“Empty Nest Syndrome,” I have a strong and negative reaction whenever I hear the expression. My image of “empty nesters” is Jerry and Marge from Jerry and Marge Go Large, before they outwit the Massachusetts lottery system and a bunch of privileged college students and become cool.
“Frumpy” is the word that comes to mind.
When people started asking me how I was feeling about becoming an “empty nester,” I would always get a little tweaked. Not about the notion that my youngest child was leaving for college but because the reactive side of me felt like they were aging me. They were literally calling me matronly, even in my trendy hoodie and Lug Sole boots and while I was still able to do more push ups than most 20-year olds I know.
I am aware that many parents struggle with the time in their life when their youngest child leaves the house. I quit a corporate legal career at age 40 to spend as much time as possible with my kids, rather than continue to spend weeks at a time overseas in the billable hour grind.
I was dedicated; volunteering at my kids’ school and driving them all over town to activities and friends’ houses. I knew all of their teachers and their classes and their friends and their dreams and their fears. I was all about being a mom. Even got a dog because, as it turns out, my son was wrong, and “maybe” does not always mean “no.”
We even got a dog to get us through this time. (Photo Credit: Randi Orava)
I mommied the hell out of that adorable dog too—driving her to vet specialists to deal with a whole host of dog problems and to parks and to dog playdates. Even though I started a small company while the kids were young, no one questioned that my primary vocation during those years was parenting and loving those kids and that 130-pound dog. And, I would do it all over again.
In September of 2023, my youngest flew off to school in California. Too far from me primarily because I actually love to spend time with him. We are tight, just like I am with his older sister, whom I speak with daily and hang out with often.
I miss being in the same room with them every day, but “empty” is not a word I would ascribe to my home or my heart or my general mood. My dog died not long after my son left for school. So sad, but she struggled with health problems for so long, had started to need virtually 24-hour care, and was worn out.
And, suddenly, a realization hit me: I had not been so free to go and do what I wanted since my kids were born, 21 years ago. Twenty one years ago, I was young. More broke than I am now, but free to do whatever I wanted. Move to Paris. Sleep late. Travel. Have a 2-hour coffee with a friend. Work out for more than an hour. NOT COOK A SINGLE MEAL!
Let me repeat, not worry about anyone’s meals but my own. Freedom? Is that the word? Whatever the word, the feeling is rejuvenating. I have choices. Choices about how I want to approach my career and my social life and even my marriage.
When people ask me now how it feels to be an “empty nester,” I try to explain this feeling of resurrection. It is not a frumpy or matronly feeling. It’s reminiscent of being in my twenties and thirties.
I am no less a parent than I have ever been. I am free to visit my kids whenever I want or spend an hour on FaceTime, if I feel like it. I am reconfiguring my career. Finally writing. Creating on social media. Dreaming about where I might want to live. Working on my marriage.
I fully acknowledge that for many people, “empty nest syndrome” is a legitimate feeling or condition of sadness or grief that takes time and attention to address. By force of will, luck, or circumstance, I am fortunate to be having some kind of opposite response to this new stage of my life.
I have raised two great humans who continue to be friends and companions, and I can again move through the world as if I am just a little bit older than them (but with far fewer cares about what other people think of me and a bit more money in my pocket).
Forget the empty nest. I have flown the coop!
More Great Reading:
Empty Nest: When the Kids Leave Home, Who is the ME Left Behind?
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