the intensely child-focused years.

I’m thinking of my friend Wendy, who had done project-oriented and volunteer work at our local arts council for years. As her kids got into middle school and high school, she stepped into a part-time position there. She’s still home when the kids are, and she’s involved in an organization she feels strongly committed to, so that as her kids move on out into the world, she’ll have a meaningful focus for her energy and talent.

And there’s my friend Karen, who loved working as a substitute teacher when her kids were young, so she decided to go for her teaching certificate while they were in high school. Now she’s starting a full-time teaching career as her youngest is beginning to look at colleges.

Here are three steps for investing in your work as the kids move out of the house:

1. Think about your work: Is it a good fit?

Do you love your work? Is it meaningful and exciting and a good use of your time and skills? In short, would you like to do more as your schedule opens up? Some women find that their interests have changed over the years they’ve been focusing on their families, and their old careers just don’t excite them anymore. But others can’t wait to dig a little deeper and commit themselves a little more. So take some time to think about whether your work is still meaningful to you, or whether you’d like to go off in a different direction (which I’ll write about in my next post!).

2. If it is, consider taking on a little more.

Talk with your supervisor to see if you can pick up more hours. If your work is freelance or home-based, look around for a few potential new clients you can approach. Take some people out to lunch. Do some work on a pro bono basis (that is, [volunteer]!) Tell your friends and colleagues you’re looking for a little more work. It may take awhile to get re-established, but that gives you time to slowly transition from being child-focused into a more work-centered life.

3. But don’t overcommit!

As you get more into your work, you might be tempted to overcommit. Be careful to maintain balance in your life. Although your kids might not show it, they still need you around, and you never know when they’ll want to talk. In fact, I know moms who chose to step off the merry-go-round during their kids’ high school years, so that they’ll be available for them after school, and for college visits, etc.

But inching your way back into the working world as your children begin leaving home can be rewarding for both you and the kids, and it can definitely smooth your transition into being the mother of daughters and sons who live outside the home.

So how about you? Do you do part-time, freelance, or home-based work in addition to parenting your kids? Do you love it? Are you thinking about investing more in your work as the kids leave home?

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4 thoughts on “Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Invest in your work

  1. Great post Chris. #3 makes a good point. I found a wonderful p/t job with the flexibility to work from home and take on more hours if I want to. I’ve stopped myself several times from biting off more than I should chew, remembering why I got off the merry-go-round in the first place. My boys are 14 and 11–the time with them is flying by so fast. Sticking with p/t hours allows me to keep my hand in a career I enjoy to prepare for the day I will work f/t, while still focusing on my family. A slow and steady transition is the right speed! I feel very lucky, and I hope other mothers can find the perfect situation too.

  2. Freelance writing, and proofreading/editing gives me the freedom while I don’t “have to” work to turn down a project if it is not convenient to take it on, yet still keep my skills sharp. I have even found that I can add new skills this way — for example, I am now doing more technical writing; definitely something I never expected! When it becomes necessary for me to pick up more work (like when we send my son off to 12 years of private schooling in 2014!), I will have kept my hand in my field of expertise.

  3. Pingback: Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Step into your dreams! | Off the Merry-Go-Round

  4. Pingback: More guest blogging! | Christine Brandt Little

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