How friendships can fill the empty nest

I feel like I’m a part-time empty nester. One child has just returned to university, the other has completed her course and returned home to figure out her path in life.

Woman walking in summer apple orchardSo I do feel qualified to talk about both experiences. Life ‘post children’ and life with a returning ‘adult’ in the house.

When my kids were both at uni last year, I had some adjusting to do. One minute I was in a hectic household with demands coming at me from every direction, the next I was at peace, with everything in order but a gap in my life to fill.

Obviously I was working, shopping and doing all the chores as usual. But all the taxi-ing, huge amounts of washing, messy rooms, mass catering had gone, to be replaced by an easier, more manageable lifestyle.

That gave me a chance to consider my own priorities, to decide what I wanted out of life, rather than being largely dictated to by my demanding family.

I was okay. I’m quite an independent person, so actually love time to myself to go for walks and bike rides. My home life was settled and I had close family and friends.

Plus, I went to Pilates and choir so I had already built a bit of a social life around me with like-minded people.

Family versus friendships?

But what happens when your children leave for university and you haven’t got a strong support network and a ready-made social life available to you? What if you’ve unintentionally allowed your friendships to fade due to demands of the family?

What if you have lost your confidence as an independent person in your own right, and don’t know how to get back on the friendship ladder?

It’s easy to lose your way in the friendship world, to forget who you were ‘pre children’. Kids turn you foremost into a mother, and it is common to leave behind that independent, strong woman who had lots of interests in her own right.

So what do you do if you are struggling to cope with university blues, if you don’t know how to go about meeting others in the same boat as you?

Here are a few tips to set you on your way:

  • Write a list. I’m one for lists, I can’t survive without them. Not sure if they make me more efficient, but they definitely help me to prioritise. They’re also a good way of focusing on what you want out of life. Want to play the saxophone, get fitter, travel to Thailand, grow your own vegetables, learn a language? Whatever you want to do, write it down. It’s the first step towards becoming a fulfilled and wise woman.
  • Sign up to clubs and events. There are so many things happening in every town. Exercise classes, friendship groups, Women’s Institute and choirs all welcome new members. Return to an old hobby, or try something new. To find out what’s on near you, scour the local newspaper and check out notice boards in libraries, coffee shops and shop windows. It can be daunting walking in somewhere alone, but people are nearly always friendly and happy to introduce you to others. You don’t have to be the life and soul of the party, just begin by chatting to the person next to you, ask questions, show interest and you will soon be getting to know other members of the group. But don’t expect to make new friends overnight.  Friendships take time and perseverance, so stick at a club for a reasonable length of time to give you a chance to settle in.
  • Become a volunteer. This is so rewarding. I have volunteered with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, taught English as a foreign language and helped at the local community café and each time I have gained even more than I have given. It has taught me new skills, made me more patient and introduced me to a wide range of people, both those supported and other volunteers. There are often social events linked to volunteering and there is nothing more bonding than a common cause.  Check out the library, Citizens Advice Bureau, online volunteering through the micro-volunteering website and local voluntary organisations to find out what’s on offer.
  • Get a dog. This can go some way to filling the gap that your offspring has left behind. But also, dog walkers are sociable beings – they are always chatting to each other, discussing the ins and outs of the dog world, and you might just meet a new dog walking friend who is happy to explore the local countryside with you.
  • Go online. Turn to the computer to find new friends. Friendship websites like Together Friends can help you find like-minded friends from the local area, matching you on age, location and interests. Everyone joins for one reason – to make new friends – so you will find members open to new friendships and not so stuck in their existing social circles.

My daughter has returned home.  Although it’s great to have her back, the towels on the floor, the disappearance of make-up and the late-night films have returned with her.

She has tasted independent life, I have tasted ‘me’ time and order, so we both have lots more adjusting to do….

Helen King

About Helen King

I created Together Friends, a friendship website for women, when my children left for university. I realised I had more spare time, but my existing friends were busy. Realising that there are many other women in a similar situation I set up the site as a 50 year old 'mumtrepreneur'. The website matches women with each other, based on common interests, age and where they live.