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Beginning the empty nest season of life can bring a lot of different emotions. But you might find it is more sweet than bitter.
I expected to be the mother who wept uncontrollably when my children left home.
Turns out… not so much. In fact, kind of the opposite.
My eldest son got married last summer, and my youngest just tied the knot in June.
Don’t get me wrong–there have been moments of deeply missing my children’s presence in my home and of questioning my role as a mother now that they’re gone.
But honestly, overall, this empty nesting business has been more sweet than bitter.
5 Pros and Cons of the Empty Nest
While everyone’s experience is certainly going to be different, these five things seem to come up frequently as I talk to others and read online, so I know that we’re not the only ones experiencing them. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas or encouragement whether you are:
- entering this season yourself
- walking the path somewhere down the road or
- looking ahead to it with your very full nest, feeling like it may never come
Empty Nest Positive #1 – Seeing your kids in a new light
Beginning to develop relationships with your children as adults is a whole lot of fun.
It’s kind of like when you can start to play real games with your elementary aged kids (as opposed to just Candyland)…or when you can watch movies you actually enjoy with your teenagers.
Besides really digging the conversations I’m having with my now-adult boys, I am also thoroughly enjoying watching them step into their roles as husbands.
My daughter-in-law and I were driving together about 6 or 7 months after she and my son had gotten married. As we chatted, she said to me, “I just wanted to tell you, he’s a good husband.” (And yes, in case you’re wondering, my heart melted and I loved both her and him even more, if that were possible).
Tricky Bit: Figuring out what parenting adults looks like
Every parenting transition is an adjustment… it all requires being intentional, and each stage has new challenges.
In the teenage years, our goal was to apprentice our boys to adulthood. While we continue to see our parenting role in an apprenticing light, it’s far more advisory now.
Do I need to tell you that that can be a difficult change? We’re trying hard to advise…and then be quiet. My way is just that…my way. Not necessarily the best way, the right way or the only way. Most of all we’re trying to be intentional about making sure our kids and their spouses hear that from us, along with a whole lot of support and encouragement as they settle in to their new roles.
Photo credit Katelyn Salyers
Empty Nest Positive #2 – The Freedom
Complete control of the TV, privacy to have any conversation anytime, anywhere we want. We can go out to eat whenever we want, go to the store, to a movie, on a walk, on vacation whenever we want…it’s intoxicating!
And this mom of picky eaters is LOVING meal planning these days!
I thought this snippet from Grown & Flown summed it up nicely:
On those days when you want to forgo cooking, you can eat a yogurt and a piece of fruit for dinner, without worrying about being a bad influence or about needing to feed others. If you prefer to cook a fancy meal just for yourself; another wonderful alternative. And, no more cooking meals only to hear, ‘Mom, I don’t want that.’
We don’t have to drive anyone anywhere, or keep track of all the schedules. The only people we’re in charge of is us.
Yeah, it feels weird. But good weird. And speaking of weird…
Tricky Bit: Emotions hit you at weird times
Amidst all of this freedom, waves of nostalgia or just plain feelings can well up at strange times.
My son got his CDL license, and aside from being proud of his accomplishment, all I could envision was my 5-year old boy pulling his little folding lawn chair out into the yard to sit and watch the trucks working on our street. Gulp.
And the first time all six of us in my newly expanded family sat together in church I cried most of the way through the first song. Happy tears.
Frankly, there are moments when the house is really quiet and you just plain miss your kids. It happens. But truly, not like I thought it would.
Empty Nest Positive #3 – Personal Growth
Setting new goals, trying new things, rediscovering old interests… this is a perfect season of life to pursue these things.
–> I’m learning to hit things.
If you’ve been here for awhile, you know that I have a hate-hate relationship with gyms. It’s group exercise classes, really. I cry in them. It’s embarrassing and I hate them.
But this winter my black-belted niece taught me how to punch and kick, which feels really good if you haven’t tried it. And while I had hoped that she would continue to work with me one on one, she strongly suggested (ie: told me) that I should go to the kickboxing class that her former karate instructor taught.
Pretty proud of myself that, although I stress-cried a little in the car on the way to the first few classes, I’ve only cried in class once (so far). 🙂 I’ve also picked up a second class during the week that I like even better.
