Martha Handler, a guest blogger, writes: The kids have all grown and flown, as the last of our four headed off to college this past fall, and I find myself repeatedly being asked, “How is it being an empty nester?” While I’m extremely supportive and understanding of my friends who find this transition period difficult, if I’m being perfectly honest, for me, the empty nest feels great.
My career as a full-time mom began over twenty-three years ago and, I think most would agree, that’s a long time for any career to last. So, while I loved every minute of it (lol), I’m actually very excited about what lays ahead. I’m still sorting out exactly what that will entail, but for now I’m enjoying the empty nest.
My day is now considerably longer because it no longer ends when the school-closing bell rings. I can schedule appointments and be assured that I won’t have to cancel at the last minute because I was up all night trying to stop my kid from scratching his chicken pox or because I have to abandon my plans to retrieve a child who’s suddenly come down with stomach flu.
I can now enjoy long, carefree evenings out with my husband and our friends without worrying that I’ll receive a text mid-dinner that says “I’m going to flunk my biology test tomorrow if you don’t come home and help me understand the difference between a molecule and a macromolecule,” or “I have to bring homemade Spanish cookies to class tomorrow because I need the extra credit points. Don’t worry – I have the recipe and I would bake them myself but I can’t even pronounce the ingredients. If I fall asleep before you get home, could you just go ahead and make them for me? Thx. You’re the best.” (Full disclosure – I added that last sentence as I have to many of their texts over the years because although I’m sure they were thinking it, they often forgot to include it!)
And while it’s true that ‘once a mother, always a mother’ and ‘you’re only as happy as your least happy child,’ the difference now is that the immediacy of their situations has been dialed way down. I’ll happily read their college papers (if given the opportunity), but I’ll no longer make edits or provide commentary because I know they have TA’s and resource centers for that (and besides, they should damn well know how to write a decent paper by the time they get to college!) And I’ll lend an ear as they gripe about their unfair professors or horrible bosses, but I’ll no longer give them advice (unless, of course, they ask) because I trust that by now they know best when to stand their ground and when to let it be.
My day-to-day job of nurturing, tutoring, teaching, disciplining (or torturing as my kids would describe it), has officially ended. And let’s face it, if we haven’t succeeded in instilling morals and values in our kids in the eighteen years they lived under our roof, it’s doubtful we’ll make much of a dent going forward. So, while my husband and I will continue to love and support them – we’ll now be doing our cheerleading from the sidelines.
Simply put, I’m embracing my empty nest the same way I’ve tried to embrace every stage of my kids’ development. I found them cuddly and adorable as infants, fun and precocious as toddlers, inquisitive and confused as middle-schoolers and challenging and bewildering as high-schoolers. And while I always enjoyed each new phase better than the last, I’m honestly finding the young adult phase to be the most fulfilling and rewarding of them all.
The “heavy lifting” is coming to a close and now we can sit back (ha ha) and begin to enjoy these four wonderful young adults. Instead of them whispering under their breaths that we don’t know what we’re talking about or we’re just plain wrong, they’re now asking us for advice, sharing their concerns, and even apologizing for their past indiscretions. We’ve somehow miraculously transformed from being really stupid to being really smart – and what’s not to like about that!
Martha Handler is a freelance writer who splits her time between Westchester and Tribeca, New York. Her free time is spent traveling, protecting wolves (as president of the board of the Wolf Conservation Center) and watching silly animal videos on Youtube.