Four Things I’ve Learned About Becoming an Empty Nester
I am one of those moms that seems to roll pretty steadily through the transitions of parenthood–embracing all of the ages and stages and never being sad about the years behind us. Even as my daughter walked down the wedding aisle last December, I found myself appreciating the wonderful adult she had become, not heartbroken that she was no longer the little girl who would curl up next to me on the couch as we read Good Night, Moon.
Yet, just a few weeks ago, I found myself in an awkward space. During my regular morning dog walk, it became apparent that we had stumbled upon the first day of school. Sleepy high school students were slowly walking out to their cars and one of our neighbors laughingly yelled, “You probably didn’t even know school was starting today.” She was right, I didn’t know. I didn’t know because my youngest had graduated high school last year. We no longer spent our early weeks of August gathering school supplies, penciling in practices and counting down the days for school to begin. And, as I have always been through parenthood transitions, I was good with that.
I was good with that until I rounded the corner and began to cry. I wasn’t prepared for the tears and I wasn’t really sure why I was sad. After a year and a half of virtual learning and strange school schedules, I was more than happy to be done with high school and move on to something new. I was enjoying a summer without a sports travel season or practice schedule. So, what was happening?
Regardless of how prepared you think you might be for those first few months after becoming a full-fledged (or half-fledged) empty nester, here are four things to know:
It isn’t just the physical body you are going to miss. My youngest continues to live with us as he spends a year at a community college, but the rhythm of our household is different. With my oldest now being 25, I have said good-bye to 20 years of car lines, after school activities and homework. Our home now moves to a different tempo and, as one mom put it, “I’m beginning to feel the earth move under my own feet” for the first time in years. It’s like trying to get your land legs back after living on a boat.
There is more to sports than the game. Regardless of the extracurricular activity your child enjoyed, you suddenly realize that although it was the game (or performance) that got you to the stadium, it was the relationships you built that made it meaningful. From one-on-one conversations with my kids during early morning car rides to the friendships I made with other parents and coaches, there is an emptiness that comes from the abrupt end of this season.
You are no longer part of the day-to-day. My kids used to come home from school, throw their backpacks in the entryway, and run up the stairs to my office to tell me about their days. These were never big conversations, just little tidbits like who they sat with at lunch, how hard a test was or the gross thing that happened in the hallway. Although my adult children have been known to call me with excitement over finding animal-shaped chicken nuggets at the grocery, I miss being a part of the daily, and somewhat mundane, stories of their life.
Their friends were part of your story. We were never the “Kool-Aid House”, the place where everyone wanted to hang out, but there was a steady flow of teenagers throwing their shoes in a pile by our front door, eating our snacks and making themselves comfy on our couch watching TV. I might not miss the noise, crumbs or piles of shoes, but I do miss the chatter of conversation, the laughter to inside jokes and the internal knowing that my kids–regardless of what happened to them in the world–had a posse of their own that made them a better version of themselves.
There is a shift that happens to us as parents the minute our last child leaves high school and although we may want to rush through the uncertainty, we need to sit in the moment–giving ourselves permission to grieve the passing of this parenthood moment while also looking forward with great anticipation to the next chapter unfolding.
Patti Minglin is a wife and mother to three adult children. She is the Founder and CEO of Go Girl Communications, a Naperville-based content marketing firm. Patti is an active part of our community, contributing to various organizations and professional groups.