I don’t know who coined the phrase “empty nest,” but whoever it was did not have seven children. I think about this a lot because with only 2 of 7 children still living with us, people refer to Joe and me as empty-nesters. Problem is. We’re not. Sure, our nest is emptier, but it ain’t empty. We’re now just an average-sized family with two college-aged children who come and go, study and work, but still consider our home their home.
Besides that, I am realizing empty nest does not appropriately describe the experience and lifestyle of many people with children in their twenties. So whether you are dreaming of the day when your children are grown, or dreading it because that day will arrive soon, allow me to debunk a few myths.
Myth #1 Having grown children means you should downsize.
Actually, no matter how hard you try to streamline , your nest will remain a much-needed parking lot for items the children can’t fit in their small apartments. Yearbooks, wedding gifts, and treasured toys will take up space in your nest indefinitely. And just as the last kid moves out, your parents may move in with all their stuff to sort through and store. As relatives pass away, you’ll inherit Dad’s tools and cufflinks. It will be nigh impossible to ditch Gramma’s doilies and Mom’s antiques. So you’ll find room in the nest for them. Trust me. Your home will not feel empty. It will be a storehouse of memories.
Myth # 2 Grown children will move away and come home only on the holidays.
Actually, your nest may still be the kids’ favorite gathering place. Since Joe and I became matriarch and patriarch early in life because our parents died young, holidays are celebrated at our nest. The same might be true for you. Downsizing may make sense eventually (and if you hate having your kids over, by all means downsize). But if you actually enjoy your children, you’ll be hosting family dinners for years to come until someone else in the family has a bigger home.
Not only that, about the time you start investing in grown-folk furnishings (you know, nice things that aren’t made of plastic and fiberboard), your twenty-something children will want you to dogsit. Or they will invite their friends to your nest for parties and retreats. This is certainly a compliment and a blessing, but it’s also evidence that nests don’t empty out as quickly as you might think. Be prepared for your house to become a hotel, a venue for bridal showers , and a haven for the hurting.
Myth #3 Grown children don’t need their parents.
OK, there are many angles at which to look at this one. On one hand, the genius who coined “empty nest” did not foresee the umbilical cord called cellular phones. Once children leave for college – if not before – you may find that they consider your 10 digits equivalent to 911. Emergency or not, your children will call and text you a lot. Walking to class? Call Mom. Walking from class? Call Mom. Need a recipe, a piece of advice, a bit of cash? You’re only an index finger away from these birds that have supposedly flown the coop. Later, as grandchildren are born, you will welcome the opportunity to have them visit your nest, and it will fill up again with toys, high chairs, and sippy cups. The aint-so-empty nest has new birds to feed and care for. It’s incredibly special.
On the other hand, if your children don’t call and text, you should not call and text them. They want you to seize your empty-nest status and get a job, a new hobby, and reinvent your beautiful self and make them proud. Grown children always need their parents. It just may be they need you to give them some freedom to fly.
Myth #4 Empty-nesters eat steak and creme brulee.
I ain’t gonna lie: mid-life includes having way more discretionary income than you’ve had before. Even while paying college tuition, there becomes more money for travel, movies, hobbies, and clothes. Eating out at-will, is also a definite perk of having grown children. No more date nights consisting of homemade brownies with cool whip eaten at home after bedtime. Now you can do dinner cruises with filet mignon and decadent whatever for dessert.
But be forewarned: empty-nesters also eat lots of humble pie. About the time you get your first AARP bulletin in the mail, you’ll get another newsflash: you made a ton of mistakes during the first half of your life. Everything you never told your children about a zillion issues like God, money and sex; and the zillion issues your spouse and you never resolved about things like God, money, and sex can turn your empty nest upside down. Seriously. You’ll have regrets that could steal every slice of joy the best kid-free restaurants can dish out. So, having more money comes with an empty nest, but so does having more faults to admit. That’s a good thing, I suppose.
Myth #5 An empty nest is full of comfort and ease.
Yes, there’s freedom, flexibility and fun that come with having grown children, but this stage of life is far from easy street. The challenges of life and parenting don’t go away with an empty nest. Your angst and trials simply shift.
For example, that badge of childbearing aka your poochified waistline, becomes an even greater menace during menopause. All that discretionary income you have when your kids are gone will be needed to buy really uncomfortale underwear.
Maybe now, you’re worrying about how to pay for college, but when your nest is empty, you’ll worry about paying for assisted living.
Think sleepless nights end when children are grown? Think again. You may not sleep through the night for the rest of your life after you turn 50. Insomnia comes with an empty nest and it’s another great reason to maintain at least two spare bedrooms: one, for guests and the other for your snoring spouse.
So, there you have it: fresh perspective to reshape your definition of empty nest. As we all near that time when our children are all grown and gone, we’ll find that stage of life to be both perilous and precious. Perilous because it aint easy knowing you have fewer years to live than you have already lived. Precious because of milestones and memories like these
Graduations, weddings, and grandchildren offer welcome chaos to an otherwise quiet house. I suppose when we love our children deeply, our nests will never feel empty because our hearts will always be full.
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