My older son is finishing his first semester in college, and my younger one is just a few steps behind, eagerly waiting for his acceptance letters this spring. When it first hit me that soon both boys would be living away from home and my nest would be empty, it brought tears to my eyes.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. Now what?
As I started to reflect, I realized there were some good things about this new stage of life I was walking into.
Upside to my empty nest
1. I’ll get to be a mentor, not a prison warden
No more checking for missing homework, grilling them about where they’re going or when they’re coming home. Arguments about dating, parties, and who they’re spending time with will no longer dominate my thoughts. I’ll be blissfully unaware when they went to bed whether they ate five servings of fruits and vegetables daily or whether that pile of clothes on the floor was clean or dirty.
I hope they’ll confide in me about their new adventures, friends, and challenges. I’ll offer encouragement, point them to resources and send care packages with cookies. If they ask for my opinion or want some advice, I’ll respond in a heartbeat, but it’s no longer my job to patrol, police, or punish — what a relief.
2. There will always be just the right amount of coffee
Every night my husband asks, “who wants coffee in the morning?” He thoughtfully prepares the coffee and sets the timer, but somehow in the morning scramble, there never seems to be the right amount. Either the pot is empty when I get there, or an ‘oops — I overslept’ kid doesn’t drink his share, and I end up pouring it out, neither of which makes me happy.
I have a friend with the same problem, and here’s how she copes: her son grabs a Keurig before school, her husband makes a cup of French press, and her daughter makes an espresso. After they leave, she peacefully makes her own Keurig. Her guaranteed morning java is worth the counter space that three coffee makers require. I’m hoping my husband and I can sort it out next year with just one.
I’m sure there were a few good nights of sleep after nursing, the toddler nightmare years, and before my teenage years, but it’s hard to remember. When they’re no longer at home, I won’t be listening for the door to chime at midnight or waking at 1 a.m. and wondering if everyone is home. I won’t jump out of bed in the middle of the night thinking the kitchen is on fire when someone has late-night grilled cheese. I might wake and worry a little bit initially, but I think there is something to the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” I hope it’s true, at least at 2 a.m.
4. Every night is date night
Our youngest going to college coincides with my husband’s unexpected early retirement. Can you say second honeymoon? It’s not that we didn’t go on dates when the kids were at home, but I’m hoping for a little more spontaneity: weekend getaways, lazy Sundays, and mid-week dates. I’m looking forward to a season where we can focus on the two of us again without feeling guilty.
5. I can have salad for dinner
Or tofu or leftovers, all my always-hungry boys didn’t consider worthy of a dinnertime meal. I did my best to have a hearty, inviting meal on the table every night that we were home together, and I’m grateful for that time. But coming up with something fresh and delicious every night? I have done that 4,420 times already. (I didn’t count the baby food years, which I should have because those were some of the most challenging). My husband and I can go out for sushi or have Trader Joe’s lasagna with a glass of wine. Or two.
6. My kitchen counter will be clean (most of the time)
The college mail has slowed to a trickle, and the FAFSA, CSS, and yearbook order forms have been filed. Next year the collection of water bottles, smoothie shakers, and pre-workout mix will no longer be cluttering up the counter. The polished granite will stay clean, and there will be plenty of room for my orchids and a few candles. The mason jar that stands ready to welcome hungry teens with chocolate chip cookies will be replaced with my favorite vegan breakfast cookies.
7. I want to miss them
My college freshman just came home for Thanksgiving. What a sweet gift to wake up the following day and realize he was asleep in our house. It was like Christmas came early. I can’t wait to feel enough separation to appreciate the fantastic young men they have become and miss them like crazy instead of looking at them and wondering if they’re ever going to cut their hair.
I’m excited about the new opportunities this season will bring me, but you know what I’m looking forward to the most? I can’t wait to see my sons embrace their passions, use their God-given talents and form new relationships away from our family. I’ve given them all the love, guidance, and encouragement I can give. It’s time to let go and watch them soar. It’s going to be amazing.
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