I 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.