Empty Nest Silver Lining

I have been preparing for the empty nest for two decades. I hated it when my boys went off to nursery school. I was not one of those mothers who thought sleep away summer camp was a great idea. So when two of my three children went off to college in quick succession, I feared that this might not go very well. For me.

Empty nest silver lining

As I moved them into their dorm rooms, I just about held it together, yet I drove away from each of their schools with tears streaming down my face. I was sad for me but more I was sad for our family. Many moments of unalterable change are not apparent until long after the moment has passed. Within ten steps of walking away from my sons’ dorm rooms I knew our family had changed. Forever.

Friends told me how great it was when their kids had left home and how much they actually enjoyed their empty nests. They assured me that I would feel enormous pride watching them become independent adults. They promised me that, in time, this pride would outweigh the sadness. Not for one second did I believe the urgings of my wise friends, but in the spirit of seeking the elusive silver lining I have started my list:

1. Discovered youngest child

Finally discovered my youngest child who had been buried under a pile of loud large older brothers. Turns out he is a charming kid and I am glad I got to meet him once the crowd had dispersed.

2. Fewer worries

I would like to worry where my older boys are at night and when they will be home. Although I would like to obsess on every scary thing that can go wrong, it simply isn’t practical with them living in other cities. So my worrying load has been lightened considerably.

3. Reclaimed car

My car seat is always adjusted to my shorter legs and the radio station is at a decibel level appropriate for the human ear. I never turn my car’s ignition and hear hiphop.

4. No dirty dishes

When I wake up in the morning my kitchen looks much as I left it, not as if someone detonated a bomb that spread food and dirty dishes onto every conceivable surface…and then went to sleep.

5. Money’s worth

My sons are on all-you-can-eat meal plans in their dorms and are undoubtedly eating more than I have paid for. I am sure that I am making money off this arrangement.

6. Appreciation for home

When they are home their tone has changed entirely. They have gone from complaining about the one thing I forgot to get at the grocery store to marveling at the cornucopia that is my refrigerator. Home is full of newfound marvels (e.g. clean sheets, real coffee, Ben and Jerry’s, and cars with full tanks of gas) and I have been transformed from “she who nags” to purveyor of those marvels. Think I traded up.

7. Changed perspective

I see my children with new eyes. When they were home everyday I sometimes failed to notice the kindness one of them showed or the beautiful twist of a smile, but when they return they are writ large, themselves but even better.

8. Hello, friends!

I fear my friends were wrong, that life without my children is not a better version of life with them.  But, those wonderful women that I love? The ones that gave me all this great advice?  I have a lot more time to spend with them now.



  1. says

    So true. While I echo your fear that things “might not go well – for me”, your post reminded me to focus on the silver lining, which is what I will attempt to do when I drop my youngest off at college this week. It’s hard to believe that my husband and I are soon to be empty nesters – it all went so fast!

    • KathyKate says

      It’s now October 18 and I still have this ache of sadness that my eldest son is no longer in the house. I still get teary thinking about his absence; missing cooking large amounts of food for him, traveling to his many sporting events, nagging him to finish his homework. I’m happy for him, but I look forward to the day the ache goes away. Thanks for your insights. I can’t wait to continue reading your blog and sharing the experiences.

  2. says

    beautifully written and heartfelt post and one I needed to read about now–my youngest son went back to college a week early and things are not going too well for him and I am suffering a bit, but I know when classes begin, things will get better (I hope). thank you for this –

  3. says

    It’s true, the empty nest welcomes home for visits far more appreciative and friendly children than initially left home. Just beware the boomerang kids…adults who act perfectly mature and normal in the real world, but suddenly transform back to bickering children when seated on your family room sofa. Ooooh I feel a blog post coming on!

  4. says

    Ahhh, I do love the empty nest. Have had it on and off for the last four years!

    That being said, my favorite silver lining moment is watching them become the people that they are (not who I wanted them to be!) And being so very proud of their choice of careers, friends, beliefs. I know it’s not over yet, but all those years of lost sleep, fervent prayers, and backpack checklists seem well worth it now.

    I still do miss loading them all in the car for summer swimming lessons or park adventures, I don’t miss the mess (#3Boys) or the drama (#1Girl).

    My husband and I smile (for the moment) and say, “Job well done.”

  5. says

    this is so perfect…you’re spot on from start to finish. every point, every sentence resonated with this empty nest mom. what to do but blog? exactly why I started too.

  6. Nancy Davis Kho says

    This is still four years off for me but I know how fast that day will arrive. Glad to read this and remember that her absence will be at least slightly offset by a cleaner kitchen and a restoration of my stature as a Marvelous Mom!

  7. says

    A lovely post, and a great reminder: it’s not a tragedy when our kids leave, it’s a victory. Change can be tricky, but we need to be open to all that it brings!

  8. says

    I can so relate! It is hard to let them go, but at the same time, it is reassuring to see them blossom and grow. Which means we’ve done our jobs well. :)

  9. says

    Even at my stage, (oldest 13, youngest 5), I appreciate this post! Helped me recognize some of what I’m in right now, looking forward to the ever-changing and shifting relationships with my boys. It never just stays the same, does it?

  10. says

    Beautifully put!
    Like you I was profoundly skeptical when friends promised me that one day I would enjoy my empty nest. May I add one item to your list?
    There is nothing quite as wonderful as anticipating a returning child, even if he is only coming for dinner! I am usually dancing on air for days leading up to a visit.

