What I’d Like For You To Know: An Empty Nest

WhatidlikeI have a great guest poster today, and she’s going to encourage us all!  So many of us in the mom blogosphere are in the thick of raising kids that it can be hard to see past that season.  So for today’s edition of What I’d Like For You To Know (details here, if you’re new) I asked Barb of A Chelsea Morning to write about what it’s like being an empty nester.

When Shannon asked me to write on this subject, my immediate thought was, “Well, yes! I know all about how an empty nest feels.” My second thought was, “Wait a minute. Lately, my nest hasn’t felt empty at all.”

But the truth is, both my daughters are grown and married and there are no longer any chicks living in my nest.

I could tell you how an empty nest feels in exactly two words. Stunning. And shocking. Somehow, it feels like I should say a little more than that.

Let me back up to when I built my nest. It was thirty years ago, this month. My husband and I built our nest and we had a wonderful time living in it, with just each other. We thought it was perfect. As soon as we discovered we were expecting our first baby, we knew that nest was about to become a lot more perfect. We added our first chick in 1979 and less than two years later, we added our second. Suddenly, the nest was full.

And then we got on with it. I know a lot of you reading this today are in the midst of raising your children. You’re probably so busy, the thought of an empty nest is about as far from your mind as it can be.

The first thing I’d want you to know is  that it’s going to happen, and a lot more quickly than you think it will.

Raising my daughters was a constant blur of motion. And emotion. I was a full time working mother and I was so busy, for so many years, I honestly have black holes in my memory of large chunks of time from those years.

It’s true that daughters have a special connection with their daddies. But it’s also true that there’s a very special bond between mother and daughter. My daughters and I were, and still are, very close. I felt very needed, very necessary, all the time.

Fast forward the usual number of years, eighteen, to the day we drove our older daughter across Colorado and deposited her at Mesa State College. The nest felt different but not empty. My younger daughter had such a busy high school career going on, life was still hectic and busy and LOUD all the time. Clue: She was a competitive cheerleader and a volleyball star. And she was competing for a full ride scholarship to college. She was a busy, busy girl and by association, I was still a very busy mom.

Still, there was that one room in our house that was very, very quiet. I closed the door to that room because it was too empty. Somewhere inside me, I felt a loss and it hurt, so I tried to not think about it too much. Four long distance calls a night from my missing daughter helped, but still, she wasn’t physically there. And the first inkling of how an empty nest feels set in.

Now fast forward two years. We made the same trip across Colorado to leave our younger daughter at Mesa State, and I knew on the long drive home, my life had completely changed. Forever. Somehow I knew, my children would never live with me again.

The truth is, I cried all the way home. I simply didn’t know how to handle all the feelings I was experiencing. I said stupid things to myself, like, “They’re gone forever. They’re grown. They don’t need me any more.”

Not true, of course, but you couldn’t have convinced me of that, on that drive home. That night we ate dinner, alone, and we sat in our living room, alone. That’s when it hit me.

It was quiet. It was totally quiet in our house. I realize, looking back, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that the phone wasn’t ringing off the hook. If you have teenaged daughters, I don’t need to tell you how much, how constantly, the phone rings. For some reason, the fact that the phone stopped ringing undid me.

I walked around for two weeks, with such an ache in my chest, I could barely function.

So the second thing I’d want you to know is, after having a full nest for years and years, it just feels wrong when it becomes empty, seemingly overnight. And it hurts. For me, it was actually physically painful.

The next thing I’d want you to know is, and I know this sounds cliché, it gets better. You get used to it. It stops hurting so much. In my case, it took me about two years to really feel OK with it. I realized that although they no longer lived with us, both my daughters still needed my husband and me very much.

When I realized both my girls were probably going to stay in Grand Junction, and never move home again, it was OK with me. I’d had time to accept that something like this might happen. So we did what any reasonable set of parents would do. We moved to where they lived!  😉

Seriously, Rob’s job at a nuclear facility had just ended, I was technically retired, we knew we never wanted to live far away from our children and their futures, if we had that choice. We did have that choice, so here we are.

As long as the girls were single, it didn’t feel like things were too terribly different. They just didn’t sleep in our house any more. But when they got married, the empty nest really became, permanently, empty.

