What will you do when your nest is empty?

Theresa had some things to take care of before her family goes on vacation. Keith Still will be filling in for her this week.

Our MOMania friend JJ, like many other “mama birds” in the metro area, is about to let her baby bird fly. In a few weeks, she will take her only child off to college for the first time. While my children are nowhere near the college years, I can easily imagine the pride and excitement JJ must feel at having raised her daughter to be a smart, independent young woman with a world of opportunities ahead of her.

Most of us can remember our own first days of freedom, when we were 18 and the world was our oyster. We met new people, got used to dorm or apartment life, went to classes or work, and started to make every decision (big and little) for ourselves. Life at that age is abuzz with excitement.

But what is life like for parents who return home to an empty nest — especially the single parents who have done the work of two over the years, and who truly will be at home alone once the kids are out the door?  

“My one and only child is going off, and I’m going to be rambling around that house all by myself,” JJ wrote. “I keep hearing this question in the back of my mind: ‘Now, what do I do?’”

JJ is looking into working more and/or going back to school. She also has projects around the house to tackle. Those are good “things to do” when you suddenly have a lot of free time on your hands. (That’s kind of what I’m going to be doing when my youngest starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks.) But it sounds like JJ is struggling with something more than just filling free time. Like other empty nesters, she is trying to figure out how to transition to this next part of her life.

If you search for information on transitioning to the empty nest, you will get websites with suggestions for coping with loneliness, all of that free time and your changing relationship with your grown children. Some are written specifically for single parents. The thread that runs through them all, however, is that after 18 (or more) years as a parent first and foremost, this is the time to put yourself (or your spouse and you) first. Focusing on the dreams, the travel and the relationships you may have put on the backburner during the child-rearing years might help you discover where this next part of your life will take you.  

What’s your best advice for parents who are about to become empty nesters? What specifically would you tell a single parent who is on the threshold of this big life change? How long does it take to adjust to this new phase of life? What do you think will be the first thing you’re going to do when your kids leave home?

36 comments Add your comment

motherjanegoose

July 29th, 2009
7:57 am

First of all…CONGRATS to those of you who have children who are leaving for college. It is bittersweet.

As some know, my son left four years ago and is now heading to Pharmacy School. We are proud as peacocks and hope he will finish! It is neat when your kids have their own pool of knowledge and you can ask their advise.

My daughter is going to be a senior, so I have one child left for one more year. I already know how fast that time will go. She is a great cook and I will miss this and other talents when she leaves.

I am off to Wyoming today but wanted to share this one tip for parents whose children are eligible for the HOPE scholarship in Ga:

If your child drops a class….BE SURE THEY KEEP ALL THE PAPERWORK.
We knew someone whose child dropped a class and did not. The child got an F in the class and lost their HOPE. Their was no paper trail and thus no regaining the HOPE. JJ….be sure to share this with your daughter.

Good Luck and have a great rest of the week….

JJ

July 29th, 2009
8:02 am

Awww Keith…..thanks. I can’t wait to see the responses.

motherjanegoose

July 29th, 2009
8:02 am

Just posted an important college tip about HOPE in GA and it is not here. I am getting ready to leave for Wyoming, for business. Have a super week all. Perhaps the tip can be retrieved Keith?

deidre_NC

July 29th, 2009
8:11 am

i have to get ready for work…but i will surely post later..and as a mom with an empty nest now i will surely love reading all the posts!! thanks keith!

momtoAlex&Max

July 29th, 2009
8:38 am

What will I do? ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!

I had my children very young (early 20s) and my husband and I did not get much of a chance to be newlyweds. That will be our FIRST priority!

jct

July 29th, 2009
8:39 am

Our nest has been empty for a month now. I am glad that I started off with my own hobbies during our young man’s senior year. I am taking piano lessons (always a childhood dream) as well as singing with a new group (another of my favorite things to do).

Though I am not single, I can say that an empty nest will definitely change the sex life. I am tired but smiling every morning when I go off to work. It is like we are newlyweds again.

