Embracing the Empty Nest

My younger son left home four months ago. ūüôĀ Time for some positive thinking! ūüôā

  • He’s on cloud nine living with his clever and talented girlfriend.
  • He’s moved to Edinburgh, my favourite city – yet another good reason to visit.
  • Free sofa bed during the Fringe – whoop whoop!

Sigh . . . that’s enough of that, we all know that true happiness requires honesty, and the honest truth is that I miss him terribly. I miss hearing him singing and playing his wonderful music in the next room while I’m cooking. ¬†I miss his enthusiastic book recommendations (and yes, I promise I’ll read The Picture of Dorian Gray). ¬†I miss the way he always kept his bedroom spotlessly clean and tidy.* ¬†And while Edinburgh may be only three hours away, that’s three hours too far to pop round for a coffee – and it’s still in a foreign country¬†isn’t it? ¬†¬†

My husband has a philosophical take on things, pointing out that he was married with a mortgage at twenty, remember, and anyway I didn’t expect the kids to stay home forever did I? ¬†Well no, obviously not on a logical level, but my habit of living in the moment means I haven’t prepared for this absence at all. ¬†Why, it seems only yesterday I was changing nappies (it wasn’t, he’s nineteen) and wondering if I would ever get a minute for an uninterrupted bath, let alone imagining that one day the house would be ominously quiet, the fridge surprisingly full and the laundry basket surprisingly empty.

Also, deep down, maybe I cherished a little fantasy about living with my adorable sons forever – in a Walton’s Mountain kind of scenario, obviously, rather than a Bates Motel one. Motherhood’s a job with a built-in severance package that delivers a range of mid-life benefits – freedom, spare cash, extra space, no more¬†chauffeuring¬†duties or lying awake in the wee small hours anxiously waiting for the front door to slam – so why don’t I feel ready for this liberation?

Every transition brings a period of adjustment and negotiation, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves while we get used to the new reality and feel comfortable in our skin.

Now my birds have flown the nest I feel like I’m the one standing on a perch peering anxiously through an open cage door – it’s a big wide world out there with so many possibilities. ¬†Is it my turn to fly, into the next stage of my life? ¬†Travel, take up a new interest, have a grown-up gap year? ¬†Find new purpose and meaning in life? ¬†So many choices!

So this is a plea for help – if you have experience of weathering the changes, coming to terms with an empty nest, and setting off on a new flight path, please share your wisdom with me!

* I’m playing a game here called two truths and a fib – spot the odd one out. ¬†I know, tricky.

Lyrics of the Week

A verse from Ewan MacColl’s beautiful song Joy of Living, which says it all really, far better than I could.

Farewell to you my chicks, soon you must fly alone
Flesh of my flesh, my future life, bone of my bone
May your wings be strong, may your days be long, safe be your journey
Each of you bears inside of you the gift of love
May it bring you light and warmth and the pleasure of giving
Eagerly savour each new day and the taste of its mouth
Never lose sight of the thrill and the joy of living

8 thoughts on “Embracing the Empty Nest

  1. Dear Kay ~ I’m crazy about this topic and this blog you’ve written. As you may know I’ve had my moments as an empty nest mom recently; in the form of broken collar bones, stranger attacks to one son, and waiting to hear the results of a biopsy for my youngest -my 26 year old !
    As my husband and I first experienced our empty nest – our older son was off to college, and our youngest was choosing boarding school – I sobbed, as did he (don’t tell) for about half an hour, which can really wear you out. Then we faced the stillness in our home, much as you described above. After about three months, we realized things were not going to go back to as they had been. I think I made a list of things I love, as did my husband – things we had not been able to enjoy with the children here. And as we put them in place, like traveling, gardening, eating when we wanted (!) like adults, and most of all letting go and letting them make mistakes and learn from them, life began to take on a certain new found joy.
    Now when they are very far away -one of mine’s in Tokyo – that is quite different. Then time changes alter everything. So calling times are great to schedule, say weekly. And when the earth shakes etc. as it did in Japan, then it’s time to breathe and pray for their safety, and ” Let go and let God,” as they say.

    Having said that, my final bit of wisdom about how to best experience empty nesting is Get a Dog, or get Two or cats if you prefurrrr! Love, Kathy

    • Thanks Kathy, and hope the news on your youngest son is good – what a lot you have all been through. Yes I am grateful Jamie’s not as far away as Tokyo, though my other son is planning a visit to New Zealand (where his uncle lives) – not sure I want him to find out how beautiful NZ is, it’s too far away!

      Had to laugh about the pets, we already have a cat but I did dream I had a little dog the other night!!

  2. I recommend Paul McGee’s book S.U.M.O. which stands for Shut Up and Move On. This sounds a little (!) harsh at first until you read about taking ‘Hippo time’ first – time to wallow in your saddness, anger, disappointment, etc. So, his suggestion is that it is right and proper to experience and acknowledge the grief (or whatever it is) fully and to recognise that there is a time to move on to the next phase.

    Kay – I know that you have a lot of exciting things ahead of you…


  3. There is so much to enjoy and appreciate about being an empty nester.

    My daughters come and go right now. One finished college a year ago and is now pursuing her dream of being a massage therapist attending school in Sedona, AZ which is 2,000 miles away. She wanted to be a massage therapist before college but she did college to please me and was four hours away then.

    My other daughter is away at college in her 1st senior year. She changed majors this Autumn so she will have more than one senior year.

