NO CRYING IN THE NEST

A woman, younger than me, has no children. So she asks: “What is empty nest syndrome?” The subtext is “why” because we all know the “what.”

I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and an adorable husband.

The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility.  Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

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My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the amazing clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the others to see that this clothing was the finest I’d ever own. All other garments would subsequently pale in comparison.

She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me books, lots of books. Not the books my friends and schoolmates read, but grown-up stuff. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.

It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives of our own.

Mom1973PaintI doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.

Nor did I. Of course, mine kept coming back alone and then with the entire family so I could only yearn for an emptier nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? The thunder of big ones?

Should I? Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of ones adult children more than little kids? I love having real conversations with grownups who look eerily like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.

Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefers babies and little kids to adults. They don’t want the kids to become independent. They need to be needed. They need to nurture.

Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time or forever. They shouldn’t, anyhow. After a certain point in time, their drive for separateness should overtake their nurturing needs. The drive to be independent should become primary. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help them achieve that. We won’t be here forever. They will need to walk on without us.

An empty nest is one in which you don’t need to do a  load of laundry a day. A house in which the sink isn’t always full and you can park your car where you want it. A home where family dinners are a happy event when everyone is glad to see each other and has stuff to share.

Those extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all that stuff you seem to have collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own, there’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s just the time when your kids grow up and all the work you did to raise them right pays off — for them and you.

Adult children are great. If you need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.

If you did it right, your kids will always love you … but not always need you.

32 thoughts on “NO CRYING IN THE NEST

  1. I appreciate your words. I find myself transitioning into this time of my life, and I eagerly look forward to all of the benefits that you mentioned that come from having the kids fly the nest. I think the hardest part right now is not knowing if we’ve done it right. Their fierce drive for independence has made me feel pushed aside. Sometimes it’s hard to have faith that they will come back around to enjoying our company.

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  2. I must be lacking mother instincts some how as I was the helpful one for my kids to find somewhere to live, or never stood in their way when they wanted to go. I love my empty nest. It is always there for them, but they now have their own nest to polster. I flew the nest at the age of 20 and never returned. Now that was a problem for my mum, but she got over it. Dad never said anything, as usual. They just all thought I would be back after a few weeks. The weeks have now become 50 years and mum and dad are no longer there.

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    • I am thrilled to finally have the house to ourselves. It’s just that mine keep coming back. We are the default housing when other systems fail or they are between apartments, or temporarily broke or whatever. But for now, we get to live in a quiet and relatively clean house. YES!

      I flew at 17 and never looked back either.

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  3. Very true Marilyn. Our role as parentws is to bring up children so that they become independent adults who appreciate what you did for them. I have just spent the weekend with my daughter in Wellington (she turns 21 soon) and I am so happy to see that she is a well adjusted and confident adult. My son is moving in that direction too. He is with me for one more year and then he is on his own and I will then celebrate my freedom. I myself left home at 17 and that was such a relief.

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  4. My son moved into his first flat a few months ago and we are all happier because of it. He has always been independent and really needed the chance to prove himself. For me the empty nest is about a full fridge, an empty laundry basket, cooking what I want to eat and visits from an interesting adult who makes me laugh. Like Raewyn, I feel like I’ve probably done my job as a parent well enough.

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  5. Enjoying the empty nest, though we’re more than happy to share it with kitty Midnight! Love business of visits from the kids and grands (who are now grown). But, oh how sweet just to put up my feet and relax whenever I want. 🙂

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  6. I love my empty nest. I can do what I want, when I want, and need to take care of only me. My kids know I would take them back in an emergency, but I’m comfortable in the knowledge that they have homes of their own now and won’t likely need mine.

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  7. 100% right, Marilyn. Our two – Daughter aged 42, Son aged 39, were here on Sunday. Son arrived with a joint of beef and cooked us all a roast dinner and we had a great time together – four well adjusted adults enjoying each others’ company and catching up. We put in a lot of hard work when they were kids, but it has been repaid so many times.

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  8. Love this! Im a fledgling empty nester; my offspring keep coming back! How long before I can turn one of their bedrooms into my own sanctuary??

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    • It was suggested to me just before they all came back for a decade that I brick up the spare rooms. Otherwise? Good luck with that. i’m still fending off people who want to come live here. These days, homeless friends of my granddaughter. The current applicant wants to trade services for a place to live. And he says he’s a really good cook. THAT might actually tempt me. ANYTHING to get out of the kitchen 😉

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  9. You make an excellent point. I think as a mother I do need to be needed, but I am adjusting to a new way of looking at things. Kids don’t stay little forever but that’s okay because what they become is also great!

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    • Mother really encouraged my independence, so I encouraged my son. Working full time, it was a lot easier having an independent kid who could be (mostly)(usually) trusted to not do anything really stupid and (at least some of the time) do what he was supposed to do (homework). I worked a lot of hours. Yes, he had an afternoon “sitter” for post school until parents returned, but she wasn’t an enforcer, just a big sister and protector in case the house caught on fire or something. Times have changed. I think parents are over-protective and have become so fearful, they transmit their fear to their kids. That’s a pity, because you need a bit of bravery — even bravado — out there in the world. I don’t know how you can survive without it.

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