I knew having an empty nest would feel strange. I just didn’t realize it would feel like it happened so fast. One minute, I was rocking my babies to sleep, smelling that sweet baby shampoo smell, and grinning in the dark as I savored the moment. The next, I was trying to nail down plans to get together with them for Thanksgiving.
How on earth did it happen so fast?
Ever seen that poem about the series of “lasts” in your time as a parent?
You haven’t ugly cried until you’ve done so as the mom of grown kids. Seriously. Just about as gutting as those posts about how our dogs stay with us after they cross the rainbow bridge, just to make sure we’re okay. Worse, even.
What’s Weird Is, We Knew It Was Coming
All along, we know the kids will grow up and move out someday. In fact, we spend decades trying to prepare them for that next stage. They can do laundry, cook food, drive, handle money, maybe even floss their teeth.
When they move out, knowing they’ve moved on is almost too much to bear. Not that we want a failure to launch situation. We’re thrilled for them, proud that they’re out there doing their thing and building a life of their own.
But at some point, our ranking on the list of what’s most important to our children drops. We don’t fall off of that list. The drop is years in the making, starting sometime in middle school. But it becomes obvious when they move out - and move on.
It’s as it should be. Even if it hurts like hell sometimes… and especially when I really think about it. If you’re going through this now, maybe this will help.
Some Things I’ve Learned about Life with an Empty Nest
There are some good things about being an empty nester, of course. I mean, you and your sweetie can run around naked and have sex without worrying about being walked in on. That’s pretty great.
You can build a daily routine that suits you, with long uninterrupted hours to do what you want or need to do. It’s possible you’ll become more productive than you’ve been in decades. Also pretty great.
Keeping the house clean has never been easier. With just hubby and me here, there’s less laundry. No mess magically appears overnight. Dishes don’t pile up in the sink. I’m not one bit mad about any of that. (Although midlife rage brain is a thing!)
But those are pretty surface-level perks. Let’s go a little deeper.
There’s Delight in a Purely Voluntary Relationship
When our kids are little, it’s not like they’ve got a lot of options. We’re their parents. They’re our kids. Pretty much, it stays like that (unless something strange or tragic happens). There’s a degree of compliance in the relationship. We talk to each other and spend time together because we live together. It’s normal. It’s expected.
But then our kids grow up and move out. There’s no “rule” that they must call. Nobody is obligated to spend time together. No matter how much we might want their time and attention, we can’t compel them to give it to us. I mean, what are you going to do? Ground your adult child? Force them to visit?
And that’s also one of the best things about reaching the empty nest milestone. Relationships built on compliance have their limitations.
Relationships where both parties engage on a voluntary basis, by choice… Now, that’s where life’s sweet spot is.
Think about it like this. Let’s say your hubby brings you flowers, dances with you in the kitchen, or holds your hand. Wouldn’t it suck if he only did that stuff because he felt obligated to? And isn’t it much sweeter knowing he did it because he WANTED to?
Same deal with our kids. Every call, text, email, and Facebook haha is that much sweeter knowing our kids interact with us because they want to. For them to choose to spend time with us is far more soul-satisfying because they choose it.
We Have Secret Bliss in Our Hearts
You probably have a whole slew of blissful memories stored up from when your kids were little. My son loved wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume and jumping off the sofa to explore the strange planet. I watched him do this so many times that I can replay it in my mind at will. My daughter loved when I read her the “Froggy” books, and I can still hear her belly laugh when I’d do the voices.
Those moments are gone. But are they, really? At will, I can remember them and fully immerse myself in some truly joyful flashes from the past. As long as my memory is intact, I can visit those and thousands of other happy times whenever I want.
This is one reason I’m passionate about people writing their memoirs. When you do, you’ll uncover happy memories you’d tucked away and forgotten. Also, your kids, grandkids, and great grands can catch a glimpse into what your life was like so long ago. They can hear in your own words what you loved so much about being a mom.
Of course, sometimes the memories are sad, even regretful. No parent escapes without some measure of regret.
That feels heavy. I know I have deeply wounded my kids at times. That’s the worst feeling of all. But I also know they will understand more and find healing as they get older - especially when they have babies of their own. Even now, we’ve had some tender conversations, sent each other some heartfelt notes. I am humbled by their grace, understanding, and wisdom.
Two Freaky Things about an Empty Nest
Okay, maybe these will blow your mind as much as they have mine. They’re pretty cool.
- If your parents are still around, they probably have the same feelings and thoughts about you as you have about your grown kids. I found an odd sense of comfort, of coming full-circle or something when I realized this. My parents probably savor memories of me playing, jabbering away, or floating on rafts at the beach with them. They probably smile when they see my number on caller ID. Nothing’s sweeter than to be loved by choice. That doesn’t change with time.
- Before you know it, your kids will also be empty nesters. Mind-boggling, right? Mine don’t have kids, but I suspect they will at some point. And those babies will grow up even faster than mine did. I want to be around to help them through their empty nest adjustment - and it brings me joy to imagine spending the next several decades being there for them as they walk the path I’ve just finished.
Feel Your Feelings. It’s Okay.
I have several friends - six, actually - whose children died as young adults. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them, pray for them, and hope they will find comfort in their good memories of their kids. Some say a parent who’s gone through such a profound loss never recovers. They keep living, but they are never the same.
There are no words I can offer that will help. Only love - that’s all I can send them.
If you look at your empty nest and feel profound grief, go ahead and feel it. Our feelings pass and change with time. If the sadness feels too heavy to bear alone, that can be a gift, too.
It can nudge you to lavish kindness and care on yourself. Maybe it will push you to nurture new relationships or to go volunteer for a meaningful cause. You may discover that you have this child-shaped void in your heart. But maybe it’s more like you have love that needs a place to go.
The Best Is Yet to Come
Now’s our chance to create the next stage of life - and now we’re wise enough to recognize that we are more “at choice” than ever before. We can spend our time with the people we want to, doing what we love, and not worrying so much about tending to everyone else’s needs.
But even more, we can blaze a trail into midlife that not only satisfies our souls - but that also holds a light for those who come behind us. Younger women may one day call us inspirational. Even our own children, facing an empty nest of their own, may one day thank us for lighting the way on this stretch of the path, too.
P.S. Just learned some exciting news!
I just found out that VestedBeauty.com has been included in the Top 100 Midlife Blogs! Guess this really is my new baby 🙂