Empty Nest: Would You Do It All Again?

by Lisa Heffernan
Originally Published: 

I recently heard the story of a friend who turned to his wife as they dropped off their youngest child at her college dorm and said, “…as I was saying.”

The conversation between the spouses that was interrupted nearly two decades earlier could now resume. While this was surely said in jest, there is an element of truth to the fact that active parenthood is a long, loving interruption to our adulthood that, once the kids are gone, can resume in one form or another where we left off.

In that vein, I have noticed a few things about life without kids:

• It would be easier to like living in an “empty nest” if it had a different name. I would rather not define the next few decades by what is absent from my life.

• The journey to the empty nest is an adjustment, every bit as big as the adjustment to having children. It will come in phases, some filled with great pride and joy, others with tears. It mirrors the experience we had 18 years earlier. With a lot more sleep.

• The grocery store has more hidden memories and reminders than I could’ve possibly imagined. Every aisle seems to contain someone’s favorite food and the tiny bout of nostalgia that goes with it.

• In the same way that a world of mom friends opened up to me when my first child was born, there is a world of empty nest moms who are happy to make dinner plans on a school night. And there are no school nights.

• The shell shock of having this wondrous stage of your family life abruptly come to an end takes much longer than three weeks to recover from.

• My kids, God love them, were utter pigs who felt no compulsion to put anything away. While I always suspected this, now the evidence can be seen in my home and in their dorm rooms.

• My husband is neater than I once believed. I think he may have been tarred with the brush of my messy kids.

• The low fuel light on my car never lights up, a sight that often greeted me first thing in the morning when I shared my car with three teens.

• No matter how much attention you promise yourself you will give to your spouse, kids at every age are an incessant distraction. It is truly a gift after the chaos of the last two decades to find him still here.

• An empty nest comes with a certain feeling of lightness, of having set down a heavy load. Even on the days when you are physically free of your kids, when they are in day care, school or at a friend’s house, you are not psychologically free of their day-to-day lives until they have left home.

• You never realize how loud your kitchen appliances are until your kids leave home.

• Activities that once felt like a burden—the carpools, the practices that ran late, the 11 p.m. Saturday night pick up—were actually wonderful moments to share with other parents, moments that are easy to miss now.

• College kids may be homesick, they may miss the comfort of their own beds, but a teen who is ready for college will move onto his or her new life at a speed that will make your head spin. We may pine for the past 18 years but, if all goes right, they will barely look back.

• Kids come with mountains of garbage, from the first baby swing to the last discarded backpack, and I will miss not one item of their belongings. Purging your home after your kids leave is like finally cleaning out the minivan; you had no idea how bad it was until you started.

• The silence that comes with an empty nest is both slightly disquieting and oh so nice, all at the same time.

• Only teens mess up a kitchen in the middle of the night. No teens, no mess.

• All of the jokes about college kids and laundry turn out to be true. That first panicked phone call or text really will have to do with mixing brights and whites.

• After decades in my home, my children do not seem to know how often their sheets were washed. This will be the second call.

• At some point, visiting your kid on their college campus, seeing the classes they are taking and friends they are making, you will forget how happy you are for them and, in a bout of extreme envy, want to be them.

• And finally, the empty nest is going to be great, this I really do believe. But the truth is, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

This post originally appeared on Grown and Flown.

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