Technically, I don’t yet have an empty nest. One of my college graduates is still living at home, but with the amount of time I get to spend with her, it’s really the same thing. The oldest has her own apartment, and the younger two are both in college (one started this past August). Knowing my life was going to change dramatically, my friends and family started to show concern last spring. I assured them all I would be fine. I was right, but there have been several things that I didn’t expect about my empty nest.
9 Things That Have Surprised Me About My Empty Nest
1. I sometimes wander about, wondering what I should do
Remember when your kids were small and you had fifteen minutes to yourself? Yeah, me either. Even when they were all in school, my time alone was rarely mine, as there was so much to pack into those few hours before they would be home again. Although I still have some of the same tasks to do, I don’t have to pack them into a few select hours. Now what were all those things I didn’t have time for over the years?
2. I spend less time in the car
My kids were active, but not excessively so. Living close to everything, it never seemed like much to pick them up or drop them off places. Apparently, all those five-minute trips added up. Now, besides going to the grocery store, I find myself with few reasons to get in the car at all. The magazines I kept stashed to keep me busy while waiting at practices or those times I showed up early for pick ups have gone unread; the snacks I kept on hand for times I had no time to go home for a meal have gotten stale.
3. How little I miss being involved in school activities
After spending 20 years as a regular volunteer for in and out-of-school events and activities, I thought it would be difficult, that I would experience a sort of “withdrawal” from the busyness and knowing what was going on in the schools. Instead, I am oblivious to the school calendar and easily ignore the sounds of the school bus and people at the corner bus stop. The school year has gone on without me, and that is okay; actually I am really liking the fact that my schedule has changed.
4. I miss the witching hour
All parents dread that time before dinner; when you are attempting to provide something for the little darlings to eat (hopefully something most of them will eat). Without fail, one of them needs something, NOW. Siblings who were just playing nicely together turn on each other. Children who did not want a snack right after school are now complaining they will die if they don’t get to eat, NOW. Attempting multitasking at this time of day is likely to result in food burned beyond recognition, as well as yelling, tears and tantrums (sometimes the kids do these things too). Nowadays, all is quiet, eerily so. Making dinner without solving conflict at the same time feels incomplete. There is nothing to do between the time something goes on the stove and it is done cooking. Worse, there is no one to talk to.
5. How much less food we need
A month after the college drop offs, I discovered a surplus of food in my kitchen. I knew there were fewer mouths to feed and had adjusted my buying habits (honest!) Yet, somehow, there was still too much food. It has taken a couple of months, but I think I have figured out how to buy groceries again. Of course, this will have to change again when they come back for break (and I will likely have the opposite problem.) Feeding less is not new to me; this is my fourth time sending a child to college. But somehow, planning meals and cooking for two most nights (three or four on occasion) has become a challenge. This surplus has forced me to rethink meals. My attempts to use up the extra stuff have resulted in some interesting combinations. As a bonus, this forced creativity has helped to fill up the aforementioned witching hour.
6. How much faster time goes
With two less schedules to coordinate, I thought there would be time to spare. When people ask about our “empty nest” I have to tell them that we have never been busier. Having spent fall Saturdays on soccer sidelines for the past 16 years, I had anticipated free weekends and dreamed of ways to fill them. Instead, they managed to fill themselves. Between mid August and Thanksgiving we had exactly two unplanned weekends. This year, college Parents’ Weekends truly became weekend affairs, and must-do house projects popped up. Dreams of dinner parties and romantic weekends away remain on the wish list.
7. Articles about the empty nest make me cry
As I have gotten older, I have turned into a mushball. We used to laugh at my mom for crying at sentimental Hallmark commercials. Now I do it too. I tear up at all sorts of things. My kids notice, roll their eyes and smile. Worse, I have been known to sit at my computer, alone in a room, sobbing at something I just read about a parent and their no-longer-in-the-household child. I know I shouldn’t read those articles, but I can’t help myself. Besides, they help me remember that I am not alone; lots of other parents are feeling the same way.
[More of our favorite essays from authors whose kids have grown and flown here. ]
8. The time I DO get to spend with my kids has been better
On the plus side, I have been able to be fully present with my kids when spending time with them. There are no looming events to get to, so I am more relaxed and available for them. We can spend time doing things or just chatting, knowing that there is no other place I need to be or get someone else to. This also benefits my older children who have graduated from college. There is no one here that needs me for anything other than love and support (and occasionally advice). This means we can enjoy the time together, without the demands of the clock.
9. I have changed too
I will always be Mom, but I am no longer defined by the title. I have embarked on a new adventure and get to explore new interests and options. My days are no longer filled with school lunches, chaperoning, chauffeuring and refereeing disagreements. I get to decide what to do with my time. I can go away with my husband with virtually no planning (just pack and call the kennel). I am seeing things through new eyes; it feels like the world has opened up. It is exciting and sometimes scary. I am figuring out who I am as a person. I am liking this part best of all.