My Nest Did Not Empty; I left It

My nest did not empty; I left it.

The youngest of my three children graduated from high school in June. In July, my husband and I set off on a six-month adventure, traveling around the country in a 20-foot travel trailer. The “kids” were not coming. They had their lives to live and none of them were too keen on sharing a 100 square feet trailer space with mom, dad and the dogs for six months.

couple in travel trailer
None of our kids wanted to share a 100 square feet trailer space with us and the dogs for six months.

When Mom and Dad are the Ones to Leave the Nest

When my husband and I prepared to begin our travels, we closed up shop in the Connecticut town where my son and two daughters were mostly raised. We sold our house and gave away, sold or stored the majority of our “stuff.”  I was so involved in the planning and the cleaning out that I was stupidly taken by surprise when my middle daughter told me that she cried when she saw the house listed for sale on Zillow.

Of course she was sad. I was seeing the whole process of cleaning out and selling the house through the self-centered lens of my own excitement. I was ready to go. I didn’t want to sit in this big house missing the days when it was full of crafts, and read-alouds, and cookie baking. My middle daughter was in her final undergraduate year, and had been coming and going for a few years now (mostly going). I underestimated the loss for her.

My oldest daughter, living on her own out-of-state, told me that no place else we lived would be ‘home’ to her.  Ouch. “Anywhere Dad and I live is your home,” I told her, trying to make myself feel better about the whole thing. “Mom,” she explained patiently, “Anywhere else you live will be your house, and I know I can always go there but it’s not the same.”

Despite their feelings of loss at the sale of the house, my daughters were fairly well launched. We had thought, and planned, that my high-school graduate son would be going off to college at the same time that we left on our adventure, so  the leave taking would be happening on both sides. We imagined that we’d settle him into a college dorm and then hit the road.

But you know what happens to the best laid plans. My son chose not to go to college.  He was sick of school, had a job that he liked, the pay was decent, and they would give him full time hours. So we prepared to leave, and he moved in with his 22-year-old sister and her roomies in a nearby town.

The hard-core worry struck me about 6 weeks before our leaving date. Here’s what I worried about:


But to be more specific:

• Was this a crazy plan that I would regret?
• Would my son keep on top of having clean scrubs for his work at a Vet clinic? (I did not generally do his laundry but sometimes helped him out in a pinch.)
• Would he lose his work name badge? (which I picked up off the floor or from the washer sometimes)
• What would he eat?  (He never ate well even at home, but now, without me cooking for him at least sometimes?)
• Was this a crazy plan and could I really go?
• Would he remember where his winter coat was?
• Would he communicate with his roommates? (one of them being his sister!)
• Would he leave his wet towels on the floor until they got moldy?
• Would he be lonely? (most of his friends were going away)
• Was this a crazy idea and could I talk my husband into ditching the plan?

There’s more but I won’t keep going. You get the idea.

Many of these worries would have been similar even if I stayed home and he left for college. But the fact that it was us, the parents, that were leaving, fueled the worry and topped it off with guilt.

My daughter, the one he was going to live with, told me, “mom, he’ll be fine. Yes, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

My husband said, “we never see him anyway.”

So we left. It went better than I expected. I still worried, but I also had amazing adventures, and the worry was manageable. I did oh-so sharply miss them sometimes. And of course, I tried to avoid the social media posts about kids coming home for Thanksgiving. We kept in touch in many ways (thank you technology), including gathering for Christmas in our old hometown in coastal Southern California.

I don’t know if my son’s scrubs stayed clean or if he picked up his damp towels off the floor. It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of thing.

I do know that once when we I called, I interrupted him in the middle of changing his sheets, something he never did when I was around. I do know that he got a promotion at work, even without me there to pick up his name tag off the floor. I do know that he talked his landlord into allowing him to keep a rescue kitten who became the love of his life. And, when we returned from our adventure, and rented a house nearby, he was all-in-one piece and more than a little more mature.

I also know that as my life expanded, so did my relationship to my grown-up, growing-up kids. I figured out that I could make a nest anywhere- full of kids, empty of kids, stationary or rolling. I’m more at ease about the changes to come, as my beloved offspring do more and more of their lives without me at the center and I do more of mine without them always in the center.

About Laura Cleary

Laura Cleary, LMSW is a community social worker, parent coach, freelance writer and mom of three young adults. You can reach her at and find out about her parent coaching at Parenting the Big Kids

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