I saw a Facebook post yesterday in which a mom was beginning to worry about whether she’d experience what’s known as empty nest syndrome when her kids move out. She saw herself as not having much of a life outside of her parenting role and was concerned that she should be doing things now to prevent possible heartache in the future.
It was interesting to see the many responses she got. Some confirmed that empty nest syndrome exists and that’s it’s really bad, saying she should “get a life” now because later will be too hard. Others wrote in with plenty of advice on what she should do: get a job, volunteer, take a class, start knitting, join a book club.
What struck me was that nearly everyone was either warning her how bad it was going to be or telling her to do things that would avoid actually experiencing whatever feelings she may have. Her question also made it clear she was looking for ways to preemptively get around the emptiness she feared might appear in her life.
It was obvious from the comments that there’s a lot of suffering among parents. So many are feeling lost, alone, empty. The desire to avoid all those feelings is understandable; no one wants to feel bad.
I decided to comment as well. What I recommended was that she simply be where she is. Enjoy her son now. Don’t miss the present opportunity. Her awareness that things will change in the future would plant seeds in her mind about how she might want to spend her future freedom. And that when it was time for her to find new things to do, she would. Now was not the time to worry. Judging by her response, this advice resonated with her most of all. The only thing I did was give her permission to be who and how she is right now.
It’s so easy for us to worry about things that might come true. The fear of the unknown is such a primal part of us. The interesting thing is that virtually all the stories fear creates are untrue. Like advertisers and politicians desperately trying to get our attention, fear will tell us the most outrageous things. It is good at convincing us its stories are fact and on insisting that its explanation is the only one possible. But all that does is take us away from the present moment and create more suffering in our lives.
Will this mom experience sadness, loss, emptiness when her kids are gone? Maybe she will. But worrying about it now won’t change that. Nor will filling her life with activities that distract her from her emotions. Avoiding those feelings will prevent her from moving through and beyond them. It will keep her at a distance from her authentic self. It will also prevent her from being truly present now and from finding joy in her son today.
When you accept and feel an emotion, observe it closely and sense where and how in your body and mind it manifests, you will experience the emotion fully and that will bring about healing and a deep sense of peace. The key is not to identify with the emotion; don’t see it as who you are. It’s merely an experience you’re having at the moment.
Emotions are just emotions; they won’t kill us and they won’t last forever.
Emotions are nothing to be afraid of. If you’re willing to feel any emotion, then it won’t get stuck inside and show up in unproductive behaviors. It will be able to move through and beyond you. You will gain clarity on what matters to you and how you want to respond. Your compassion for others will increase. Although pain will be present in your life, staying with whatever you feel when you feel it, will greatly decrease the amount of suffering you experience.
We all want permission to be where we are; to know we are where we’re supposed to be. Worrying about the future serves no one and only creates uncertainty and suffering now. Know that your life is part of the unfolding of the universe, and that your role is simply to be present in every moment of your life, to feel deeply whatever it is you feel. It is in that place you will find peace and joy.
Let me know in the comments what you worry about and where you learned that particular pattern of worry.
Strategies to diminish worry
• When you notice worry creeping into your life, look for the thoughts behind the worry. What stories are you creating that feed the insecurity. Write down what you discover. Keep a list of all the fears that arise.
• Examine your list of fears and how each shows up in your life. How are they showing up in your thinking and behavior today? From whom did you learn those fears? Can you forgive yourself for learning what you were taught? Can you allow yourself to let go of those fears?
• Write down the thoughts you would like to have that empower you to live in the present without succumbing to the lies fear tells. How would you feel thinking those thoughts? How would your behavior change in response to being free of these fears?
• When worries begin, remind yourself of those empowering thoughts and feelings. Step into the new behavior. The worry will gradually become less and your power and authenticity will take over.