We plan on tackling projects like updating his room and getting new den furniture next month. I have already stated that grocery shopping is different. I don’t feel the need to cook every night. We eat salads more for dinner. That was not going to fly with an 18 yo guy.

Photius

July 29th, 2009
8:47 am

If you have kept your life balanced, there will not be any real problems. Life is not all about your children – it’s called balance. Having a good marriage, hobbies, various friends and outside interests is vital to being a well rounded person. Those who place their children as the top priority will feel tremendous pain when the child leaves home – that is not healthy. If one’s priorities are out of sync and the child is #1 above all, often times the parent becomes controlling or manipulating when the child leaves home – constantly involved in the kids life, even including when the child gets married. Selfishness because the parent knows of nothing else except caring for their baby. A healthy life is one of balance, and peace.

FCM

July 29th, 2009
8:49 am

Well my are not even to Middle School yet, but they think they are grown.

I went to KSU before they had dorms…so I lived at home those early years of ‘freedom’. My freedom really began when my brother went to UGA, he is younger. All my life I had heard “You have to set an example” When my parents who had a mostly vacated nest started that I smarted off by saying “An example for whom? The dog?”

Anyway, my Mother decided that what she should do with my brother’s room was clean it throughly. Flip mattress, move the furniture, baseboards scrubbed, closets re-organized.

WHOA! I am glad I was at work when she did that. She was mortified to find her son had ‘those magazines and tapes’ hidden in his room. My dad and I just looked at her and said, well what did you think you would find Leggos?

Then weeks later she decided she had not heard from him so she would call his dorm at 7:30 on a Saturday morning…surely he couldn’t be out then. Unfortunately I was home for that…I did tell her I wouldn’t advise the call. She was madder than a hornet “What do you mean hold on you will wake him?” A girl had answered the phone.

Ah, I do not look forward to it all myself…though some parts will be worth it. However, it was nice to start my day chuckling over the taste of freedom we had when it was our turn.

JJ

July 29th, 2009
8:58 am

My first taste of freedom was getting on a plane and flying clear across the country to go to college…..we had just moved here from Colorado, and I had already been accepted to college out there. My parents couldn’t go with me, so I had to grow up quickly and get myself there.

I remember meeting some other college kids at the airport, who all looked as lost as I was. But we managed to get a cab, get all our luggage and stuff, and get to the campus and figure out where we were to go.

catlady

July 29th, 2009
9:01 am

I am a single parent, and had been one for 8 years when my eldest left. That was a very hard transition for me and my youngest child, her sister. We cried a lot for several weeks. Even though I had 2 others at home with busy lives that I was a big part of, I missed her very much. My son’s leaving was something of a relief: different worries. When my youngest left I was very happy for her, and I was also pretty sad for myself. But I felt almost triumphant: I had raised her by myself for 17 years, she had done well, and she was admitted early decision to her first choice college. I had always worked full time so that was no different. I stayed involved with the high school band and theater which had begun when the children were in school. I read more, gardened more, even watched some TV.

My hardest time was when the youngest moved 1000 miles away after graduation. It about killed me. Luckily for me she didn’t stay but 6 months and decided it was too “foreign”–just before Ivan hit her adopted home.

Now all my kids live within a 3 hour drive, which is close enough. The youngest is talking about moving to another country after she is married and finishes her master’s degree. If she does, well, I will have to get used to that, too, but I doubt I will like it.

I think it is especially hard for single parents, especially if they have eschewed dating to concentrate on providing for and raising their children rather than looking for a new mate or relationship. But what is cause and what is effect, I am not sure.

Don't worry jct...

July 29th, 2009
9:08 am

…that newlywed thing will wear off soon and you will be back in the same “limited activity” mode as before – I guarantee it! And, it will be your decision, just as before.

lwa

July 29th, 2009
9:51 am

My (single) mother always bowled in a league while she raised my sister and I. When we left home, of course that continued. Then my mother began dancing classes and really enjoyed then. Next, she joined the gym. Before long, we were looking for her. HA HA HA

Find a hobby or join a club (book, dinner, dancing, etc). Don’t limit yourself.

