Empty Nest…Now What?

By guest contributor Jenni Shanks

For the past 21 years I have exclusively dedicated my life to raising my two children. Minus 9 months as a Spanish Teacher in a pre-school, I have been a stay at home mom. My life was a flurry of playdates, field trips, birthday parties, PTA meetings, soccer games, baseball practices, homecoming, prom and basically every and any event that had to do with being their mother.

Shanks family
Jenni Shanks and her littles not so long ago

In between my time as Mom, I would steal a weekend here and there away with girlfriends, I joined a Bible Study, volunteered and helped out at church. But, the majority of my time was spent catering to their needs and making sure I was available for every child related event.

For some background, my parents immigrated here from Ecuador. My Mom and Dad worked hard to make it in this country. Since my mom had to work, I distinctly remember the ONE field trip she got to attend. I was thrilled! Even in college as I was trying to plan out my future as a graphic designer, I knew I wanted to eventually stay home to be with my kids. I wanted to make EVERY field trip and not miss a thing.

Shanks Family
Shanks family grown and flown

To be clear, I totally understand that staying home is not for everyone. I admire and respect moms who have had the ability to maintain their careers and raise amazing human beings. I love my mom for the sacrifices she made to provide for me in other ways because she could not be there physically all the time. I always felt loved and cherished. I just had the opportunity and privilege to choose. So when my husband and I first got married we decided together that when we started our family, I would leave work and stay with the kids full time. Even when they started school and the first wave of my stay at home moms returned to their careers, I clung to my role of homemaker and never looked back. Every couple of years my husband would ask me if I wanted to go back to work and I honestly did not. I could not think of anything else I would rather do.

Although I do not regret my decision to stay home, now that they are both officially out of the nest, I find myself in a bit of a panic. What the heck do I do now? Unlike many of my friends who started dipping their feet back into the workforce, I still could not figure out how to fill my now empty calendar. My college degree has allowed me to make pretty birthday invitations and assist with creative homework (I can help make a mean diorama and awesome presentation board). But, the years away from design also puts me ridiculously behind from trying to actually get a JOB in that field. 

Which leads me to what I have learned in my short time since my stay-home mom “retirement.” 

1. Rest. This one is so hard for me. But, I am learning to embrace the quiet and use it as preparaton for what is next.

2. Finally do all the crap I have been meaning to do. I can make those photo books, visit family, clean out those closests, start walking, take a class, read a book a week, or finally write that blog for Miranda that she asked for a year ago! I can make a list of all thing I have been meaning to do and DO THEM.

3. Be available. It is amazing how opportunities to serve and help present themselves when I reach out. Which leads me to…

4. Get out and meet with friends! I am making myself get outside of myself to see how other people are doing. I am amazed to see how many of my friends are dealing with the same feelings. Or how hearing from my friend with a job reminds me that sometimes life can be just as uncertain and “not quite as you expected,” just in different packaging. But mostly, getting out there and talking to people has given me ideas of what I can do next. And being among women in different stages in their lives helps me be grateful of where I have been and where I am headed.

Finding yourself in a new stage in life requires a lot of self patience. I try to not get anxious because I am not where I thought I would be. I also need to remind myself I do not need to justify this new phase in my life. Whether you are between jobs, hate your job or are choosing to work until the day you die, the last thing you need is to worry about what other people think you should be doing. I still have no idea what is next for me, but I am not going to let the uncertainty of what is next tarnish the beauty of what I had the honor to do for over 20 years. 

xo, Momma Bear Shanks

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