    When they first went away I soothed myself with the knowledge that I did my best to raise them to make good decisions and be good people (according to my definition of good). I had to trust that the work I had done was enough. I knew that I had not always been perfect (far from it many times) but that even that prepared them to go forth and thrive.

    I also find that I enjoy them and their blossoming so much more because I do not hold up an idea of who I want them to be and compare who they are to that idea. Instead I look at them and look at their positive attributes. In this way I see so much potential and am sometimes overwhelmed at how well they do when I let go. In fact, I have seen that they do better than I would have encouraged them to do – by following their own dreams and passions.

    Trust. Trust that you have done your job. Trust that they know you are always there and will always love them – even after you depart your body that love will be there to strengthen and uplift them.

    As my daughters became young ladies I began giving myself the freedom to pursue my own passions so by the time they left I was absorbed in my own pursuit of understanding how to help humans thrive. This had a double benefit. I know my children have benefited from the knowledge I gained along this path and the example I have set. It also gave me an entire world to love, appreciate and uplift.

    I look forward to the unfolding of the future. I hope for grandchildren but not too soon but also know that I can find “grand babies to love, spoil and return” anywhere so I do not feel a need to pressure my daughters into having children. Their choices are theirs to make. There is no need to please or satisfy Mom.

    There are things you can do, such as keep a journal where you express your love of them. You can give them these or keep them for them to find eventually and what a gift that would be.

    You have 24 hours every day. In those 24 you sleep about 8. In the 16 remaining you have choices about what to focus upon. When you think of your children you can think about their absence or about their thriving. You get to decide. One feels better and the other not so good. Why would you choose to feel less than you could?

    Be kind to yourself. Read books you have wanted to read. Eat what you want to eat instead of catering to varied desires of children with vastly different food tastes (mine were born to be opposites). Take long walks. Take bubble baths. Nurture friendships with others who are positively focused.

    Although dogs and cats are wonderful unless you have no desire to travel or a readily available pet sitter I do not recommend getting a pet at this stage.

    Since my girls left for college I have been to Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Alaska, a Panama Canal cruise, Barcelona, Venice, a Mediterranean cruise, several Caribbean cruises, Cabo San Lucas and many other trips. I love to travel and have developed friendships around the world since my children went to college. My youngest has her dog at home with me and arranging care of her when I travel keeps me home more than I would be if she was not a consideration.

    You can be a great Mom and not suffer at their doing the natural thing – growing up and being on their own.

    I look forward to a future when they come for visits with their partners and their children and think about how I want those times to be. In fact, I make decisions based on maintaining the great relationships I have with them to facilitate that future vision. The new home I am planning considers their comfort on visits – not only theirs – but sufficient privacy so that a partner will feel comfortable having a nice long visit and so that grandchildren will have enough freedom in Grandma’s house to feel welcome and comfortable yet allow me to have a home with adult treasures.

    Make a list of things that feel good when you think about them. If you find yourself dwelling on the absence of your children pull out the list and re-direct your thoughts to something that feels better. In time this will develop a new habit of thought and you will no longer have to consciously make that effort. If you are consistent three months should be more than adequate. But, you will feel better in minutes – as soon as you re-direct your thoughts. It is the habit that takes time – don’t worry about the long-term – just take steps to feel better in the short-term and the long-term will take care of itself. One day you will realize it has been ages since you had unhappy-feeling thoughts about your children growing up.

  4. Wow what a lot of good advice, thanks Jeanine! We are indeed blessed with our wonderful sons and daughters.

    Think you’re right about the pets, I’d better stick to a dream dog then I can put him in a dream kennel when I go off to see the world! ūüėČ

  5. Hi Kay,
    What a really honest blog you’ve written this week and what amazing replies. I will simply add my own story to the others, taking heart from the all the similarities we share as we face this particular task of letting our children go, to let them make their own way in the world and to find those different parts of ourselves that have been hidden under ‘motherhood’ for so long..
    When my son stayed in Manchester after graduating that felt close enough to visit regularly and so when he announced he was moving to London to work I worried about losing the potential of those spontaneous visits. (In reality, it was the ‘potential’ to jump on the train that I liked, I didn’t actually do it a lot – even then, I think I knew he needed his space!) But my apprehension changed when, as you know, he told us that he had been diagnosed with Diabetes Type 1 and was immediately plunged into learning to administer insulin etc.
    I think that brought everything into focus – I wanted him to be out there enjoying life. I still miss him, but on reflection, I don’t think it matters if he is around the corner or miles away, the task of separating feels like it would probably be the same . And I have moved on (slowly and a bit painfully at times!) At first when he left home, I missed his physical presence so much – hanging around in my kitchen, the groups of boys/men and the noise that went with that, the smells of cooking wafting upstairs at the oddest hours. Now I find I am glad I had that, but I am also glad that he has moved on too and is finding his own way (and cluttering up his own place!) And I love it when he comes to stay with us and I get to see all those small changes in him as he grows in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if he had continued to live with us, his parents. So to let go is hard, but the alternative, that we all stay still and don’t grow, seems a waste of all that life can offer. This way, when we meet, I get to marvel at the man he is becoming and to feel proud that I helped create this independent person who is able to weather the knocks and enjoy his life in his own way.
    And yes, I still shed a few tears when he goes away again! I’m not sure this journey ever really ends, but I am glad we are making it.
    Finally Kay, you have so much going for you, I think this is definitely your time!

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