BlondeHoney

July 29th, 2009
10:13 am

Great topic…my youmgest graduated college in May and is now in Naval OCS so my nest is gloriously empty :) I couldn’t agree more with photius; my boys are VERY important but my life didn’t, and doesn’t, revolve around their every move. I’m free to come and go as i please, take off on spur of the moment trips, anything i feel like doing. It’s GREAT and my boys are happy for me :)

Becky

July 29th, 2009
10:18 am

My mother never had to worry about empty nesting, with 10 kids, who would? Every time one moved out another one moved back in(with kids)..

Like I mentioned to JJ, take a pottery class, photography class, find a cook book and make lots of different foods, read…Whatever all decide, good luck with it..

MomsRule

July 29th, 2009
10:18 am

I love your trip down memory lane FCM! Thank you for sharing.

JJ

July 29th, 2009
10:21 am

I’d like to start dating again, since I took an 18 year absense from the dating scene……

Cammi317

July 29th, 2009
11:03 am

I am a single parent and my daughter is just entering middle school, so it will be a while. However, it has always been my plan to move to Vermont. This will work out perfectly since she is steadfast about going to Yale. We will only be a short Amtrak ride away from each other. And definitely, if I have not met some wonderful person by then and settled down, I will date! I have not dated at all over the last several years, lest a lunch or two.

jct

July 29th, 2009
11:18 am

@JJ…if you are looking to date the only advice I would give is that you since you have been out of the pool awhile that you open yourself to dating outside what you are normally think as attractive.

Before my current relationship is was in a long term relationship (no marriage) so I was not used to dating. The best advice I got was just to be open to all possibilities. It was the best I ever got from a friend. Learned a lot about myself and what I wanted in a partner. Many of dates were duds in the sense that there was no attraction but I ended up with a larger circle of people to meet. Hey, he may not be attracted to you but may still want you as a friend. He may have friends of friends that are more compatiable with you.

abc

July 29th, 2009
11:52 am

JJ – you may have to move over to the MIA blog now lol

nurse&mother

July 29th, 2009
12:35 pm

I plan to travel and scrapbook more. I will definitely miss my children though. I’m sure it will be a big transition for me. I have my two spaced 8.5 years apart. Hopefully, I will be accustomed when the youngest finally leaves.

Keith

July 29th, 2009
1:26 pm

Hey all –

Just now checking in. We have been to the orthodontist and shopping this morning. My middle-schooler is starting round 2 of braces!
MJG — I will look for your comment. Don’t know why they keep getting lost.

Great comments so far. JJ — I hope some of these help. You will definitely have to let us know what you end up doing!

Becky

July 29th, 2009
1:42 pm

JJ, when I met my husband, I was coming out of a 10 year marriage and wasn’t looking to date..In fact, I was still married..Went out with a friend one night, saw my husband(now), we talked, we danced, we went and bought lottery tickets..The next day he took me to dinner and that was 16 years ago..

New Step Mom

July 29th, 2009
3:09 pm

OOOO. I had two rounds of braces no fun! Now I am petrified of the dentist.

I am just filling my nest, so I cannot imagine being an empty nester. I know may parents love being together now that my brother and I are out of the house. They bought a convertable a few years ago and my brother called me convinced they had lost their minds. I reminded him that they probably did a lot of fun things (maybe less expensive) together prior to our arrivals. I say enjoy yourself and your partner if you have one!

Bradi Nathan

July 29th, 2009
3:15 pm

Don’t wait until your kids are off to college to figure out what you’re going to do with yourself or what you’re going to be when you grow up. Do it while your kids are still young- create that sense of self now. It’s one thing to let our kids know that they are the center of our world but they are not the center of the world. Establishing a sense of self while your children are young helps to create respect and strength for when they are ready to fly….

Photius

July 29th, 2009
3:40 pm

With no sense of self you’re going to end up with your children living close to you your whole live, having daily input in your adult kid’s lives – meddling with their marriage (especially when it comes to “your” grandbabies). We’ve all seen this – normally “Mom” has mind-screwed her own kids so much via her control the adult child is conditioned to such behavior and the umbilical cord has never been totally severed. When “her grandbabies” arrive, Grandma becomes even more of a tour-de-force. We see this so often, but parents like this who are not balanced fool themselves literally by praising themselves for “how much they love their children and grandchildren”. Behavior such as this takes decades to develop but it is based on the common belief that the children are #1 above everything else, including their spouse. You married your spouse for life, not your kids.