You look around and see things differently. Here’s what I saw: two bedrooms that could be converted into an office and a craft room. Or a guest room. For, you know, when one of them came to visit overnight. I’d left their rooms untouched for years.

By the time my daughters got married, it had stopped hurting. I’m going to be honest here. It took several years for me to accept that they no longer needed to live in my nest to be successful and happy and content. They’re both strong young women, happily married, one with babies in her own nest and the other trying. And they don’t need me the way they did when they lived in my nest.

But they do need me. I’m still the mom and I know every day of my life, I’m still very needed by both of them. They don’t need me to help them through a crisis with a boyfriend, or to take their phone privileges away for a week because they broke curfew. But they need advice on how to handle an argument with a husband, or what to do when the baby is teething and feverish. My older daughter has given me grandchildren and let me tell you, if your grandchildren live close by, your nest is not really empty.

I’ve tried to describe the feelings and emotions I went through when my children grew up and our relationship changed.

I saved this for last because I’m convinced it’s the most important thing you need to know about how to survive the empty nest.

Build a good marriage. Too many couples lose each other along the way, as they get caught up in the craziness and busyness that is raising a family, from birth through college and marriage.

I’m sure we all remember those first few months or years of being a newlywed. I’m not going to try to convince you that you’ll feel like newlyweds again. We certainly didn’t. But Rob and I like each other. And we’ve reached the point that it’s kind of nice having an empty nest again.

To be honest with you, my nest doesn’t really feel empty now. My children and my grandchildren are nearby and we spend a lot of time together.

But you know that saying, the one about how nice it is to spoil the grandchildren because they go home with their parents at night? It’s true. It’s very, very true. I’ve become very protective of my quiet time.

Life is a circle. You flow from one stage to the next. And with a little time, you become comfortable with the newest stage.

And it’s really, really nice to have a couple of spare rooms you can do anything your heart desires with. 😉

To read more of Barb’s posts, visit her blog, A Chelsea Morning.

56 thoughts on “What I’d Like For You To Know: An Empty Nest

  1. Lainie@ Mishmash Maggie says:

    We aren’t at the empty nest stage yet but we’re definitely out of the “trenches.” It hit me this summer, how fast our kids were growing up and your beautiful post put words to the ache that was in my heart all summer.
    I am sitting here in tears because I can feel it coming. I know it’s going to feel like a blink.
    I am purposing to enjoy, really enjoy my kids right now.
    And I am trusting that God knew I had to start this process sooner (in my heart) because it will be hard for me.
    I like my kids. I love ’em fierce too but I like them as people. I want them to do well.
    The hardest for me is there is something about all the “last” things.
    The last missing two front teeth, the last “first bra,” no more tub toys, no step stool in the bathroom…
    It’s been a hard summer–thank you for being honest that it IS hard but that it will be okay. Better than okay, it’ll be good because I like my husband too 😉
    I know after all the last “first” of motherhood come, Lord willing, the “firsts” of grand-motherhood. Nice to know all the rumors are true and it’s a sweet time.
    Thank you again for sharing…

  2. Bridget says:

    I really enjoyed your post, we are moving toward that time but with a younger child still at home. We have 3 children, a daughter 19 and 2 sons 17 and 10. Our daughter is living away from home and going to school and our oldest son graduates this year with plans of moving near his sister to go to school. It’s already different at our house, if we didn’t have Blake (our youngest) I don’t know what I would do when Wayne leaves home. But like you, I really like my husband, he’s my best friend and we do everything together, so I know I will be ok eventually.

  3. popmimi@cox.net says:

    For me, dreading the empty nest was much worse than actually having one. I wondered what I would do with all that extra time! (extra time…yeah, right.) I think the key to adjusting to that change, as you said, is being friends with your spouse. When our second (and last) left, my husband and I looked at each other and observed that we were back to where we started…..just the two of us. And we’ve had a fun time together ever since! It is a shock to suddenly not be parenting in the way you’re used to, but when you get over the shock….the empty nest is great fun and something to look forward to…quite an enjoyable time of life. The parenting needs change, but they actually get even better. I love being friends with my grown children.

