Celebrating the Empty Nest

I have been privileged to meet a number of remarkable people, through the minimalist blogging community–many of whom have become as close as any friends that I have in “real life.”  Lois Field is one such friend.  She brings such a passion to her life and to her writing, and I know you will enjoy this guest post she has written on celebrating this often-feared time in a parent’s life.  Please check out Lois’s blog, Living Simply Free–not just because I’ve written a guest post on bicycle commuting for today, but also because Lois’s combination of lightheartedness and calls to action will keep you coming back, to enjoy her writing.

There are many stages we go through in life. Most of these stages take a normal progression of one step added to another. When we move out of our childhood homes as adults we often rent furnished or semi furnished apartments, as after aquiring beds, couches, and other necessities we move up to the unfurnished option. With marriage, we add even more and maybe buy homes at this point. Then we start our families, with growing families we add a few more things to our lives and possessions.

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Then we are faced with the greatest challenge of all. Our children move out and we face that often dreaded phenomenon – the empty nest. It is at this point that life throws us a curve ball. No longer do we need to add to our possessions we now can subtract. Yet, this subtracting is a foreign concept to us, it isn’t something we have learned to do over the course of our lives thus far.

Lillian Breslow Rubin was quoted as saying, “How then can we account for the persistence of the myth that inside the empty nest lives a shattered and depressed shell of a woman–a woman in constant pain because her children no longer live under her roof? Is it possible that a notion so pervasive is, in fact, just a myth? “

This myth causes many to fear letting go of their children, and being forced to face life minus the main role they have played for 18 or more years, yet it doesn’t have to be. This is the time we get to take a good look at what we want the rest of our lives to look like. To create a new role for ourselves. Were there experiences you alway wanted but put off? Now is the time to explore those dreams.

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Christiane Northrup believes this period in our lives should not be seen as “game over” but rather “just the beginning” But beginning of what?

For 21 years I was known as my sons’ mother. I held a position on the local PTO, supervised many sleepovers and chauffered children to sporting events. My job had been to raise my children to find the best in themselves, to keep them healthy and prepare them for adulthood. My experiences led me to the question: Do we lose a piece of ourselves in the years we place the role of mother ahead of everything else?

I like to think I didn’t lose myself completely while I was raising my children, but it’s a fact of life that when I look back at my child rearing years I see that at some point all my friends became other mothers, usually of my children’s friends. Once our children were grown it was easy to see that even those friendships were strained to the breaking point. Where I had believed my friends and I shared more than our philosophy on raising children, that was not the case.

So the empty nest brought me face to face with too many things taking up space in my home, a home that had rooms rarely ever used, and changing dynamics in my friendships. I could hold on to the past or forge ahead and create something new and fresh for myself.

Sark considers herself a Wild Succulent Woman, definining this type of woman as “A woman of any age who feels free to fully express herself in every dimension of her life. To do this we need to break free of our “cages, boxes, stereotypes, categories, and captivity. It will involve standing tall, laughing loudy and being who we really are.

At this point we have a decision to make. Will we continue to live as we have been doing, living in the too big house, holding on to everything our children left behind and staying stuck in that role of mother or will we let go, live wild and find a whole new meaning for our lives?

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I decided to let go and forge a new life, a life I would be proud to call my own. I gave my children the opportunity to take any of the things they left behind, got rid of everything else and moved to a smaller home that fit my needs. I found new passions and forged new friendships. I love my children and my grandchildren, but my life doesn’t revolve around them, I have learned to put myself first and it feels good.

How about you? What will you do when facing an empty nest?

22 thoughts on “Celebrating the Empty Nest

  1. Hi Lois!
    I am not facing an empty nest yet (just the opposite, I am about to givebirth) but I see the importance of having things in your life other than your kids because they will not be here with me forever. I can imagine from your end it is really awesome to see the kind of adults your children have become and ineract with them on that level. I trynot to feel sad about my son becoming growing up, but feel the joy of the man he is becoming.
    Thank you for sharing your story. I love both of your blogs.

    • Hi Katie! I wish you the best in your delivery, while it’s been years I still remember everything from my 2 deliveries as if they happened yesterday. Yes, there is a fine line we need to walk in putting our children first (as we should because they need us so) and not losing ourselves and becoming one dimensional as just a mother.

      It is nice to see the adults my children have become, it is also heartbreaking to see them fail at things but again I need to walk that line of knowing it’s their life now and not trying to be a mom to the adults they are.

  2. Lois, this is so beautifully written. I should start by saying that we do not have children, so I have no idea what it would feel like to be facing the empty nest.