JJ

July 29th, 2009
3:57 pm

I put my child as my #1 priority, but I also have a sense of myself. I still have friends and go off and have a good time. This last year has really prepped me for being alone for long periods of time. I enjoy my alone time, and they say if you are going to be alone, you better like the person you are with. I like me.

I still have a household full of animals that need my attention. I have applied for a part time job. I want to take classes. I basically just want to enjoy MY time, now that my child is flexing her wings.

That, and the amount of money I anticipate saving and being able to put into savings with her out of the house. I know I will be sending money to her monthly, but a huge chunk of it will now go into savings. I can live very cheaply……I don’t need a 75 degree house in summer, I’m comfortable with 80. And I have space heaters for when it gets cold, along with blankets. Therefore, the heat doesn’t need to be blasting.

I don’t need premium movie channels on the cable, as I don’t really watch alot of tv.

I won’t need $100 worth of groceries every week.

I won’t need to fill up my gas tank twice a week because she is going off with friends every other night. I’m a homebody during the week and usually go off on the weekends.

This is a new chapter for both of us in our lives. I have given my daughter roots, now she needs to flex her wings. She’s not totally abandoning me, she’s just going down the road, 2.5 hours away………

Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions!!!!!

uconn

July 29th, 2009
4:24 pm

Oh Photius… I wish more people were like you … It should never be a child centered home… Because that is where one gets in trouble.

Ben

July 29th, 2009
4:41 pm

My wife and I have seriously considered not having kids for the very selfish reason implied at the end of this post…we want our time to be all about us. I can say with a good amount of certainty that my parents have enjoyed life immensely these past several years after my sister and I were both out of the house. They enjoy spending time and money on themselves and their desires. A guest post on my blog today speaks about how my older friend suddenly came face-to-face with the realization of her empty nest happiness when visiting a friend of hers with an unruly 13-year-old. You can read that here if you’re interested in a real-life story.

jess

July 29th, 2009
5:17 pm

not empty yet..dont even have quite the nest yet–but I know one thing..it will be all day anywhere sex!

fk

July 29th, 2009
6:10 pm

My son is leaving Sunday. Although he will be home on summer breaks, I am pretty sure this is it. I don’t think he will taking up residence with us after he finishes with his college career. He will definitely move around. That is, if he sticks with his intended major. I am excited for him, but will miss him terribly. For me, I went back to work fulltime about two years ago. I always planned on going back to work. I started part-time and worked my way into fulltime employment. I enjoy working. My husband and I have always had date nights, now they’ll be more frequent…if we can afford them, since we’ll have a tuition bill. We’ve got a nice group friends, both as a couple and individuals, so I think we’re actually going to be a lot more social. One of my friends, married but no kids, is very excited. We did a lot of family things that tied into my son’s sports activities, so that aspect is finished and I will be available to do a lot more, with the girls, especially during the week and Fri. nights. I just cannot get over how quickly the years passed, especially the four years of high school.

DB

July 29th, 2009
7:11 pm

Ben: EVERY life choice has pros and cons. Yeah, 13 year olds are often one of the cons :-) But then again, having an unsatisfying job is also a con. For every con, there is a pro.

Almost 22 years ago, we made the decision to start a new adventure: parenthood. We were DINKs (Double Income, No Kids) with a vengeance, two professionals with the hot-rod sports car, the custom built home in a non-kid-friendly community, the European vacations, etc., etc. I went from managing a team of 25 people and training hundreds to being a SAHM managing and training ONE baby — and at first, it almost killed me. As I complained, half-seriously, to my husband one night: “I haven’t gotten a raise in TWO YEARS! What am I doing wrong?!! I need positive feedback, dammit!” But I felt very strongly that the highest and best use of my time would be investing my time in raising our family. Luckily, my husband felt the same way, and cheerfully took on the financial responsibility while I learned a new job — mom. Second baby came along, and by that point, I realized that yeah, I did know what I was doing. Got involved with community projects, church projects. Started a business at home that I could manage in my so-called free time.