  4. Ashley says:

    What a GREAT post. I am in the thick of raising 3 kids so I don’t really think about having an empty nest. Well, at times I daydream about it 🙂 But I think you said the most important thing… build a strong marriage!!! I am doing the LOVE DARE secretly on my husband right now and it has been great. If you don’t know about it or you want to, hop on over and check it out.

  5. Bev says:

    Ours emptied out seven years ago, with the last one moving 1400 miles away. Two years later the one who had stayed around moved 1400 miles away, where all three of them were near each other and very far away from us. That lasted two years before one moved back here, and now we’re moving there eventually so we’ve been in a constant state of adjustment. Just this morning Don asked over coffee, ‘would you like to go try that new restaurant tonight?’ and it felt GREAT to say, absolutely, we have no dinner plans! Baby birds are meant to fly the nest eventually, and with time it begins to feel natural, and even nice. I love that you pointed out young parents should invest in their marriages because before they know it, it’ll be just the two of them again. Great post.

  6. Margie @ 2 Is the New 4 says:

    We have a twenty-month-old and one that will be here in January and so while we are far away from an empty nest,I do try to remember every day how precious this time is. The thought of my son ever leaving home makes me crazy, but I know it will happen, like you said, sooner than I think it will.
    Thanks you so much for your post and enjoy your grandbabies! You’ve really made me think.

  7. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings says:

    While I’m in the deep, deep trenches of preschooler-hood, it’s hard to appreciate your description but as the only child of a former single, working mom, you helped me to understand what my mom went through when I left home.
    While (due to a myriad of reasons) I’ve chosen to live some distance from my parents, I hope this post acts as a baby step towards healing years of hurt.

  8. Tara says:

    I’m one of the moms in the thick of it right now. My oldest is 8 and I’ve got three others down to my 20 month old. And what happened in your house happened in a microcosim *while I was reading* your post. While I was reading the toddler was screaming in the kitchen and Nemo was at a very loud dramatic part and then, just like in actual life, suddenly both were silent and it was quiet.
    Thank you for making me cry this morning. 🙂 And thank you for again reminding me that these days flutter away and that these little’uns will someday be gone.

  9. jenx67 says:

    It’s true – the empty nest seems so far off. My kids are 11, 3 and 1. But, I know it will come. It’s been hard for my mom and I’m 41 and she’s 74. I’ll remember your advice when I think of all of this.

  10. dalene says:

    Thank you for reassuring me it eventually gets better. I’ve only just let my first little birdie fly away–and he flew far away. But even with three still at home there is a big hole in my heart.

  11. rrmama says:

    Your post has touched my heart. While my chidren at 8 and 4. While we are still a few years away from the empty nest, my hear already aches. Shannon, thanks again for hosting this series, I love what each new person has to say and what it teaches me!

  12. Robyn (3girlsmom) says:

    My girls are 7, 3, & 2. The thought of an empty nest (even though it’s about 15 years away) makes me weepy and makes my chest hurt.
    Glad to know it gets better.
    And I have a new appreciation for my mom & dad.

  13. Mama Koala says:

    As a mother just starting to fill my nest, I really enjoyed this post. It is already hard to imagine what an empty nest will feel like, but you’ve eased my worry and given me a glimpse into what to expect one day.

  14. Gretchen says:

    I remember when my children each turned 9 how very melancholy I felt. “They’re 1/2 way raised!”. Yes, I know we have the “terrible teen years” to come, but honestly, I don’t know how the time has flown by as fast as it has. I, of course still look 27 or 29, mind you, but that’s another post. 🙂
    This was beautiful, Barb.

  15. Mary says:

    Thank you, Barb. Your post was so meaningful to me. My daughter is 13 months old, so I have a long ways to go before we have an empty nest.
    But what spoke to my heart just now is the lovely, close relationship you have with your daughters. They ask your advice still, they like you, they want to spend time with you – that’s incredible! My mom and I don’t have that kind of relationship, and I want it so badly with my own daughter.
    Reading about your family inspires me to make that happen in my family – to love my daughter, to live life with her, to enjoy our time together, so that someday even when she’s living apart from me, she’ll still be a part of my life the way your daughters are a part of yours. Thank you for sharing.

