An Old Dog's Lessons of Love and Hope Amid the PandemicCheryl Gottlieb Boxer
As my last child’s senior year of high school moves along at breakneck speed, I’ve begun contemplating the empty nest in earnest. What was once an abstract concept is now an impending reality.
When my three sons were younger and my life was constant unbridled chaos, I thought that I would never miss having them around. In fact, the moments when I was alone felt like Nirvana. But the prospect of my last son leaving is making me more wistful than I could have possibly imagined when my boys were hell-bent on wreaking havoc from morning until bedtime.
Yes, yes, I know our kids are supposed to leave; in fact, I was always the first to pooh-pooh those who carried on about the entire empty nest thing. I understand that their departure is the goal and means we have done our job as parents well. I also recognize that there are many parents whose children are unable to attend college or live independently. However, it’s undeniable that a seismic shift occurs when the last one packs up and heads out, and now that I’m beginning to feel the earth move under my own feet, I’m feeling less sanguine about the whole thing.
I have considered what I will miss most about full-time parenting; I even posed the question in my town’s Facebook parenting group and received more responses from veteran empty nesters than I anticipated. While everyone agreed there are things they do not miss about having their children home (emptying the dishwasher at least once daily; waiting up, worrying and listening for them to come in; endless piles of laundry; constantly having to restore the pillows to their correct positions on the couch), there were many more things moms and dads said they do miss about full-time parenting.
Those who have reached the other side cite the quiet house as an aspect of an empty nest they dislike most. I can totally see that — even with only two of my three gone, the house reverberates with silence because my youngest has no one to fight, play or interact with. But having one son home is still a far cry from having no one in the house. At least my son is still around for us to eat dinner together and talk. Although he often responds with monosyllabic answers and grunts, he is a warm body. With my husband gone much of the time for work, I find the presence of my youngest tremendously comforting.
A seismic shift occurs when the last one packs up and heads out, and now that I’m beginning to feel the earth move under my own feet, I’m feeling less sanguine about the whole thing.
Sporting events are another thing many parents miss when their kids leave. Although I've never been a huge sports fan (not a spoiler alert), on warm sunny days I certainly enjoyed watching my boys run up and down the soccer field. And it’s not just the actual games people miss, it’s the conversations in the car as they drive their children to tournaments and practices, and the interaction and camaraderie with other parents. This is the same for the parents of theatre/dance/music-oriented students. The abrupt end to all those performances really leaves a void in your life.
One mom stated what she misses most about having her kids home is “getting real-time updates on their day.” I understand. When my older sons were in college, communication was, shall I say, sporadic. At least when my youngest comes through the door after his day at high school, I'm able to wrest at a few crumbs of information from him before he disappears into the bathroom or his bedroom. I know once he's in college it will be much harder to get even the word “fine” out of him when I text or call to ask about his day. (On a positive note, in the post-college years communication with my older sons has improved.)
Other reason parents gave for missing their kids were rather poignant:
One woman’s response made me laugh: “Wait, they’re gone??” With her kids living not too far away after college, she wrote that, “They still come home every weekend to bring their laundry… and raid the food and supply closet to take back to their apartments. And I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.”
Although the adjustment is tough initially, the empty nest seems to get easier with time. As one mom said, “I’ve reached the point where it’s OK.” And further down the line, things get even better, with one parent pointing out that “You get it all back when you become a grandparent. Only better. So, don’t fret.” Another mom echoed this sentiment: “After missing them, grandchildren come along and that is the sweetest, most incredible experience. So different than loving your children, you double love your children’s children.”
As the sun sets on my time as a full-time parent, I will continue to savor these last months, grateful for what was and excited to discover all that is ahead, for my kids and myself.
And just in case I feel my parenting skills getting a bit rusty, I'll remind myself that in reality they do come home a lot when they are in college.