    That said, I think there are “those points” in adulthood where we look around and wonder, Is this really MY life? Is this what I envisioned? and we do begin to question all of the relationships in our lives. Sometimes this means certain relationships are enhanced and others drop off.

    What I connected with most in your post, aside from the sheer enjoyment of the reading, is the fact that you are able to love your family but not let your life revolve around them. I think one of the best things a parent, grandparent, friend, family member can offer another is that they live each day, having interests, and things to bring to the table when they do have the opportunity to be together! It sure beats sitting around the kitchen table bitching about what others are or are not doing! Thank you so much for sharing your story and writing here on Bethany’s site!

  3. Tammy, I often ask myself if I would have had children if I had understood the problems the growing population is causing. I love my family but think I may have made other choices.

    I agree, there are times in our lives we need to stop and reevaluate where we are and if this is the life we want to be leading, whether or not we have taken on the role of a mother.

    Probably the biggest separation I have found, outside of downsizing my life, has involved television. So many of the people I called my friends want to talk about the shows they are now watching, without a TV I have no idea what they are talking about, nor do I care to have a conversation on reality TV. The other has been the struggle within myself of watching these friends treat their adult children (those in their 30s) as if they were still minors. It’s an uncomfortable situation to watch.

    We have to have our own interests to be a complete person. Even a retired couple need time to pursue their own hobbies to have something fresh to bring back into the relationship.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your comments.

  4. nice article…
    re your comment “I wonder if I would have had children if …”..

    gosh Lois, am glad you did…I so enjoy reading about your exploits with grandchildren, and it so warms my heart at the kinds of things/kinds of life you are ever so gently teaching/encouraging in them….

    your blog Living Simply Free often brings a smile to me..

  5. Hi Lois–what a great article and very timely for myself. Today I am moving my youngest son (23) back in with me for 2 months. He has lived on his own since going away to University at age 17. My other son (25) has lived with me for the past 2 years-(he had been living with his father but his dad disappeared from his life.) In 2 months they will be moving out together and I will be faced with an empty nest. I look forward to this time. Knowing I have raised my sons well-they are bright, well-mannered, kind, compassionate and employed!! Over the past year or two we have changed our relationship from mom and son to more of a friendship. When they were growing up I explained to them that I was their mom not their best friend-they had friends as did I and I was their parent first and foremost. Today they have told me that it was one of the best things I could have ever said to them. They were also raised knowing I would be there for them and they were my number one priority but that my pursuits in life (school, friendships, hobbies, etc) were important as well and that a happy mom made a happy home.
    As we begin this next transition in our lives we are doing so with a healthy foundation which allows my sons and myself the chance to look at the moment and the future with great enthusiasm!

    • Lil, I believe we have many of the same views about parenting. I too told my children they could talk to me about anything, I would always be there for them,but I was their mother first and foremost, not their friend. Once they were adults they were in a position to better see why I raised them as I did and are thankful for it.

      How nice that your two boys are so close that they will be living together. I fear my boys would not easily coexist in the same home as their interests and personalities are so different. It’s the one thing that saddens me.

      It sounds like you will be entering that so called empty nest syndrome with a smile and enthusiasm for life we should all have.

  6. Hi Lois…what fun finding you over here on Bethany’s page! I REALLY liked this post and your openness about an issue that effects everyone. Your post helped me understand as a person without children why it is such a struggle for many women who become “empty nesters.” Those of us who have chosen a different path have never been able to “nest” the same way and have been challenged from the beginning to create a life that has purpose, meaning and happiness in another way. Yes, it is possible–for exactly the same reasons it is possible for a woman to successfully move past the empty nest. Of course not all childless couples do–any more than all childfull couples do. Ultimately, making our lives a celebration of possibility, hope, service, creativity and passion is so much more rewarding that acquiring stuff and then stressing ourselves trying to hold on to it even when it’s clearly time to let go (jobs, children, finances, appearance, etc….) Thanks for these thoughts and the reminders of a different way to live…. ~Kathy

    • Hello, Kathy, you know I was thinking of you when I wrote parts of this. I wondered if a childless person would enjoy reading about the empty nest, I never thought about the fact that you might now understand how some feel about their children leaving home, but like any other experience in life, until you experience it you have nothing to compare it to.

      Thank you for the sharing that childless couples also struggle in finding meaning in life. I do know for most couples of my generation, the decision to not have children brought criticism from family and friends, hope you didn’t have to face it, that brings another struggle for the couple.

      For me, the children leaving home was the easy part. I felt so much weight on my shoulders from being responsible for my boys that it was almost a relief not to have that responsibility any longer. I know that may not make sense to many, but I worried each day that I didn’t handle something properly or would fail them. Each decision we make as a parent will have a huge impact on the psyche of the child it is a heavy burden. I learned a lot about myself through those years and I love my boys but the pressure has been removed. Hope that makes sense.