  16. trixiefan says:

    Even though my nest isn’ empty yet, it is getting there quickly. Our oldest daughter is 21 and still lives at home, or at least sleeps at home. Our middle daughter is a freshman in college and living on campus, and we have a 12 year old boy at home. I miss my daughter’s so much! Thanks goodness we still have one at home, but it’s not the same. I get teary often thinking that I miss my family. Thanks for reassuring us that it will get better in time!

  17. Erica (A Yankee In Jawja) says:

    Thank you for that post. It REALLY hit home for me, but not in a way you might expect.
    You see, I am that child born in 1979 (so to speak – it’s my birth year) and I thought the world revolved around me. My mother didn’t cry in front of me when she and my father dropped me off at college, and I kind of felt like I DESERVED those tears. I was the good one, always did what she was told, never drank alcohol, did drugs, etc. I was by outside image the perfect daughter.
    When I went home I felt like a visitor and not a member of the family. I guess I figured that life stopped because I was not home. I still had a younger sister and brother at home. When I would call “to catch up” and ask for a little spending money I was upset when my sister called me selfish.
    Long story short I’m older and wiser, my mother and sister are my best friends and I think I’m going to call my Mom to catch up and apologize for my selfishness.

  18. Jane Anne Owen says:

    I love this post! I constantly have to remind myself that my 7,5,3, and almost 1 year old will grow up one day and I will really miss the noise. I appreciated your words, especially your thoughtful reminder about building good marraiges. Thank you.

  19. Joanna @ Grace in the Home says:

    My daughter is only three years old, and this is the first time I have ever thought about what it would be like for her to grow up and leave home! I know the day will come eventually when we move her into a college dorm, and, thankfully, I have many more years to enjoy before this happens. I know childhood passes quickly….it seems like she was just born yesterday. And I plan on enjoying every moment to the fullest.

  20. Queen B says:

    Your words are very encouraging. I have seen too many couples divorce after their kids leave home and I just don’t think that message can be said enough…don’t neglect your marriage!
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  21. Crystal says:

    Thanks for writing this. My daughter is 16 and a junior this year. I’ve been slowly letting it sink in that I only have a couple more years with her as a “kid” and that pretty soon, she’s going to do what I raised her to do – go out and make a life of her own. I have so many mixed emotions about it – sadness, excitement, worry – I’m sure you know. I do look forward to a new chapter with our lives, but it’s always hard to leave behind the way it’s been for years. Thanks for giving me hope that I’ll be able to accept it and have new good times!

  22. Barbara H. says:

    Someone once said, “With children, the days are long but the years are short.” One some of those very long days I actually looked forward to an empty nest, but as it got closer I dreaded it. None of ours had actually flown the coup yet, but two are on the verge of it. I have plenty to do and plans for their rooms. 🙂 But the actual not having them around, especially not in their own beds at night, will be tough. We’ve experienced it in small bits through trips and summers away. There is always a pang when I walk by an empty bedroom on my way to bed at night or when I forget one is away and accidentally set his place at the table. I know it will be hard, but I know with God’s help we’ll get through it. I am very much looking forward to grandchildren some day!!

  23. Pam says:

    I can SO relate. But you are right, as long as the children and grandchildren are nearby, your nest is never truly empty. And yes, it comes so fast, you can’t believe it. But hubby and I are at the point where we cherish our QUIET time. We love the hustle and bustle when the kids are here visiting, but breathe a sweet sigh of relief when they go home!!! LOL…

  24. Carol ~ I Throw Like A Girl says:

    I so relate to the physical pain you felt dropping them off at college. We have a son in college and a daughter still in high school. For the months leading up to his freshman year and the months after we dropped him off, I feel like I was in a state of mourning. Things changed and I didn’t want them to. Now that he’s been gone for a full school year, I am more used to it and can actually say I’m ok with it and I can see how after our daughter goes to college in a couple of years, it might be kind of nice for the house to stay clean longer than a day, and to be able to do things with my husband without planning for the kids, too. Thanks for a great post!

  25. AF says:

    Thanks Barb! I left the nest 9 years ago, and I know my mom sometimes still struggles with the empty nest (especially now that I’ve been married two years). Even if the nest they live in now isn’t the one I grew up in! I appreciate your insight into what my mom goes through.

