The View From the Empty Nest

Updated: Jun 24, 2020


This morning I helped my youngest child move into her dorm room for her Freshman year of college. It was fun and exciting (not including the traffic) and we got her things unloaded, hung in the closet, and placed on the walls in fairly short order. Then came the time for good-bye. Even though I’ve done this four times before, and even though the really difficult good-bye happened two years ago, when we left her in Memphis to attend a Classical Christian high school for her junior and senior years, I still felt the tears welling up.


It’s a big change, big in her life and big for us, her parents, because things will never be quite the same.


I’ve struggled with having an empty nest. There have been days when I’ve been on the way home from work, and the closer I got to our home the sadder and more depressed I felt. I’m actually not a big people person–my batteries are drained if I have to be around too many of them, or for too long, and solitude is very important to me–but there’s just something about a house that was so incredibly full of life and activity for nearly 30 years and is suddenly (it seems) a collection of empty rooms.


As I said, for us the empty part came earlier than we’d anticipated; we wanted our youngest to continue her classical education (and she did, too), but there weren’t suitable options in our area at the time, so we took her to live with a family in Memphis and attend Westminster Academy. The night before we were to leave her, my husband held me as I sobbed. Even though I had no doubt that this was the right thing for her, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. And even though today’s 45 minute drive to the OU campus and back seemed like moving her down the hall compared to the tearful 8 hour return from Memphis, I still felt sad!


There is no shame in the sadness we feel seeing our babies venture out of the nest. Goodness, we’ve invested energy, time, late nights, (sleepless nights!), trips to the emergency room, trips to the principal’s office, discussions, arguments, difficult decisions regarding just about everything, and lots of money in those human beings and now, maybe with some tears, probably with some anxiety, they leave us, with a sense of eager anticipation about everything ahead of them. It’s exactly what we’ve prepared them for…but nobody prepared us for it. As with marriage and childbirth, we have a bit of that “Wait a second…nobody told me it was going to be this hard!” feeling.


So, here we are. We can either dwell on all the memories held in those empty rooms, filled with nostalgia for precious times that are over, or we can get on with things.


I have some advice for you, very well-meant, and borne of my own experience:


1) Give yourself some time to adjust. There are some genuine positives about not having your kids around! They aren’t there to listen in on all your conversations, they don’t leave messes for you to clean up, they won’t complain about your choice of movie or argue with you about chores. You can walk around in your underwear! Even so, your role has changed–your job description is no longer the same; even though you’ve probably tried to avoid it, you may have allowed your role as “mom” to become your identity, at least in part. If you’ve ever been between jobs, you know that for awhile you just feel kind of useless. Even if you’ve been working full time when your last one leaves (as I have been), there’s a sense of a loss of purpose and identity. I can’t tell you how bizarre it felt to me, at age 55, to be having thoughts like, “I just have to go find myself!” but in a sense, that’s exactly what I’m in the process of doing.


2) Allow yourself to remember what your hobbies were before you had children, and/or be open to new opportunities. I’ve just discovered the Myriad Gardens in downtown OKC, and have spent several mornings there reading, walking, and thinking. I’ve joined the local art museum, and look forward to enjoying their gift shop, café, film program, and other special events. I’m discovering new coffee shops and cafes, reading more, and spending more time with friends. It really does kind of feel like life as a college student, only with no homework and more money!


3) You’ll probably need to get reacquainted with your husband; this is a great time to explore new hobbies together. My husband and I have found enjoyment in cooking together, trying new recipes and entertaining more. We’ve been to a couple of Broadway shows in town and in Tulsa, and we’ve enjoyed going to art galleries and concerts. Last year we travelled to France, and we’re beginning plans for another trip overseas.


4) Don’t forget to spend time with your children, as adults. We have offspring on both coasts we love to visit, and three nearby that we love to spend time with. My husband takes an annual hunting/fishing trip with the guys, and the girls and I get together for lunches, brunches, shopping trips and more. Two of my daughters and I actually have tickets to a Rihanna concert this fall! It’s an amazing thing to really enjoy your own offspring as adults!


None of this advice is new–you’ve heard it before. There’s no secret to getting through major life changes, except to recognize that they are normal, and having misgivings or sadness about them is ok. You’ll get through it just fine, as long as you don’t dwell on the past with remorse, or view it as “the best time of my life, which is now over”. Actually, your job as a mom will never really be over–you have many years ahead of you, being an important influence in the lives of your children and theirs.


Enjoy the fruit of your labors, and look forward to the rest of your life! You’ve earned it!


#KayeWilsonParenting #EmptyNest #LifelongParenting


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