Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Love My Empty Nest!

Grams has several friends whose little chicks are flying the nest within the next couple of weeks. That's right, their kids are leaving for college, thus creating the proverbial empty nest. Many years ago when our kids left for college, Grams had a very hard time with this. And even though it's been a long time since my chicks flew the nest (the first left in 1997 and the second in 2000), thinking about it can still conjure up those raw feelings.

I'll just admit right up front that Grams is a HUGE advocate of sending your kids AWAY to college. That's right, I'm not a fan of college kids living at home and going to school. I'm a firm believer that when kids graduate from high school, it's time to treat them like grown ups. Living in your parent's house while doing the things that college kids do is a recipe for conflict, discontent, and sleepless nights. Yes, I know it's expensive, but it provides an experience that is priceless. Young adults need the freedom and responsibility of making their own decisions and mistakes. Their parents need the liberation of not knowing every single thing these young adults are doing in college.

I was absolutely insistent that our kids go away to college. But I was not ready for the reality of my first child moving into a college apartment with complete strangers. There is an old television commercial where the Mom is helping her daughter move into her dorm room. When the Mom looks at her daughter, she sees her as a toddler. That's exactly the same feeling I had when we took our daughter to college.

When we took our oldest to UTSA, a mere two hour drive from home, it was extremely difficult. Okay, truth be told, I cried all the way home. Every time I would get myself under control, Grandad would say something to me and I would start crying all over again. We finally finished the drive in absolute silence, except for my sniffling.

As part of preparing to send her to college, Grams and Grandad attended a parent orientation session. It was only a few hours and was very helpful in letting us know what to expect. As part of that orientation they gave us a schedule that outlined what to expect during first year away at college. It was spot on and I've always wished I had saved it so I could pass it on to my friends. Here's what I remember.
  • By Halloween your child will hate college and will want to come home. Don't give in. Make them stick it out at least until mid-term, preferably the entire first year.
  • By Christmas, they'll begin to feel a real sense of separation from home. They'll be happy to see their old friends when they come home for Christmas, but they may feel like maybe they don't have so much in common with them any more.
  • By Valentine's Day almost all high school romances will be over and done with.
  • By Spring Break, your student will love college and wonder what they didn't like before.
Our experience with both of our kids was very much in line with this schedule. They called in October and wanted to quit school and come home. We didn't go see them until Halloween. From August to Halloween was a long, long time. In retrospect, it may have been too long. By the time they came home for Christmas, they were feeling better about about college. And by the end of the spring term, our daughter was so settled in that she stayed and went to summer school. At the end of his first semester, our son transferred to another school, only to return to Schreiner after one semester. (That's a long story for a different day.)

I will admit that, while I was initially excited for the first of my children to leave home, I was not in any way emotionally prepared for it. Just a few weeks after she left, I dove into cleaning her room and remodeling it to suit my plans. I vividly remember my eyes blurring with tears as I peeled Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake stickers off the window and mirror and scrubbed the sticky residue away. It felt like I was scrubbing away her childhood. In retrospect, I should have given myself a little more time. When she came home for Christmas, her room had been transformed into my sewing/craft room and she had to sleep on the couch. I felt bad and tried to put her furniture back where it had been. But it didn't matter to her. Still, more than twelve years after she left for college, she says she can get more rest by coming home than she ever gets anywhere else.

Go ahead and let them go ... they will be fine and so will you. Let them make their own decisions. Don't worry about what they're eating. Buy them a meal card so you know they're not going to starve and let them take it from there. Don't worry about what they're wearing. Make sure they have climate-appropriate clothing available, but they have to make their own decisions. College students rarely starve or freeze, but they do often wear pajamas to class and it's really okay. Don't worry about whether they're getting enough sleep or not. Trust me, they're not. But they're young and they have to learn for themselves.

Do something special for them every now and then. For Halloween I shipped my college students boxes filled with Halloween candy. When finals were coming up, I sent them a care package with easy-to-grab healthy snacks like peanut butter, crackers, pretzels, jerky, etc. It made me feel better and it made them feel remembered and loved.

Do something special for yourself. Take a class, host a party, join a club, take a walk. Just do something besides sitting in their room and missing them.

Grams has learned to love our empty nest. Some of the advantages include:
  • Grams doesn't lay awake at night listening for kids to come home at all hours.
  • I have the sewing/craft room I've always wanted.
  • I never have to yell at Grandad to turn down the stereo.
  • We have time to spend with friends.
  • Grandad hardly ever leaves dirty dishes or dirty clothes all over the house for me to pick up.
  • We take grown-up vacations; we only go to amusement parks if we want to go. And we don't have to schedule them around kids and school calendars.
  • We each have our own bathroom.
  • We watch what we want to watch on television.
So, don't worry Mom's. You'll get used to not having kids in the house. No matter how far away they go or how long they stay away, wherever you are will always be their home. Besides, in a few years they'll get married and bring their kids home for you to babysit.

And remember, it's not really an empty nest until they take their stuff!


  1. Vicki I love this post...Would you like to be a guest author at Mid-life Mama and post about this subject??

  2. you are right / VERY good post! :)

  3. This was wonderful! Spot On, too!!!

  4. I really enjoyed your perspective here. I felt like someone cut off my arm when my first left. But then you get use to it and realize there's all that new freedom you have and less stress too. They have all been back home for brief stays at times. I charged them rent, very small amount of course. I enjoy my empty nest now very much.

  5. Great post. Yes, it is one of the best yet! The empty nest can be full of wonderful opportunity for both those who've flown it and those who are left.