My husband insists that as children near college age, something happens hormonally with both the kids and the parents. That “something” causes us to suffer less—and even celebrate—when they finally leave home. The closer the time came for his kids to head off to college, the giddier he became. We were ready and determined to create a Happy Empty Nest.
Having come into a home with twins in their senior year in high school, I was, admittedly, reluctant to let them go. I had always wanted kids, and I liked having them around. By the time they left, I had just gotten comfortable with my new role as stepmother after 45+ years of childless freedom. As my hubby threatened to break out the beer, I had a good cry.
Of course, back in the day when our generation first left home, we didn’t have cell phones, e-mails, or instant messenger programs. We had landlines (how quaint) and sent letters back and forth. Neither my husband nor I anticipated how little we would sense their absence. The empty nest has changed. Some days, they might as well be in the room, we talk with them so much!
Moms of the world who hate sending their children away from home may take comfort in this new accessibility. I have to ask, though, is this accessibility good? If we’re not always available and let a phone call go to voice mail, we have found that the children find other ways to solve their own problems. Isn’t that part of what we want?
Plus, I think that an essential part of building a happy empty nest means finding out who we are when we are not parents. Husbands and wives need to get reacquainted with each other, and most of us have set aside our own dreams, at least for a time, to handle the care and feeding of the young. What were those dreams, anyway? What a great time to explore—as long as we hang up the phone long enough to do so!
Of course, while we are getting comfortable with our new identities, the children tend to come home from time to time. At first, it’s the long summer and winter breaks, and a shorter spring break. These are awkward times; they have lived as adults, and suddenly, on visits home, they are subject to rules and demands that they don’t want. Some want to be treated like young children again, whiling their vacation away in front of the television while someone else prepares their meals.
The Happy Female Empty Nester, in order to stay happy, will need to insist on more participation. After all, we are starting to live our dreams, so we don’t feel like waiting on young adults hand and foot anymore.
Then someone gets a summer job that requires time away from home. Maybe one of the children wants to go off with friends on spring break. They graduate from college and, hopefully, get jobs.
This is where my husband and I are in the process. Both kids have graduated from college. One is working, while the other is taking an additional year of specialized education. It’s exciting to watch them take on their own lives, as well as to have more time to focus on ours. We’re turning the upstairs into guestrooms for families that may expand at some point. Oh, wait, that means possible grandchildren that Grandma and Grandpa will babysit. Hmm, maybe the empty nest isn’t empty for long after all.