5 Silver Linings to the Empty Nest

Although there are three weeks until Labor Day, many schools are gearing up to start their new year before then.  One by one, my own kids and the kids in my practice are peeling off to go to their respective colleges.  Suddenly, it’s very quiet around here.

This isn’t my first dance with the empty nest.  My youngest started college last August.  But over the year I’ve noticed how each coming and going requires a little bit of adjustment for everyone.  With college kids home for the summer, parents can easily revert back to demands on their children, the kids suddenly needing to be accountable for their time and actions, meal planning becoming an issue along with time management for everyone in the family, mine included!  But just as suddenly as the nest fills up, it empties and parents find themselves readjusting to life with their kid or kids away from home.

Partly to console myself, I’ve been coming up with some advantages to the empty nest and thought I’d share them with you. Here are five:

1.  Cereal.  It’s What’s for dinner.  If you’re like me, you feel a need to have a menu planned out for the week and groceries around for snacks, breakfasts, and lunches.  Now that you’re on your own (as an individual or couple) this is entirely up to you.  Remember the days you used to go to happy hour to eat the free food at the buffet??  Or the popcorn that sufficed for both snack and dinner?  Those days are yours again, my friend, should you want them back. On the other hand, once those with a limited palate fly the coop, you can cook whatever you want!  Pass the pepper!

2.  What was your name again?  Couples often get caught up in their roles as parents and put their own relationship on the back burner.   Now you have time to reconnect with the person you chose to have children with in the first place and rediscover the interests you shared or start to develop new ones.

This can be a difficult transition for couples who have drifted far apart in the course of childrearing.  In some cases, couples have remained together only to usher their children out the door and plan to separate as soon as the kid(s) is gone.  If that’s the case, or if you need some help reconnecting, please consult with a professional.

3.  I always wanted to do that!  Well, now is your chance.  Whether it’s learning a new language, getting a degree, volunteering in the community, jumping out of a plane, or traveling, your free time is yours now.  You can use it as you would like.

4.  It’s right where you left it.  The more people there are in a home, the more things get moved around, borrowed, and sometimes lost.  But when you’re the only one(s) living at home your computer, remote control, checkbook, and credit card should all be right where you left them.

5.  Catch up with old friends.  It’s amazing how caught up we get with our lives as we raise children.  We attend their shows and games.  We get involved with their schools and clubs.  Our time is often spent in service to their interests and needs but now, if we’ve done our jobs right, they are ready to launch without so much effort from us.  In fact, it’s really time to let them self-actualize and self-advocate.  So now take a look around and figure out who you would like to connect with.  That might be someone who had kids before or after you with whom you lost touch. It might be parents you met along the way who you want to keep in your life despite the fact that it won’t be as convenient to do so as it was when you knew you’d see them at the next PTA meeting.   Think about it.  Who do you miss?

If you still need something to do to fill your time, try volunteering.  In Marin, the best resource to find a volunteer placement is the Volunteer Center:


And if you miss the chaos and energy of kids being around, the schools in our county can always use a hand:


For the record, I find this adjustment to be exactly that: an adjustment!  It’s not always easy to slip into and out of the various roles we play as parents. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and find your way to enjoying the benefits of whatever phase you’re in!