Getting Comfortable in Our Empty Nest

This was written years ago when our baby (who turns 40 next year) moved out. Something reminded me of it today, so I thought I’d share. It was first published on the Nevada Appeal on August 22, 2001.

cage love

“I am bereft,” a friend moaned after her son had left for college. “How do we do this? How do we survive their growing up and leaving home?”

“One day at a time,” I told her, “With lots of e-mail and phone calls and care packages. And the knowledge that you’ve done a good job, that this is what is supposed to happen.” Giving birth to an adult is at least as painful as giving birth to a baby. And just as necessary.

It’s hard to remember the last time I was awakened for a 2 AM feeding, a nightmare, or a curfew check. Children no longer need to be taken to the pediatrician, piano lessons, play practice, or parties. Evenings are not taken up with reading bedtime stories, rehearsing state capitals, or practicing spelling words. The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy have long since stopped making deliveries.

I know that much of my life before we had children was spent planning and dreaming about them, but now that both girls are grown and gone, I realize how short, how precious those “wonder years” were. And how narrow our focus was. I have learned that just as my life did not begin when the children were born, it did not end when the U-Haul pulled away.

chalkboard fly
As much as I loved all that mommy business, this is nice too. It’s really okay. Nonetheless, there have been changes.

We now have a computer room and a guest room. Both cars fit in the garage.

We eat and shop a lot differently. For example, I can’t remember the last time we ate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for supper. We’ve been out of peanut butter for two weeks and no one has noticed. The only cereals in the cupboard are old-fashioned oatmeal and shredded wheat. We only buy a quart of milk and sometimes it goes bad before we finish it.

Housekeeping is a mixed bag mostly because we’ve realized the kids weren’t the only ones making messes around here. Emptying the dishwasher and taking out the trash have become our chores again. And when it comes to the kids’ former bathroom, the biggest cleaning problem isn’t damp towels on the floor, soap scum, or hairspray residue anymore—it’s dust.

The phone rings less and when it does, it’s usually a telemarketer. We’re no longer asked to join the PTA; we’re asked to join AARP. We don’t worry about funding their college; we worry about funding our retirement.

The checkbook still gets stretched, but in different ways. In addition to the mortgage, we’re helping with rent on two college apartments. So I guess instead of empty-nesting, you could say we’re really “multi-nesting.” We don’t give our kids an allowance anymore; we give them a credit card. And whereas we used to spend money to send them away in the summer, now we spend money to bring them home.

Our TV viewing habits have changed mainly because only two people wrestle for control of the remote. No one complains when we watch “60 Minutes” or “The Antiques Road Show.” I have no idea where “The Real World” is taping this year.

We appreciate this stage of life. We have regained a degree of privacy and independence. There is no need to check the clocks before getting romantic. No need to lock the bed or bathroom door. We are enjoying each other’s company again.

Our daughters are finding lives that are fulfilling and independent. We are proud of the women they have become– who are intelligent, funny, honest, spunky, compassionate, and principled. The same qualities we look for in our friends. We don’t just love them– we like them.

I’ve often said, “Raising kids never gets easier; it just gets different.” Each phase has its rewards, even this one. Honestly, seeing them graduate from college and start new lives is no less rewarding than watching them take their first steps, swim across the pool for the first time, or star in a school play. Our girls still touch our hearts, make us laugh, and make us proud.

Our house may be empty, but our hearts are full.

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