The Upsides (and Downsides) of Empty-Nesting

Photo Credit: Evelyn Chong from Pexels

For all the changes we’ve been through individually and collectively since the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, one thing has remained the same: kids grow up and move away from home.

My husband and I count ourselves among the lucky few that the colleges of our daughters’ choices still permit students to live in student housing, even while they take their classes online. This has gifted them with at least some taste of the adventure known as “the college experience.”

It was just last fall that our youngest left for college, and with that, my husband and I were officially crowned “empty-nesters.”

Now that some months have passed, I think I’ve got a feel for some of the upsides and downsides of this new lifestyle.

Upside # 1

We have discovered all kinds of coffee mugs, glasses, plates, and even silverware, hidden in their bedrooms.

Especially in the later years, we often let the girls take their dinners upstairs so they could keep going on their homework. I guess I just didn’t pay attention to how often the dishware didn’t make it back downstairs. Now and then, I’d venture up and grab a stack of glasses, but I don’t think it struck me just how much of our rotation spent more time upstairs than housed in the kitchen cabinets.

Downside # 1

We do not have room in our cabinets for all these “extra” coffee mugs and glasses.

In fact, it’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in our cupboards. And isn’t this strange—I’ve offered to give them each some of these extras, but they both insist they are fine with reusing the same cup over and over again.

Upside # 2

I threw out entire drawers packed with expired care products—lotions, perfumes, shampoos—from their shared bathroom, and have now claimed these drawers for myself.

My daughters went through a Bath and Bodyworks craze once upon a time, but I cringe to admit that this might’ve been in middle school.

Downside # 2

The guilt I felt throwing all that stuff into a garbage bag that will end up in a landfill is overwhelming. Some products were still in their original packaging. Yikes. If current evidence is predictive, it will take a very, very long time for these to decompose, if they ever do.

Upside # 3

Our pets got a status upgrade.

Back when we had two male dogs, I used to refer to them as “the boys.” But over the last couple of years, we gained a female cat and lost one of the boys, so I switched over to calling them “the pets.”

But for some reason, within a few months of both our daughters leaving, I started to refer to our pets as “the kids.” It hasn’t happened consciously; it just keeps coming out of my mouth. As an extension of their status upgrade, I think my husband and I are treating them more like kids, like when we call each other to give updates on the funny thing one of “the kids” just did.

Downside # 3

Even though our actual human kids have moved out of the house and freed my husband and I up to travel (at least, before the pandemic), we can’t hardly bear the thought of leaving “the kids” home alone for too long.

We are taking a road trip to visit our youngest in March. Our oldest will come stay at the house and care for the pets. But is she going to give Charlie his special one-on-one loving time each night before bed? Is she going to rightly interpret Lizzy’s various meows? I don’t think so. Poor kids.

Upside # 4

Our daughters are growing in independence by leaps and bounds.

They have had to figure out how to make appointments for themselves, and even, as in the case of our oldest, file her own taxes. My youngest recently navigated on foot to the nearest Verizon after her cell phone unexpectedly died, something she would not have been able to do a year ago. It’s really fun to watch their metamorphosis from caterpillars into butterflies.

Downside # 4

My usefulness has faded, and this occasionally feels like a punch in the gut. Yes, this is what every parent claims to want—kids who grow up and take responsibility for their own lives. But I don’t think anyone, except for other parents, understands just how much of our self-worth we derive from being advice-givers, cheerleaders, advocates, and even disciplinarians. The upside of this downside, however, is that I am now doing the work of building my sense of usefulness in other ways. That’s a good personal project.

Upside # 5

As both of our girls are adults now, and in light of the pandemic last summer, we loosened the rules around drinking at home.

When they were little, I used to imagine how much fun it would be to one day have a couple of drinks with my girls, and just talk freely about whatever was on our minds.

Downside # 5

So, turns out I can’t hold my liquor like I could back then, and throwing back tequila shots is just not my idea of a good time.

Upside # 6

But I have been gifted with the second part of my younger-mom wish, and that is, we now talk about the “deep” stuff. My girls are becoming more like friends to me than children; more companions than dependents.

Instead of the defensiveness that often arose in their teenage years, they are transparent with me in ways I never could’ve imagined. I’m not suggesting they tell me everything (I really wouldn’t want to know) but it is heartwarming when my oldest calls me up, prefacing her news with, “Okay, don’t tell anyone else this, but…”. I’m honored that she considers me part of her inner circle, and trusts me with these intimate parts of her life.

What’s more is that I now get to share my life with them, and they’re actually interested! They no longer see me only as “mom,” but as a mature woman with intellect, ideas, and viewpoints they find interesting, if not inspiring.

Downside # 6

There is no downside to this. Isn’t this exactly the kind of relationship we hope we’re cultivating along the marathon road of parenting? It’s truly rewarding to watch our relationship transform into something whole, and fulfilling for all of us.

This empty-nesting is still a relatively new reality for my husband and me. As time goes on, this list will likely grow.

But in the meantime, I’ve got some extra coffee mugs, in case anyone needs one.

3 Comments

  1. Jen on February 16, 2021 at 9:45 am

    I love hearing perspectives from further along in the Mom journey! Thanks, Keri ❤️

    • Keri on February 16, 2021 at 10:21 am

      LOL, yes, so many changes! The last years happen very, very fast. I’m just so happy they’re finding their way in the world as empowered and powerful women. Missing you!

      • Keri on February 17, 2021 at 5:32 pm

        Thank you for checking it out! And yes, that image is so inspiring, isn’t it? May we all embrace becoming pea soup one day…

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