The focus has been different for the last 20 years. Tuition took priority over new carpet. Exotic vacations gave way to budgeting for a new car, after driving the same mini-van for over 200,000 miles. Yes, there were changes — but most of the changes were in the area of “things”. Things went down — but people and personal growth went WAY up. I am a very different person today because I was a parent — I think I am a better person, but I guess we’ll never know :-) I do know that the world now has two more wonderful people in it, thanks to me. If I leave no other legacy behind, that, to me, will be sufficient.

Not to say that I’m not going to equally enjoy this NEXT adventure in my life — empty nester! I’ll finally take that stained class class I’ve been wanting to try (but couldn’t, because it interfered with soccer games :-), take a creative writing class, organize 20 years worth of photos (I can’t even begin to figure out where to start — I have taken a LOT of pictures!), volunteer with a church group I’ve always wanted to work with, but never had time.

And enjoy not having to lock the bedroom door . . . !

April

July 29th, 2009
11:09 pm

DB – What a wonderful post! My life also changed with the decision to have kids, and I am trying my best to give the world three wonderful adults who will benefit those they touch.

JJ – I predict you are going to be great in this next phase of life. It sounds like you have done a terrific job with your daughter, and you will find a great new direction to turn your focus.

JJ

July 30th, 2009
7:40 am

DB WONDERFUL post!!! I truly enjoyed reading it. As for the stained glass class, my best friend and I have talked about that since before kids. Her’s are both out, and mine is leaving, so now we can take that class. Maybe we’ll see you there….:))

April, Thank you SO much…..what a great way to start off my day!!!

deidre_NC

July 30th, 2009
9:05 am

everyone pretty much said it all..i am like jj and have not had a relationship with a man in 10 years…for several and varied reasons..my youngest had moved out to be closer to her school and job…still only about 45 min to an hour from me…and very close to where i work…so i see her often if not for long…my son has moved back in and honestly i was pretty ready for the emply nest…it does get lonely at times..and there chores i cant do due to health issues…so he is able to pick back up on that…but all in all i wont mind if i ever truly get my empty nest…my kids kind of freak when i say..hey! i can move anywhere i want…and have as small of a house as i want…i think they would like to know everything was always here waiting..but they also realize its my life now…so mixed feelings all around on the whole subject…i wish i had a job i enjoyed more….since i spend most of my time there…i havent lost hope for that…when (if) the economy ever changes that could very well happen. this is really the first time in my life i have had a job that i hated everything about lol…except the paycheck (which is lower than any ive ever had) but these days i am just blessed and thankful to have a job…it doesnt leave a lot of time or money to be able to do many other things…

Becky

July 30th, 2009
9:06 am

DB, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post..I was nevered blessed with children and oh how that tore me up for years..Now though, I have two wonderful “grandchildren” that I would not trade for any new sports car, any new jewerly, any trip anywhere in the world..

Ben, depending on how old you are, that’s great that you can admit that you and the wife are shelfish..I have an older sister that was married for about 14 years before she had children and she to this day says that she wishes now that she had of had them a little earlier..Either way, if you have children, you will know a true blessing, if y’all don’t have children, please don’t spend the rest of your life regretting it..Enjoy your wife and your life..

Ben

July 30th, 2009
9:25 am

These are all excellent posts! My wife and I are very young still, she’s still in college as a matter of fact, so there’s really no way of knowing where our lives will take us. I assure you that we are open to everything. My 5-year old niece and four month old nephew were over for dinner last night, and I do see what a blessing they have been to my sister and brother-in-law. Like DB said, they have become more active in the community, church, etc. As for me personally, I have been very active with youth sports for many years as a coach, and there’s a big part of me that sees the other side…the fanatic parent, the obsessive parent, the downright crazy parent and I have the opportunity nearly every day to have an impact on kids’ lives. For those kids who have terrible parents, we coaches become an even greater role model, and I take that very seriously.