To many, a quiet, empty house—free of the clutter and chaos that comes with the presence of kids—sounds like an idyllic existence. But while some parents eagerly await the day that they become "empty nesters," the experience can be more difficult for others. The concept has popped up in celebrity news and TV shows recently, exhibiting the challenging mix of emotions that often comes with the transition. When children grow up and leave home, perhaps to start college, leaving parents alone for the first time in years, it can be difficult to adjust to this new reality—but the process can also have surprising effects.
We caught up with Linda Hakim, a 54-year-old registered nurse from Okemos, Michigan and mother of two, whose daughter recently moved away for college, following her son, who left for school in 2017. Following the departure of her youngest, we discussed both the negative and positive aspects of having an empty nest, and how she and her husband handled the transition. From re-discovering her own personal passions, to an exciting outlook on the future, here's how life has changed, in her own words.
Life as a family of four
When they were babies they were emotionally and physically dependent. They required a lot of energy and there was always that fear of them hurting themselves. As they started developing and reaching maturity, they were physically able to do things, but still required extreme emotional support. Once they started driving, it was shocking to realize that they now had the ability to be a person who can drive 70–80 mph on their own. It’s concerning, because you don’t know if they learned everything you taught them and if they were making the right judgement calls.
Preparing for change
I spent a lot of time doing little things with her, like breakfasts. I also wrote her little cards and notes with encouraging sentiments, which I would leave in her room. The day she left, I wrote her a letter summarizing how I felt being her mother and how excited I was for her new challenge.
Adjusting to the empty nest
My husband and I took trips and made sure to have ‘date nights’ to stay connected. We realized there were some fun things about having an empty nest, like after practically spending your entire life planning healthy dinners, we could be more creative with our menus and even have dinner as late as 7:30pm. We also started watching dinner in front of the TV, which we never did when our kids were here. We’ve been more flexible and at-will with our cooking and how we do certain things. Grocery shopping can be more creative now that the kids are gone.
My daughter has had a pretty typical college experience and has transitioned nicely. For me, my husband changing switching jobs has not allowed me to grieve properly. I was also working a lot more so its delayed any real grief or sadness.
New routines and rituals
You get to recreate yourself again. I used to play tennis, but stopped when I got pregnant, but now I’m starting it up again. You have time to be more creative. I also stay in contact with my daughter every two months by phone and every couple of days by text. It’s usually short, and I try to send my daughter a card in the mail with encouraging notes every so often.
We also went back to having a glass of wine after getting home from work and just decompressing. We work out together, which we did when we used to date. We like to watch movies together as well. We’re figuring out what our taste is now like and what kind of clothes we should wear. It’s like rediscovering your self-identity and it makes me want to think about what I'm going to do in the next five to ten years. I do miss the kids coming home from school though. I really liked the time of the day when they came in. I don’t miss the mornings and all the laundry, but the afternoons were the best time to catch up with them.
Missing them from afar
I miss her. I know she was ready to take the next step, but it’s sad because she’s still your little girl and you’re parenting, but it’s different now. I know college can be difficult, but I didn't want to be a helicopter parent. I want to be a cheerleader for both my kids, but I also want to let them figure it out on their own. I still have concerns because you never know your child's decision making ability until they actually go out in the world.
I sometimes have a hard time fully expressing myself. I really don’t know how I feel about things in some ways. It's a normal thing to not know how to answer or be unsure. Some friendships change when the kids leave and you have to give some thought to how you feel. You get better in hindsight. Some groups of friends talk like everything is perfect with their kids, so I feel hesitant in sharing anything going on with my kids. With other friends it's easier and accepted to share because they’re more open with their kids' issues.
I want to travel internationally. I want to go to Europe. I also want to do bigger and longer trips. When the kids were younger, I didn't want to leave for too long. I want to take a class or two and be an adult learner. One of the classes I want to take is relating to work and peer management, the other is a secret passion of mine—it’s a photography class. I’ve always had an interest in photography, so now I have time to dive into it. I’m also rediscovering my professional aspirations. I’m currently working part-time, but am considering going full-time. My husband and I are also rediscovering each other. It’s almost like we’re engaged again! I got pregnant with my first child a year and a half after we married, so it was easy to forget life pre-kids.
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