We were known as the Sandwich Generation—taking care of teens as well as taking care of our elderly parents. Then most of us “baby boomer” women started experiencing the empty nest syndrome in a big way as our children went off to college or out to work or travel. But many of us still had elderly parents who we were caring for, people are living longer, and we were there to take care of our parents. Now most of “The Greatest Generation” are dead or dying. Many women in the workshops I run speak with sadness of being hit twice—once as their children leave home, then again as their aging parents die. The Sandwich Generation has become Un-Sandwiched.
But now, many women are hit with “Triple Empty Nest” as I’m calling it. This triple hit is a result of children leaving home, parents dying and then experiencing what has become known as “The Gray Divorce Revolution.” In the last few years, there has been an enormous increase in the divorce rate among the 50–65 year-old set. So many couples over 50 are ending marriages that the media have coined the term The Gray Divorce Revolution.
In the U.S., one-quarter of all divorces now involve people over 50. And there’s a similar trend in Canada, the UK, across Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It’s important to note that the overall divorce rate is actually going down, but it is spiking in the 50-and-older set.
This phenomenon seems to be even more problematic for women; one reason for this seems to be because empty nest is a common point of marital breakdown. After years of looking after loved ones, of being a “good wife and mother” and constantly focusing outside themselves, women lose touch with their own desires and needs, and they often struggle with feeling purposeless and directionless.
It’s very easy to fall into a sense of listlessness and stuck-ness when a woman suddenly finds herself divorced and alone in an empty nest. This is compounded by feelings of insecurity and a loss of self-esteem as the empty nest causes divorce in middle age. Is there a way out? A way to overcome this sense of loss and move towards a life filled with more connectedness, fulfilment and happiness?
After more than twenty years of running Creative Empowerment Workshops for women, I have found some tools that gently lead women back to themselves.
Get creative! (7 things you can do right now)
Journal – buy a journal you love the feel of and write in it every morning—externalize your internal process.
Play with colour – buy some coloured pens or pastels and just play with the colour.
Doodle – get some pencils and doodle circles and lines and squiggles—get lost in the process
Garden – play outside—go get your hands dirty.
Dance – move to music—just let the music move through you.
Cook – play with spices—experiment
Sew – play with putting fabrics together, enjoy the texture and colour.
Start re-wiring your brain—pay attention to how and what you think (7 things you can do right now)
- Identify the thought process you’d like to transform and set the intention to change it.
- Observe/pay attention to what thoughts you want to change and why.
- Shift your focus when those negative thoughts arise.
- Use your imagination—think about something positive.
- Interrupt your thoughts and patterns when the negative thoughts arise.
- Create a specific plan and choose what to do instead of dwelling on the negative.
- Look within for inspiration and support; practice meditation and visualization.
Be happy now—specific steps towards well being (7 things you can do right now)
Practice resilience – research shows that meditation improves our capacity for resilience.
Look at your outlook – see the positive in others, savour positive experiences.
Where is your attention? – what do you generally pay attention to?
Practice generosity – data shows us that when individuals engage in generous and altruistic behaviour, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being.
Get outside and garden – play in the dirt, spend time on the beach, take a walk in the woods.
Exercise – moving your body lifts your mood.
Surround yourself with happy people.
Focus on love and love yourself first (7 things you can do right now)
- Focus on your own needs. Practice saying “No” to others and “Yes” to yourself.
- Give your body the nurturing, rest and comfort it needs.
- Prioritize time for yourself, time to do what you love.
- Don’t keep blaming yourself for past mistakes.
- Dream big! Dream without editing, without judgment, without feeling that you “don’t deserve it.”
- Choose to spend time with people who hold you up, not put you down.
- Read books and watch movies that make you feel good about yourself.
Be grateful for what you have now (7 things you can do right now)
Start each day by saying one thing you are grateful for
Keep a gratitude journal – establish a daily practice in which you write down three things a day that you are thankful for.
Use visual reminders – the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, so visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude.
Remember the bad – sometimes it’s helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced and how far you have come.
Thank at least one person a day for something they have done – Practice gratitude consciously.
Call someone once a week to thank them for something kind they have done.
Make a conscious decision to practice gratitude – research shows that making an oath to perform a behaviour increases the likelihood that it will happen.
Pay attention to your distractions (7 things you can do right now)
- Instead of hopping on to Facebook, unhook—one of the best ways to get back in touch with your self is to give yourself a full day off unhooked.
- Instead of having just one more glass of wine, go for a walk at sunset.
- Instead of watching TV, try using an adult colouring book—it’s creative, playful and proven to reduce stress
- Instead of eating when you are not hungry, volunteer to feed others. Volunteering and helping others is a great way to feel better about yourself.
- Instead of shopping, take time to decide what problem touches you deeply, then donate that money to a good cause that will serve towards a solution that you will feel good about.
- Instead of getting busy, just sit still and breathe.
- Even exercise can be a way to avoid getting to know ourselves better… Instead of going out for another run, try sitting quietly and just breathing.
Inspiration is a soft whisper and a gentle nudge. Learn to pay better attention when inspiration comes and, most importantly, take action on the inspiration when it does come (7 things you can do right now)
Wake up 5-10 minutes earlier than you normally do – Close your eyes and ask for guidance for the day.
Allow yourself 10-15 minutes a day to get lost in the flow of something – doodling, playing an instrument, playing with clay—in this flow time inspiration often comes.
Get quiet, look within for 10 minutes a day. This doesn’t have to be hard – it can be done by walking in nature, by sitting quietly watching a sunset, watching flames in a fire, or just closing your eyes and breathing.
Ask yourself a question that you want guidance on then go for a walk and pay attention – perhaps you’ll meet someone or see something that gives you a flash of inspiration.
Start every morning with an intention – Set the intention deliberately and then pay attention.
Take action on any inspiration that comes – Learn to trust that small, still voice and then act on it.
Journal about any inspiration and action that you took before you go to bed – Ask for any guidance before you go to sleep.
After constantly focusing on others and losing sight of their own desires, women lose touch with that sense of self and struggle with feeling purposeless and directionless. There’s a way through that listlessness towards a life filled with more enthusiasm and joy, but it takes a plan and a real focus on self. Taking one small step every day is key.