When our first child left for college, it felt like a shift in our family dynamic–because it was. We went from six to five. It took some time to adjust to life without him there every day — to that empty seat at the dinner table. Still, we had three other kids at home, and we were super busy. I missed my son terribly, but I adapted fairly quickly.
To my surprise, each time one of my children has left home, it has been easier than before. I guess that’s because I soon realized that having kids in college does not mean the end of parenting and that big kids are a lot of fun. I sent my daughters off to college with comparative ease. But now here we are, in our last year with our last child, and I’m beginning to realize that this leaving will be different from all the others.
My youngest son spends a lot of time out of the house
As with his siblings, we don’t have a rule against going out on school nights as long as our son maintains his grades. He’s a pretty social guy, so it’s not uncommon for him to be out with friends as many as four or five nights a week. When he is home, he spends a lot of time in his room studying or practicing his guitar. So, it’s not like I’m going to miss the hours and hours we spend together.
The truth is, my husband and I don’t mind our son’s busy schedule. We know that this is normal behavior for a teen, and when he spends time with us, he is pleasant, talkative, and fun to be around. Besides, after 26 years of parenting, we are enjoying the quiet.
My husband and I are eager to do more traveling. We have a couple of hobbies we want to explore. And we are looking forward to having more time for just the two of us. All in all, I’d say we are excited about being empty nesters. We’re ready!
Why do I feel so much dread about the empty nest?
So, why do I sometimes have this crushing sense of dread that I didn’t have when my last couple of kids were high school seniors? I say sometimes because my sadness is by no means constant. It comes in waves, and often it takes me by surprise and takes my breath away.
The first time I felt it was in the middle of the night. Our son was staying at a friend’s house, but as I am wont to do, I woke up for no particular reason. I felt it almost instantly — the emptiness. I didn’t have to check to be sure our son wasn’t home. I could feel it.
When the last child leaves, I feel the absence of all of them
Sure, I felt my other children’s absences when they went to college, but it’s as if every time one of them left home, the others somehow took up some of the empty spaces in our home and our lives — not physically, but emotionally. But now, when our youngest is gone, even for just the night, I somehow feel the loss of all four of them more deeply. His absence makes theirs more real.
The sense of loss hits me at other times too. Sometimes when my husband and I are having dinner alone, I look around and see all the empty places at the table, and it doesn’t seem possible. Where are all my children? Shouldn’t they be here clamoring for a turn to tell us about their day? I feel it when I want to bake cookies, and there’s no one to fight over who gets to lick the spoon, or when I’m watching TV alone because family movie nights are a thing of the past.
Oddly, I feel it sometimes when I am tidying up. I pick up my son’s giant shoes or move his school books, and I wonder what happened to the Legos and the dolls. Where are the stuffed animals and the crayons? Soon my house will be even tidier and much, much quieter.
It wasn’t until I started to feel his absence that I realized my youngest has been filling in the spaces his older siblings left behind. So, who will fill the void when he leaves home? Nothing can — not trips, hobbies, or empty nest adventures. But that’s okay. Because having grown kids has opened up a whole new part of my heart — one where my children can also be my friends, and I can watch them become the people they were meant to be. And those empty spaces? That is where I will keep my memories and bring them out on the days I miss my children the most
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