I recently shared with my instructor (who is a gem, and I’m certain has made all the difference in me continuing with classes) that I am starting to feel strong for perhaps the first time in my life. And I mean that both in the larger, whole person sense as well as the punching sense.
Someone told me once that I didn’t need to be strong, and when I feel this new strength, I’m reminded of that. It makes me want to hit harder and pushes me to want to continue growing.
Tricky Bit: Explaining yourself all the time
With all of the newness going on in your life, be prepared for lots of questions, weird looks, or even some condescending attitudes.
What? Why? YOU?
For Mother’s Day this year, my sweet and wonderful husband got me exactly what I asked for: a punching bag… so I can hit things at home. I think I can honestly say that never in a million years would he, or I, or anyone else, have thought that I would have gotten so excited for this gift. I’m the girl who is afraid of everything.
But being the sweet and wonderful man that he is, he didn’t say that, or make me feel weird about it. He has been nothing but encouraging. A few people made jokes, but you know what?
Super don’t care.
People thinking that something I’m doing is dumb…well, compared to some of the things people have thought about me in the past…(you can’t hear me, but I’m laughing right now).
Embracing the notion that you are not responsible for other people’s opinion of you is freeing!
Whether you decide to learn to dance, play a sport, start knitting, or take up skydiving … try stuff, grow, have fun — if you don’t like it, you can try something else! And don’t worry what other people think about it.
Empty Nest Positive #4 – Your House Stays Clean… For Real!
It feels like actual magic.
You live long enough in a home that stays perpetually messy no matter how often you pick it up, toilets that always seem to have pee drips (I lived with all boys, remember), countertops that never don’t have at least one sticky spot… well, you begin to think that there’s some mythical force working against you.
Then one day—do you hear the angels singing? It happens. You may have to just trust me on this one, friend.
(Although I will also tell you that if you happen to decide to adopt a giant toddler dog when your kids move out, you might still be cleaning dog slobber off the window exactly 2 seconds after you just cleaned it and picking up chewed up paper towels from his naughty hiding spot)
Tricky Bit: You have to do more chores around the house
I’m pretty sure I didn’t vacuum for about 8 years, that was my youngest son’s chore. I had to start doing that when he moved out.
My kids also put the dishes away and mowed the lawn. My husband and I are both having to pick up some household chores that we haven’t had to do regularly in a while.
Kids are great for chores, but they’re also great for messes… so it’s a bit of a trade.
Empty Nest Positive #5 – Growth in Your Marriage
Whether you are starting out this season already super close, or you feel distant and it seems like starting over… you are in a unique position to grow. You already know each other so well, you can really start digging in to the deeper stuff more easily.
For the last 16 years, my husband and I have always had a marriage book we’re reading through …sometimes more regularly than others, for sure. But since beginning this season together, we’ve tried to make this a daily habit. (We used to fit it in ‘whenever’, now we start our day with it each morning.)
Find some small way you can be intentional in growing closer emotionally, or maybe just getting to know one another again. This is a fun little book we picked up:
Empty nesting opens the door for all kinds of intimacy to grow, and it can make this season feel sort of like the newlywed phase of marriage (except with more money). The title of this article may say what I mean here best: The Upside of Having an Empty Nest (It’s Sex.) 😉 Yeah,that. Not gonna lie, it would be irresponsible of me not to mention this positive of an empty house.
When my youngest son found his new apartment…a whole 6 minutes away from us… I said to him, “You guys can stop over all the time!” My husband added, “But call first, or it might be weird.”
Tricky Bit: Marital closeness means you’re together All. The. Time.
Togetherness can breed frustration with the little things that can become easy to criticize.
Like sloshy chewing.
Just as a randomly chosen example about no one in particular.
Take a breath and find simple solutions– like playing music or watching something when you’re eating together…or quietly sliding pieces of a napkin into your ears when you’re trapped in the car with them while they’re drinking an Icee.
You can also remind yourself that you have just as many habits your spouse dislikes. (Because it’s true.)
But beyond the little frustrations, growing in emotional intimacy is hard work and frankly, it can be wearying.
But I hear that it’s worth it.
And speaking of being worth it, this is the season when you’re finally seeing what all those years of 24/7, hands-on parenting was for. You get to see your babies fly.
It’s pretty cool.