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The Empty Nest - When Your Youngest or Only Child Moves Out

Updated on February 23, 2016
Lisa HW profile image

"Lisa" , a "social sciences enthusiast" and Mom of three grown kids, writes from personal experience/exposure and/or past research

Empty Nest or Free as a Bird?

As Your Nest Becomes Empty

Your youngest child is leaving home. Maybe he's headed off to live on campus and pursue those dreams you've always hoped he'd have. Instead he may be happily moving to his own apartment. You've known this day was coming for some time, and chances are you're as excited for your child as he is. As has been the case so often before in your role as a parent, you may find you have mixed emotions that come from what you want for your child and what is nice and comfortable for you.

Since most parents want their child to be happy, and since most understand that happiness comes from being independent, keeping in mind that your son or daughter is excited and happy to be starting a new phase of life is usually what makes this bittersweet time for parents a little less sad. With all the hustle and bustle of having someone move out there's often not much time for thinking about anything but the practicalities. Then the last box is carried to the car. You say your cheerful (or even tearful) "good-byes", and make plans to talk on the phone as soon as your child is settled in. Once the car goes off down the street, and you notice the silence of the house, if you don't cry you certainly may feel as if you're going to. Maybe you vacuum up whatever was left behind after the move. Maybe you think about when your son or daughter will be back to visit. You may remind yourself that you'll be in touch over the computer. One way or another the rest of the day passes, and you may believe that once this day of "good-byes" is over you'll have gotten through the worst of it.

The Melancholy You May Not Have Expected

What you may discover is that it is in the first days and weeks after a child leaves home when seemingly constant reminders of his absence mean that "the worst of it" wasn't necessarily the day he moved. You may be particularly aware of the fact that there's no longer music coming from his bedroom. His friends are no longer showing up in the kitchen or family room. At the grocery store you may find yourself reaching for his favorite food, only to realize you don't need to buy it now. You may be suddenly caught off guard when there's no need to leave the porch light on longer than you otherwise would. When the bathroom remains oddly as clean as you left it you may be both pleased and a little lonely. With each small thing that reminds you how things are different now, yet another small sense of wistfulness seems to be added to all the others. There's no doubt about it, there are things to get used to.

Some of those things, however, can be good things. They may be small things with which you no longer need to concern yourself, or they may be bigger things related to your own time and personal growth. While only time will take care of some of those day-to-day adjustments you may not have anticipated, being open to positive aspects of your new lifestyle can make the difference between feeling like your nest is empty and enjoying your new freedom.

Empty Nest or Free as a Bird - You Decide

As children grow, most parents learn that being a parent, and remaining close to one's children, has little to do with how much children need their parents. It's the day-to-day living that is most changed. How you view some of those smaller changes may be a first step in having a positive attitude about this new phase of life for you and your child.

Not needing to buy that special food item at the grocery store means spending less money on groceries. It also means having fewer groceries to carry in from the car. Not having music blaring out of that end bedroom can mean turning up the volume on your own music. Realizing there are fewer people or nobody for whom you need to be home to cook also means you can stay out as long as you like. That's a freedom you may not have had for a very long time. Maybe you'd like to use that kitchen or family room to entertain your friends for a change. A house that stays clean, less trash on trash day, fewer dishes, fewer uses of the washing machine - these are all things anyone could easily get used to. In view of the fact that your child seems happy in his new life, you may discover yours is not so bad after all.

Growing Isn't Just for Kids

In the song, "It's My Turn", recorded by Diana Ross and with lyrics by Michael Masser/C. B. Sager, there is the line, "For years I've seen my life through someone else's eyes." So often this is how parents, particularly mothers perhaps, see their lives. When that youngest child leaves the nest it really should be a time when you start seeing your own life through your eyes. That doesn't mean no longer seeing your child or children as the precious additions to your life they've always been. It means seeing the "you" that you most likely had to overlook for quite some time.

When your nest first becomes empty it may take a little while to get used to the quiet, and you may shed a few more tears than you’d thought you would. They dry pretty quickly, though, and those words, “It’s my turn,” can actually be pretty alluring.

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