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Rebooting goals as empty nesters

September 21, 2018

So your last child has left home for college or other adventures. Now, the house is quiet. Too quiet.

No doubt the empty-nest phase of life requires a transition. There’s less rush this fall to fill the calendar with activities and appointments. Along with adjustments in your routines, and likely a few tears, now what?

Perhaps it’s time to reboot a few goals of your own or even think about an empty-nester bucket list. Some parents turn energy into a kitchen remodel, a first-time cruise or new hobby. Others find they have more time to volunteer and build job skills. That is, after an initial regrouping.

“The first few days were really hard for me,” said Jennifer Ferrero, whose son Andrew, 18, left for University of Idaho in August. “For me, the house really just feels empty. When you say empty-nesters, it truly feels like that. It’s just a change.”

You tend to spend time at first reflecting on those 18 years with kids, bringing up memories and emotions, and how fast that time went, she said. “Your role is changing; you’re not doing for the children like you were.”

“Concurrent to this going on, my business is in a good place, and socially I’m busy,” she added. “There is a lot of positive things going on. It’s still difficult from the standpoint that you’re not seeing them every day anymore.”

Ferrero and her husband, Rob, also have a daughter, 22-year-old Elizabeth, who is doing well on her own. Going into this fall, the couple has talked about travel plans, including a cruise, Ferrero said. She set new goals for Toastmasters and her communications business Switch Up.

Another mom, Shelly Leland of Liberty Lake, has plans with her husband, Rob, for more golfing and cycling together and also travel. Eventually, the Lelands want to do a cycling tour in Europe.

This fall, their only son Nathan started school at Whitworth University.

“It’s a big adjustment, just the quietness of the house,” Leland said. “We’ve made some travel plans. We’re calling it our empty-nesting cruise.”

That 14-day trip with friends is scheduled for next year.

“The big thing for my husband and I is we want to travel more. Maybe do some things that aren’t so kid-related travel, go to places that are more historical, not like Disneyland. We plan on going to see different places in the world and finding some new things that we like to do together.”

The couple spent a lot of time on activities with their son, including through Boy Scouts, where they got to know the Ferreros. Both couples about a year ago started talking about this new stage of life.

Leland has worked part-time to have more time at home with her son, but now considering spending one day a week as a community volunteer.

“I’ve always wanted to volunteer for Meal on Wheels,” she said. “It’s all kind of new; Nathan just moved into school a week ago. I’m still figuring it all out.”

The Lelands have had a chance to discuss what they want to do together now, including setting new goals for improving fitness.

“We’re starting to do some activities together that we’ve both have kind of done separately, and a little bit together,” she said. “If I can get in good enough shape, we’re thinking of doing a biking tour in Europe.

“My husband has always been into biking, and I have not been. Now, I’m starting to do that with him. We’re doing more golfing together. I’ve been on a golf league. He hasn’t golfed much, but now we’re starting to do that together.”

Ferrero, describing herself as a planner, started thinking about new goals about two years ago. That included increasing her role with the Public Relations Society of America’s Spokane chapter, now serving as president.

“I did start investing in myself and my future, knowing this was coming,” Ferrero said. “I knew there would be a big change.”

Smaller plans included buying kayaks for her and her husband to use together, and she booked time to see a childhood friend.

“I have a trip coming up to Denver with a good friend of mine to go to a Rick Springfield concert because we grew up with Rick Springfield,” Ferrero said.

Down the road, she’d like to buy a camper trailer and reach a goal to see all the national parks.

“We’ve done quite a bit of traveling, and it’s been good for our marriage,” she said. “I’d recommend it to anybody who does have kids, and if they can get away while they still have kids at home, to invest that time in your marriage.

“It helps you when you become empty-nesters because you’re not staring at this stranger across the table. You really do know each other.”

Of course, empty-nester parents also make plans around regular phone calls to their college students, and those kids returning home for breaks along with mom and dad visiting campus.

Ferrero is looking forward to one of those trips to watch a Vandals football game in October.

“As a mom, I would say I gave it my all in raising children and being there in their lives, even though I’ve also run my own companies and had other things,” she said.

“I don’t regret any of my decisions to put everything into being a mom – even though a lot of times it meant lack of sleep or adjusting my priorities with work – because you just don’t get that time back.”

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