08/26/2014 08:03 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2014

Finding Yourself Again In The Empty Nest

As the school year begins, there's a large, collective sigh about to be heard among parents sending their children off to colleges and universities across the country.

Mingled with that collective sigh will be tears, "I love yous," and a million different ways of saying goodbye.

Whether it's the first time their children are leaving, or time for them to return to a dorm room or off-campus apartment, the homes of these parents will suddenly be empty of stuff, of people, of noise, of activity. For some there's a sense of relief, while for others this is a heartbreaking and sad time.

But past that initial emotional thunderstorm is a winding road that leads to you. Not your family, not your spouse -- but you.

Without the layer of children between us and the world, life can either open up with possibilities or it can shrink to the size of a kitchen table.

At this point in our lives it's time to find our way back to ourselves as we haven't been in 18 or more years. Many of us will find this an unwelcome change -- being mothers (or fathers) is what we are, after all. No matter what other job we have or what other identity we claim, "parent" has been at the top of our list, right under gender, since we first brought our babies home so many years ago.

There's a huge opportunity here. It's time to consider what you want to do without having to be concerned about someone else's needs or desires for the first time in a very long time. Even if you're married, you still have far more freedom than you've had, since your kids were born, to explore your own interests.

But, you're wondering, what if I don't know what my interests are? What if I have no clue who I am if I'm not being someone's mom every day? What if, for the next 40 something years, I'm waiting for inspiration to come? How many Netflix* binges can I do, for goodness sake! How many closets can I clean out? (You don't really want to do that anyway, I'm guessing).

I'm going to suggest something that may sound hokey, something you've probably heard before -- but it's something I genuinely believe.

You need to find your passion.

You need to find something to do with as much passion as you've put into being a parent.

But, you're thinking, how do I find my passion? What am I supposed to do, take a class? Take a trip? Start a blog? Volunteer? Do yoga? What???

Here's what I think you should do. If you're stuck -- if you have no idea what to do with your suddenly copious amounts of free time, if your spouse is busy or (like mine) either going to football games or watching them on TV, if you have limited funds and can't travel, if there are no classes that interest you, if you've read all of the Outlander books and watched all of the seasons of Orange is the New Black, Mad Men and House of Cards, try going back to your childhood.

Try to remember what it was that you enjoyed when you were growing up. Did you like to draw and color? Buy a sketchpad. Did you like to play games? Join a Bridge group. Did you like playing make believe? Look into a local theater company, where you can volunteer. Did you like riding your bike? Well, go get a bike! Did you love to dress up your Barbie Dolls? Look for a job at a clothing store.

What classes did you love in college? Maybe there is a class that interests you.

This may not be the answer to all of your empty nest questions, but it can be a good start. It took me a while to figure out that what I wanted to do -- what I'd always loved to do - is write. And when I started writing, when I started my blog, it gave me a focus and a purpose each day - something I had been looking for since my nest had emptied almost a year before. At first it was a hobby, but soon it grew into a job, a responsibility to myself and my readers. I loved it, and I still do.

Take your time figuring things out. Allow yourself room to breathe, to adapt, to accept the changes and shifts in your new life as an empty nester. There's no timeline - for me it took a year. For some the change is much quicker, while others take longer.

I found my passion, and you can find yours.

*If you need a new Netflix show, try The Good Wife.

Previously Published on Empty House Full Mind

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