Every married couple with children knows that someday they will be left with what Americans like to call an “empty nest”. It happens in the natural course of family life. Children are born, they grow up and eventually their own dreams and desires take them outside of the protection provided for them by their parents. The children move on to go to college, find a job, get married and establish “nests” of their own. Whether they realize it or not, behind them these children will leave their much loved parents with an empty nest. Even though all parents know that the day will eventually come, when that last child moves out, parents still seem amazed . While friends warned me of the sadness and melancholia that was bound to accompany the arrival of my own empty nest phenomenon, I was instead, rather pleasantly surprised at how an empty nest changed my life.
1. I can find things When you have a house full of children as I did, the experience of living in a confined space year after year can leave your head spinning. Children, I discovered during my years of active mothering, like to move things. As long as those moving activities are limited to their toys, books or games things are okay, but children grow up and get more curious and soon things that really don’t concern them suddenly have legs. Car keys, shopping lists, Mom and Dad’s magazines, start to roam about the house apparently on their own and are found in all manner of bizarre locations or not found again at all.
When children turn into teens, parents have a whole new set of experiences with items on the move. Suddenly the portable phone is under the couch, the ice cream is in the non-freezer section of the refrigerator and the bird bath, well, you haven’t found that yet. Teens just like to move things and they always seem to have some kind of lame excuse not just for the moving but for the forgetting to put back. For example: “Of course the phone is under the couch. I was lying down talking to someone and then I took a nap so I put the phone on the floor and ‘someone” must have kicked it under the couch”. It’s not that kids aren’t sorry for their misdemeanors, they would be if they recognized the disorganization that they cause as a problem. But they seldom see it that way.
When I began experiencing an empty nest I was prepared for having the “blues” and feeling like I was less in demand than when my kids were all still at home. Instead what I discovered was that how an empty nest changed my life was that for the first time in decades when I put something someplace I could count on it still being there twenty four hours later, exactly as I had left it. I marveled at the luxury of putting things in a place and having them stay put. Suddenly I could find things without a search warrant. If this was how an empty nest changed my life, then please show me more
The Phone Went Nearly Silent As amazing as it was visually for me to put things away and have them stay away, it was equally delightful in an auditory way to find that the peace and quiet of my home could stretch for more than the five to ten minutes between incoming calls which had been the habit for days at a time.
When you have teens, even pre-teens, the phone is always ringing. Even with computers and cell phones, the family phone still gets a workout if there are children still living at home. A phone ringing early on a Saturday morning meant someone had overslept soccer practice. A phone call during the school day might mean someone had to get picked up or not picked up or forgot their lunch or was in the Nurse’s office.
Not until our nest was officially emptied did I realize how few of the calls coming into the house had anything to do with the parents of these children. When they left they took with them the brief excitement that always attended the fact that there was a phone call but they also took all the commotion, the disruption and the arguments over usage that always surrounded the family phone. When I think of how an empty nest changed my life I can’ t help but smile at the delightful peace and quiet around the phone that I now enjoy and the fact that every time the phone rings now I can safely assume that on the other end is someone who wants to speak to me or my husband. How nice.
My husband and I could share control of all remotes. It’s a minor point, for sure, but emptying out the nest had the side effect of leaving my husband and I looking at each other wondering which one of us was in control of the television remote and the computer. Our children were so machine oriented that one of them was always in front of something and we had things to do, we convinced ourselves, so we let them use the “electrical stuff” without much interference from us. The only time we intervened was when they argued over turns. We sometimes used the computer or remote when they went out or late at night on school nights, so at least we learned how they worked.
When I found myself with an empty nest, I also found that I simultaneously was being launched on a power trip. There I was, remote in hand and eye on the computer. Which would I use first? My husband and I knew how to share and take turns so we really did have a chance to be in charge of one instrument or another. When the workday was over and we settled in for the evening sure I would think about the kids, and sure I missed them all, but as for how having an empty nest changed my life , I guess I would have to say that among other things it gave me a new sense of personal control and power.
I began to have meaningful adult conversations with my children An empty nest for me meant no more kids in the house but it signaled not just the change of residence my children were experiencing, it was a clear reminder that they were growing, no had grown, up. They had moved on with their lives as I hoped they would and what was unfolding was a whole new dimension of my relationships with my children.
When I talked to them now, my time would be limited, conversations had to matter because there were fewer of them. And so what I discovered was that more and more I began to have meaningful conversations with my children about substantive issues. I found that they had real adult opinions and the ability to express themselves clearly and succinctly. I looked forward to talking with my children because conversations were no longer about taking out the trash or getting home on time, but were more likely to center on world issues or domestic politics. Having these wonderful adults to talk to on the phone or on line or in person was something to truly look forward to.
In part my friends were right. Having an empty nest has changed my life and I won’t deny that it can be tough at times. We all miss what used to be. But if I start to feel even the slightest bit of regret, I just remember that if the nest had never been emptied I might never have discovered how well my “little birds” could fly. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.