When They've Flown: The Feathers that Remain

Your world has centered on taking care of your “peeps” from the time they first came into the world. Suddenly, they’ve flown. What now?

I’ve been talking to “Empty Nesters” — Mama Hens and Papa Roosters whose chicks have come out of their shells, grown, spread their wings and gone off to discover the world.

All in a matter of — oh, say, five minutes?

In retrospect, the season is short, parents agree.

The Empty Nesters I interviewed, though shy about their identity, were forthright in sharing their hearts. Some of the conversations took place in a thread, so the “experts” were able to respond to one another as well as to my questions. 

I knew I couldn’t possibly do any better than to give my Patch readers the gift of their precious voices, so here are their responses: raw and heartfelt, in their own words. Real parents making real adjustments.

Empty, yet somehow full.  


Question: How long have you been an “Empty Nester?"

- Two years, but it might as well be a life time. Once you have kids you are
lonely without them.

- I've only been an empty nester for a few weeks, so I don't know if I can give you any answers...I WISH I had some answers!!.

- This is our fourth year. 

- It’s been a several years since our only daughter got married.

My experience as an “Empty Nest Dad” has been short — only about three weeks.

Question: What was the hardest adjustment? 

- The quiet and no one to talk to.

- I agree that the quiet house is one of the hardest things. Though the last few years have been a quieter because my kids have been pretty self-sufficient, this is more of a psychological silence, because I know they won't be coming home for supper, or returning from band camp in a few days, or coming through the door with a friend or two in tow.

- My nest emptied out suddenly...they all left within 3 weeks of each other. I always imagined it would happen gradually and I'd adjust slowly, so this
"cold turkey" thing has really ambushed me.

- I'm realizing that the kids’ activities were also my social life: football games, band concerts, youth group activities were all times when I would spend time with my friends as well as with my kids. On the first Football Friday, around 9:00 p.m., I sat down on the patio. Suddenly, I heard the drums from the stadium, and I felt like all my friends were at a party I didn't get invited to! (Maybe I should have just hopped in the car, but it seemed too late.) My kids had laughed when I'd said I was planning
to go to the football games anyway: "Mom, you don’t have kids at that
school anymore!" My response was: "But a lot of my friends do, and
they are all still there and it's still a social time for moms!” I also have a
lot of surrogate kids at the games by virtue of church connections-- I’m in
charge of the youth and children’s choirs-- so I should be there! (or maybe I'm in denial...)

- Does one really have to have “just cause” to go to a football game? None of your ”justification” has anything to do with being interested in football! ??

- I have had to learn how to cook (and shop) in much smaller proportions....or we end up eating the same thing for a week. I have to constantly remind myself that cooking for 2 IS worthwhile--deep
in my psyche it’s ingrained 2= “leftovers.” "Cooking" is for a
crowd...but I cooked before we had kids! Also, practically speaking, laundry doesn't take nearly as much time....(although, in some ways, it takes more, since my youngest has been doing our laundry for years!) The house certainly stays cleaner.  

Question: How long did it take for you to make certain adjustments?

- I don't think I will ever adjust. I don't want to adjust. I live for the next moment one of my kids walks through the door. I now know how my own mother feels when her children blow her off. I cherish each moment my adult children grace me with.

I'm sort of a "sandwich" empty nester....lots of my friends still have high-schoolers, so they are busy with all the usual activities. Then, I also have a few friends who are already grandparents (or on the verge)  and they are spending much of their weekend time on out-of-town visits. My kids aren't there yet, so I'm caught in limbo between two worlds.  I'm just trying to
figure out my new role...I don't have any idea how long it will take me to
adjust. Maybe, like someone else said, never....I don't want to adjust. 

- It seems we don't want to adjust; we just learn to cope. I guess I have coped by getting to know my husband all over and guess what? I really like him!! We have adjusted together and when the kids come and leave again, we cry together all over like it was the first time again!! We go camping and have joined a bowling league. All of that still does not take all the pain away, it just covers it with other things.

- Some adjustments have actually been pretty easy. With only 2 schedules to keep track of life is fairly uncomplicated. We eat when we get hungry (often quite late). He tends to work a little later, but once we're both home, we just settle in for the evening. In that sense, we are spending a lot more "everyday" time together than we have in the last 20 years.

- It took my husband and me about 3 days to mourn and then we were done!!! Of course, we only had one child. I don't know if that makes a difference or not. We enjoyed “dating” again as we looked forward to our daughter coming home.


Random Thoughts: There's No Place Like “Home”

- I said to someone recently, "What am I going to do with all my extra time now?" and her response was "ANYTHING YOU WANT!" The irony of that is that what I really want is to hang out with my kids....

- Ok, so all this rambling makes me sound pretty pathetic...but I'm keeping busy with work, so I’m not sitting around moping. I’m also painting and decorating my new Craft and Sewing Room, which used to be my oldest daughter’s bedroom. But every once-in-a-while it hits me. That's when I pick up the phone, and say, "Hey, I haven't heard from you for a while. How’s {college, the new job, the new apartment, your social life, fill in the blank}?" Maybe you should interview my kids to see if I'm becoming a pest...

- Life is a circle I now know. I don't sleep soundly, knowing that if the phone rings in the night, I will go wherever I am needed (and I have many times). I have apologized to my mother for what I put her through many years ago. That's what we do as parents and now for some of
us, as grandparents!!

- I too, like the others, live day to day and hope that my children will have happy, healthy lives outside of their "childhood" home. I pray every day for
their safety and wellbeing and talk to them as often as they will let me. I
know I am a pest in their lives, but I do not care - I am their mother forever and always!

- It's strange to think that they don't think of this as "home" anymore....I
try not to think about that too much because it makes me sad.

- My husband and I are constantly remembering how much we really like each other; he is the one person who understands how much I miss them, and we both smile at the same silly reminders and don't have to explain the joke to anyone else....

- Like people say about retirement...your time fills up! I expected a time of sadness, but this has actually been a time for my wife and me to enjoy each other like we did before kids. We have always been close...all through our child-raising years. So, stepping into this new phase has been like stepping back into something sweet and familiar.

As I told my husband the day we dropped our youngest (of four) off at college, "I'm not sad that he's gonna stay here...I'm just sad that we can't take him home with us!" I hope that whatever our kids are doing, that they are happy and healthy and know that they are loved!

Out of a Job?

If the goal is for our kids to be responsible, happy, productive contributors to society, people who change their own little corner of the world — then when we’ve done what is right, what is true, what is best as parents — have we merely worked ourselves out of a job?

It may at times seem that way. But your job is still there. The description is just a little different.

Guess how I know? I still love and need my parents, and I haven’t lived with them for 23 years!

Take heart: Your grown children love you. They need you. They always, always will.

No matter how long it’s been since they’ve flown.

Grown and Flown September 17, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Great post. This expresses so well the confusion, pain, pride and relief that we feel as empty nesters. What a wonderful way to bring together so many points of view. www.grownandflown.com
Samantha French October 19, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Yes I agree a great post - an issue I really hadn't thought about or realized actually existed but makes so much sense. The loss must really be overwhelming. Thank you for bringing me more awareness to I can be more helpful/sensitive to my friend who will inevitably feel these emotions.
Donna J. Noble October 29, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Glad you found this one to be helpful, Samantha, and for caring for your friend, who definitely needs your support, love, and maybe even Sunday afternoon walks or chats over coffee. Friendships are one of life's greatest gifts...almost up there with our love for our kids. :-)


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