  26. Mrs. Who says:

    I LOVE having an empty nest!! Of course, both of my grown children live in the same town with us AND my daughter presented us with the most perfect grandson in the world and we are together as a family often and baby-sit for that perfect grandson all the time and…maybe my nest is not quite so empty!!
    However, I do agree that it is VERY important to have a good marriage. When it’s just the two of you, you had better have something to talk about!

  27. Dana~Are We There Yet? says:

    I hope you know how much I enjoy what you write, Barb. You are always such an encouragement. Today, I was particularly helped when you wrote of the “black holes” in your memory. With a 17-year-old and a newborn, I’m so aware of all the sweetness that I just don’t remember. And I know that I’m in for more of the same with our new little guy. And it’s okay. Thank you.

  28. ggirl says:

    My children are now 28 and 25. As long as my children are happy, I am thrilled that they don’t need me like they did because that means we did our job as parents. My husband and I often whisper loudly (when they’re around) that the empty nest is the best kept secret of parenthood. Adult children are the reward of all of those years of exhaustion.

  29. Robyn says:

    What a sweet post. My boys are still little, but I already tell them that they’d better give me lots of grandbabies. I am dreading that empty nest, but take heart in your words that it will be okay, and even enjoyable.

  30. Beck says:

    I bawled my eyes out all the way through this. I’m not ready to think about it yet. All I can picture is leaving my bewildered little kids at university, a suitcase beside them. Of course, they won’t BE bewildered little kids when that day comes, but that’s the way my heart feels right now. Sigh.

  31. Diane Jennings says:

    My only child turned 21 this week, and will be married 2 years in December. I went through a short time of adjustment to her being out of the nest, compared to many others. The last half of her high school senior year was hard, all the way until she moved out of our home to an apartment she shared with a friend. At that time it became real to me that she really was grown and on her own, and I let go and let her fly free.
    Now that Jessica is married and her baby is 18 months old, I see more of Jessica now than I did when she was in high school!
    Hard as it may be for those who are still raising their kids, you do get used to the nest being empty, and it’s a turn around when your kids are chiding you for not telling them you’re going to be gone somewhere. Somehow it’s different when they’re worried about you than when you’re worried about them!
    Good post, my friend. :o)
    Love and hugs,

  32. Amy says:

    Boo-hooing! Those are the sweetest words from a genuine, heartfelt perspective! Thank you so much, Shannon, for going forward with this idea! Such blessing it has brought to my days! Love, Amy

  33. Sara says:

    Your post was awesome and oh so true. I remember dreading the empty nest, yet looking forward to all the spare time I was going to have to do things I enjoyed doing. The emotions of my kids leaving home eventually waned, but that spare time just hasn’t been found yet (4 years later). And they do come back frequently and bring more with them –spouses and grandchildren. And I love it!!!

  34. LifeatTheCircus says:

    I am a young mom with 3 preschoolers. I love my kids, LOVE being a mom, but even more, I love being my husband’s wife. I appreciated your words of wisdom at the end of the post. I am so sad just thinking about sending my oldest to kindergarten next year and the great change it will bring to our family. I love the preschool years and have tried hard to seize every moment. But when I am shopping in the grocery store with three OH SO LOUD kiddos hanging off the cart, and I see that retired couple holding hands out buying groceries together, I stop and I pray. Because while I know that I will miss these days immensely, part of me does really look forward to having my hubby to myself. To holding hands and picking up our medicine or milk or whatever together. I pray that we both live that long and I pray that we’ll still be best friends.

  35. Tina says:

    My eyes filled with tears when I read this…I have the aching chest thing too. My teens will soon be flying the nest and I didn’t realise that it would physically hurt, as well as emotionally. I know the Lord will help me, and my husband and I are best friends thankfully, but oh my, it is the hardest thing ever.

  36. Kathy says:

    Your post is touching. I tend to think the empty nest is a modern phenomenon-if we fill our nests we will treasure grandchildren before all of our children have left home. However, since so many, even Christian, couples choose to limit their family size the empty nest is inevitable.

  37. April says:

    Thanks for such a good post. Mine are still little (9 and 7), but I had tears streaming down my face as I read this.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know it’s all true – what a great reminder.