  7. You know I love this post, Lois! 😉

    When I was PG, one of my friends gave me a book called “The Three Martini Playdate.” It was humorous, but had the serious message that, as mothers, we NEED to have a life outside of motherhood, so that when our kids leave, there will be something left. I have taken this to heart, with my sailing, writing, bicycling, etc. I think, already, this has helped my marriage, my friendships, and even my relationship with my daughter.

    • Bethany, how fortunate you were to have a friend give you that book. I believe parents today go too far in one direction or the other, they either make the children their entire lives or are selfish and don’t give enough of themselves to the parent-child relationship.

      Knowing you and all you do for yourself, and with your family, I just know Beanie is growing up with all the right messages, and you and hubby will be happier for it.

      Thanks for asking me to share here, it’s been a great experience.

  8. Lois! I just had to come over and read your guest post. Really well done my friend! I don’t know if I know what the empty nest thing is as I have no children. But I do know what it’s like to be at a crossroads wondering which way to go. Should I be for myself and do what I want for a change? Or should I go down the ‘conventional’ road, again. I went my own way, as I usually do. I am living my dream of writing, as you know and I don’t regret a bit of it. I have also downsized this year, less to dust and keep up with more time to write. A win-win situation! 🙂

    • Jackie, I’m so glad you stopped by. It had to be hard on you to go through all the questions and “pity” from others who find your childless life to be a sad thing. You have lived through so much, you deserve to live the life you want, not the one others believe you should live…so glad you chose to be you and forge your own path. 🙂

      Having downsized myself I know exactly what you mean about more time to do what you love, and less cleaning. Definitely a win-win for us friend.

  9. Interesting post Lois. I knew I was going to have only two children and I learned after the first was born, they are a borrowed gift for however long they stay with us. A moment or a lifetime. They never belonged to me nor do their lives. Mine is as important as theirs. I was privileged to parent them with love and discipline. I gave them grounding and wings. I expect nothing in return but have been blessed with their genuine love and caring. There was no empty nest here. I’ve enjoyed watching them build their own while I’ve made mine smaller. Not everyone needs or wants to have children. I always tell anyone who asks, You were given this one life. Enjoy every moment of it. Give where you can, love as much as possible but never live by guilt or regret. What a waste of a life. You did a wonderful joy with your kids and your grand children. The planet will not be hurt by them, only enhanced. We need more conscientious parents, not less children. Many coming in today will offer much in resolution to our difficulties. You did good here starting this conversation.

  10. Marlene, that is the only way to look at our children, as a gift we are responsible to look after for as long as they live with us, nothing more. We do not own them just because they came from our body or carry our genes. I wish more parents understood that, maybe there would be less custody fights and children could grow up in a loving environment instead. You and I are blessed to have their love still as a result. Thanks for visiting today.

    I think you did wonderfully by your children and set the perfect example for them. I hope they took to heart your lesson of living each day to the fullest.

  11. Good for you, Lois! We’ve got several years to go for an empty nest (though second-to-last just moved away for college this past Thursday), but we often chat about our plans: to move into a small house and travel around the country a few months a year in a truck with camper. That latter one sort of mortifies the kids, who think we should at least have a decent-sized camper!

  12. Christy, I think that sounds lovely. I have traveled quite a bit through the states, so year round travel would be too much for me at this point, but a few months out of the year would be just like an extended vacation yet bringing your second home with you. If you do it, your children may be mystified now but will soon get it. My children weren’t quite sure why I wanted a studio and thought it was too small. They questioned my living without a stove to live here, but as soon as I moved my things in and hung my art, they got it and now love this place almost as much as I do.

  13. I went to college. I got cancer. I survived cancer. I live in my too big house that I love. I am meeting new people. I am signed up for a jewelry class. I am an historical story teller. I write. I read, and I don’t feel guilty about it. I work with the developmentally disabled. When the last child moved out, it was a bit of a stutter step in my life, but my husband rediscovered each other. It is a golden time in our life, with a grandson we adore, and adult children who are doing beautiful things with their lives. Sometimes, I miss the kids (five of them) but mostly, I’m filled with wonder at what they have become. I am blessed.

  14. Thanks for writing this. I have three adult children, and I often say that raising adult children is harder than raising two-year-olds. We aren’t prepared for the empty nest and suddenly there we are with too much stuff, missing our children, but at the same time realizing that it is a new beginning for ourselves as well. I find myself wanting to be more mobile, to try new things, be authentically me. I find moments where I wonder if this is really ok. I find your words very encouraging.

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