  11. says

    Great post! And there’s that lump back in my throat again…

  12. Jennifer Comet Wagner says

    If you ever forget about these benefits, just wait until your child moves back in after college (my older son didn’t need to buy my younger son just graduated in May and is still living with us). I completely forget how many more groceries I needed to buy and how much more laundry and dishes there would be. And then there is the worrying. Even though my son is 23, when he is living with me it is difficult to not at least be concerned when I don’t see him for hours on end.

  13. says

    I loved this post so much, I had to post it on my FB wall and pass it on. My son is a senior in high school this year, but all his best friends since preschool are a year ahead of him and graduated this year. I have an inkling of what you are going through (by way of my friends) but know I’ll be in the thick of it a year from now. Thanks for such a great post!

    • says

      You are so kind to do that…thanks. Good luck with senior year and all the changes it brings to your family. It is a year flooded with pride and memories.

  14. says

    Lovely, Lisa. Ditto, to everything you’ve said. I’d like to add one more…something you and I have spoken about recently: while they’re gone I sometimes ask myself whether I’m still a mom, and when they return, I am back to being one. And the feeling is wonderful!

  15. Gabby says

    Well said. I love seeing who my children are becoming.

  16. Steve swartzman says

    Sounds like you’re still trying to convince yourself of the merits. If and when you do find a compelling benefit, I’ll be anxious to hear it. Until then, we’re planning to send the boys to college near home.

  17. says

    Excellent! I just tweeted and shared on Facebook for all of my friends who are having a rough week without their college students.

    • says

      You are so kind to do that, nothing a writer loves more than to see her work shared. The first few weeks are the toughest, then there is a lull when you think you are used to it and then they are home. Think the college school year is so short out of sympathy for parents.

  18. says

    truer words…it does seem impossible that it will get better but the little lists help and moving up to purveyor of all marvels is kind of awesome as well. still being mom but being seen with new eyes takes the sting out of the leaving and opens up so many new possibilities with your children. i don’t know about your house, but when they came home, my house became a diary of what they’d done and eaten all day. they hadn’t grown up THAT much.

    • says

      Seriously my kids are a complete mess. I can trace their every movement by the trail of clothing, food, papers and junk they leave in their wake. Bad parenting, I suspect.

      • says

        it has nothing to do with bad parenting. somehow they associate “mess” & “home”. i received so much criticism from my family because they were “slobs” or didn’t “do chores without complaining” and because of that they would come to no good end. one day, i responded by saying “what you think is important for them to learn, they can learn in prison-how to clean a bathroom, mop a floor, do laundry. I’m trying to be a full time mom who has to work and i want them to learn compassion and personal responsibility and the joys that come from simple things” never heard another word! while i don’t clean up the messes happily, i do think: hmmm-i’m living the law of unintended consequences.

  19. says

    So glad to have read this post. I have been nervous about how I’ll feel when my daughter goes off to college, but this leaves me feeling hopeful!

  20. Tamera Beardsley says

    Oh such an agreeable post! i have spent the last two years looking for the silver lining as my nest begins to empty…I had to scale back though…as I got so excited at my list… and then…. realized I had at least two more years left…as my youngest is just beginning his junior year!

    Blogging during this time has made me be able to put back the pieces in my life…pieces that were just about me. It has given me both direction and connection…yes blogging is truly the rationale choice….

  21. says

    Sweet and true post. No. 6 is one of the most silver of linings. Such a bittersweet time. Savor it. These beautiful posts will ensure you never forget.

  22. says

    Loved this post. So true…when my daughter left for college 9 1/2 hours away and my son moved to Spain, I thought my heart would break. I worried (needlessly, as it turns out) about whether I gave them the tools they needed to succeed on their own and what life would be like for me without them under the same roof. We now have one son left — a 14-year-old — who we like to joke “gets the full brunt of our parenting.”

    • says

      Thank you. One of the changes we had not realized at first was how difficult the separation would be on the siblings…how is your youngest adapting to being and only child? The last thing my youngest wanted was all of the parental attention!

  23. DarleneMAM says

    I have a newly emptied nest. And I appreciate your post. Thanks.

  24. says

    I sent my oldest off to college two months ago and the separation is going substantially better than I anticipated because she is so happy. Hearing about her efforts to be part of a new community and thriving in the challenge just warms my heart. It’s heard to be sad in the face of such excitement.

  25. KathyKate says

    It’s now October 18 and I still have this ache of sadness that my eldest son is no longer in the house. I still get teary thinking about his absence; missing cooking large amounts of food for him, traveling to his many sporting events, nagging him to finish his homework. I’m happy for him, but I look forward to the day the ache goes away. Thanks for your insights. I can’t wait to continue reading your blog and sharing the experiences.

    • says

      We are so glad that you are here to share this with us. Such a big transition in our family’s lives. Ups and downs, happy for them, missing them. For us it has been so much easier sharing the experience with those who have reached our on this blog.

  26. Jennifer says

    I went 4 wks thinking I was doing better well, when my son went off to college….across the states. Now I am one big mess. Crying thru out the day, wondering if it will get better.

    • says

      How we understand! While it does seem to get a bit better the missing our kids never seems to go away. Cannot tell you how glad we are that you are here.


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