  38. Tricia says:

    My oldest will be a senior next year. He is already taking classes at the community college near-by. It is like he is that little bird, occasionally jumping out of the nest trying out those wings.
    It won’t be long before he flies off for good. I can hardly wrap my mind around it.
    Thanks for sharing.

  39. Jill says:

    WOW – tons of comments here and mine fall in suit with the others, brought to tears yet convicted to ENJOY the time with my little ones and always work to strengthen my marriage so there is something left for me when they all leave.
    Great post, thanks!

  40. sandra says:

    In 2002, I left my oldest daughter at one of the largest Universities in the USA (after graduating from a class of 27 at a Christian School). I can honestly say that my heart did break – it hurt so much. Then it broke again, 3 years later when our middle daughter went to college. And I anticipate the same thing happening again this year, when our youngest daughter goes off to college. God is so faithful though and it is an amazing reward to see your daughters doing what God has gifted them to do. I am thankful for our marriage that has endured 27 years and been blessed through good and bad – once again it is only by God’s Grace. Enjoy each season of Mothering… each brings wonderful blessings.

  41. Dee says:

    In all honesty, the best way that I can describe having my two children take flight and head off to college and their own life, I felt like I was mourning a death in the family! Everything in me and around me was empty. I survived like millions do, but it was very tough.

  42. Faye says:

    We have been empty-nesters for nine years….and I didn’t go thru a huge break-down or horrific time since my two younger sons moved into an apartment right across the street. They felt like they could pop in at any given time until I got so tired of their laundry laying around, or a washer full of laundry that went sour from not being processed to the dryer, having them help themselves to food and me going to make a meal and have ingredients missing…well, you get the picture.My oldest son (I have 3) was the total opposite and moved far away…I did bawl when he drove away.
    Your wise words are reassuring the “up and coming” empty-nesters…thanks because we it’s a something Mom’s totally dread….and rightfully so!!

  43. mzzterry says:

    I am an empty nest mom to two married daughters, 29 & 25. I miss them everyday, but I love this stage of my life. My husband and I are having a wonderful time together.
    Beautiful post.

  44. Mandy says:

    What a beautiful post, Mom. I am thrilled to know that my teenage years were something you enjoyed- I thought they almost did you in. LOL. Miraculously, I hate it when my phone rings now!
    I can’t wait to have my own little chicks to bring over to your house to fill it up.

  45. Marilyn says:

    Thank you Barb for sharing your heart about the Empty Nest.
    I have started feeling glimpses of an empty nest and at first I really struggled with it. I felt just like you did. I cried and was physically ill for months.
    My nest is not even empty yet…what will I do when it is?
    I had a really hard time when my oldest son went to college. Now my middle son is in college. I still have a 16 year old. My two oldest sons are already talking of marriage. I am so scared that our family is about to go in different directions.
    I was a stay at home, homeschool mom for years. With 3 sons we spent lots of time at the ballfield. My husband and I even coached little league for years. My husband is a pastor and I have always worked with the youth and enjoyed every minute of it. Now the ball games have ended and I find myself having nowhere to go. I miss all the chaos and noise.
    NOW!!! We are in transition. My husband is in between churches. My oldest son graduates from college in May. My middle son wants to transfer to a different college. I am not sure where the Lord will lead my husband, so I have begun to feel the nest changing. I do not handle change well.
    Thank you for encouraging me that I can survive. I have asked lots of women to share with me how they survived “empty nest”, but no one seems to talk about it. Thank you for being willing to share your thoughts. It is a needed topic.

  46. BlapherMJ says:

    With my oldest child being a junior in high school, the thought of her leaving and going to college is almost unthinkable to me…. I truly don’t know what I will do when all my kids leave home…. Thanks for a post with wonderful perspective.

  47. sandy says:

    Thanks for Barb’s meaningful post! I like reading posts from women who have wisdom! Even tho the empty nest doesn’t “scare” me, it saddens me to think about it – so I don’t! LOL.
    Thanks for having Barb, Shannon!

  48. Lucy says:

    Or, you might be like my mom who still has children, now ADULTS, living in her home as well as caring for the grandchildren once or twice a week and is wondering when in the world she gets to have an empty nest! LOL!
    Great post. It’s good to have a reminder that someday it will be quiet. 🙂

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