The Joys of Empty Nesting

The Joys of Empty Nesting

Tips to Enjoy Your Empty Nest

“When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.” —Erma Bombeck

My kids left the nest a long time ago, when they went off to college one by one, but I remember the times we used to talk about their leaving. They each asked me if I wanted them to go to college near home so I wouldn’t miss them too much (translate that to mean, “I can bring my dirty laundry home for you to do!”).

Not wanting them to feel that I was dependent on them I said, “No, I want you to have new and fun learning experiences. It’s good for you to learn to live on your own.” (translated that meant, “Oh good, now I get more closet space and you won’t be wearing my clothes!”)

The First Experience With an Empty Nest

Their leaving for college wasn’t the first time I became an empty nester — that time was quite a different story. It was when the kids went to sleepover camp and were going to be gone for eight weeks.

I took them to the airport and waited with them until they boarded the plane (this was pre-security checkpoints). I had to try awfully hard to keep the tears from flowing.

It marked the first time the three of us would be separated for such a long time — I really dreaded going home and facing the empty silence. Once they boarded, I literally sat on the floor crying my eyes out.

When I could see again, I left and drove home. Not even the dog could cheer me up — I was miserable. The house was quiet, the refrigerator was pretty much empty, music wasn’t blaring, and the girls weren’t screaming over the music. I remember saying, never again!

Over the course of the eight weeks, a funny thing happened — I began to enjoy the freedom. I didn’t have to be home at a certain time, I didn’t have to get up at a certain time. I could eat when and what I wanted — and that’s when the guilt set in.

I thought, what kind of mother am I? I’m not missing my kids as much as I thought I should.

I loved getting their letters and postcards from camp; they sounded like they were have a blast. Swimming, horseback riding, archery, hiking, camping out, cooking marshmallows over an open fire, making friends with people from all over the world — what’s not to love?

I began to feel relieved and started to recognize they could flourish without my being around them all the time. Once I got over the shock of realizing they were becoming two very well-adjusted, independent people, I was happy. I thought that I had done a pretty good job of parenting up to that point.

The years passed, the girls continued to go to summer camp or travel during the summer, and I continued to enjoy my summer freedom.

Then came the time for my oldest daughter to fly the coop. She graduated high school and went to college in Boston. Her room remained the same, with all her stuffed animals, dolls, posters and some of her clothes.

I didn’t feel like an empty nester, and in reality I wasn’t. My youngest daughter was still at home.

‘It Whacked Me All Over’

The typical “empty nest” syndrome didn’t totally hit me until my youngest daughter went off to college. Once I took her to school, got her settled and came back home, it not only hit me, it whacked me all over.

From that point forward, I knew my girls were never going to live with me full-time again. They would be home for holidays and maybe for a summer, but we most likely wouldn’t have those special spur-of-the-moment trips to the all-night diner for breakfast, or our scary movie marathons, or any of the other little things that made their growing up such a joyous time.

On one hand, it made me sad. On the other, I was so proud of them — off on their own, making their own decisions, living their own lives.

I vacillated between the two feelings for a couple of weeks while I faced my grief and mourned my loss. Not only was it an important passage for them, it was important for me. I also had finally graduated to another facet of my life.

I grieved and it felt great! I let the tears flow until I felt better.

Once I completely got over the shock of not having to grocery shop for three, wash clothes for three, etc., I planned and took a three-week trip for myself — something I would never have dreamed of before.
When Saturdays rolled around and I didn’t have to be in the office, I went to museums, met friends for lunch or dinner, went to movies, played a lot of golf (which still didn’t help my game), took a couple of courses I’d been wanting to take and generally made (and enjoyed) “me” time.

And then all it took was one phone call to make me realize that no matter how far apart we physically are, my girls will never really be gone from the nest. I’ll always be ready to rescue them from whatever and provide a warm and comforting place for them to land