Empty Nest Syndrome: Who Me?

I recall a time, not so long ago, where I’d smirk openly at parents who claimed to suffer from a “syndrome” called, Empty Nest.

Seriously? Were these people just trying to garner some sort of cheap sympathy, like a guy afflicted with the nefarious -and apparently near terminal- man-cold? I couldn’t imagine bemoaning an empty room laid out before me like a blank canvas. A room rife with possibility. It could become my own studio, library, or shrine to all things U2.

I would never be distraught over one less load of dirty socks. Who would miss that?!

Turns out, I would.

Nobody bothers to tell you that it is not the emptiness of the nest that brings on the syndrome, but the life that it was once filled with. That room doesn’t hold possibilities, it houses memories.

The time he insisted it be painted black, but you talked him into Navy (which in the end was just as bad). Sitting as quiet as you could outside the door so that you didn’t break the spell as you listened to him compose a new song. Holding him as he fought valiantly to hold back the tears of his first broken heart. Watching him cradle his baby sister in his arms, the two of them connecting in a language forever known only to them. Standing near the window, evening sun streaming through the curtains lighting up his clean-shaven face as you pinned a single crimson rose to the white lapel of his prom tuxedo, your breath caught in your throat. Who was this man standing before you. Hadn’t he just been learning to walk yesterday?

Those curls, I can still feel them.

Those memories live in the space between the four walls of this room, joined by millions more drifting like wraiths amongst the dust moats. Memories of the surreality of holding in your hands six pounds of life that fought so hard for its birth. Watching him charm his way into the heart of every babysitter. When you looked into those huge blue eyes, knowing for the first time in your life, that you were capable of wondrous things.

Even the memories that took your patience, not your breath, away now haunt this room.

“Turn down the TV, it’s after midnight, everyone else is asleep dammit!” 

The silence left behind is heart wrenching. You know that the days of lecturing him about coming home too late or piling his dirty clothes on top of his clean stuff are gone. Yet, you’d give anything to do that… just one more time. Anything to get back just a little time. Time with his head in your lap, your hands in his curls, him giggling in his sleep.

You see, we misunderstood when they told us parenting was a hard job.

We let ourselves believe that the hard part was the work, the struggle to make it through each day with some semblance of sanity left in the tank. When all is said and done, it is not the endless hours of cleaning, worry, annoyance, pride, joy, doubt, fear, laughter or tears that make it so difficult.  It’s the kissing your baby on his cheek as he opens his eyes in this world for the first time. Blinking. Then craning your neck to reach high enough to kiss that same cheek just before he boards a plane to leave your home for the last time. That is what makes this job hard.

My heart is heavy. Hopes, high. Nest, empty.

Soar on my son, but always, always find your way back under my wing.

How fast time goes by. (photo courtesy of Amie Adams Photography)

35 thoughts on “Empty Nest Syndrome: Who Me?”

  1. I’m close enough to the empty nest part of parenting to not be able to ignore it. My oldest is itching to go away to college. I want to keep her here at home. But when she goes she’ll be ready. I’ll have to prepare myself. Thanks for expressing this for all of us with older kids.

  2. My mom was visiting last week and she said what she missed most was the hustle and bustle of the mornings when we all left the house. I laughed b/c I treasure quiet moments and those few times when no one is hungry. But I can see that a long succession of days of quiet could be rather disturbing. But from a busy, sleep-deprived mom of two, I can only wish I related. Thirteen years from now, I’ll get it.

    1. The quiet comes every day after the little ones go to school. I’ve still got 3 in the nest, so maybe it isn’t all that empty. Having the first one fly though, has been beyond hard. I understand what your mom means though, when everyone is here and “needy” I feel much less weepy.

  3. Good grief, I know that feeling! I started my blog with the whole “empty nest” syndrome rattling around in my head. It does get easier, and now when they come home, I love it, but am glad when they go back where they “belong!” xo

  4. My 3 boys are the light of my life and they drive me nuts and run me ragged everyday. Thanks for a reminder that I should enjoy and cherish the craziness!

  5. Mmkay, now you made me cry, bitch! 😉
    I’m right there with you.
    Sarah turns 18 on the 23rd and has already moved to her own apartment in downtown Frederick, has a full time job, and I’m like WTF happened to my baby girl?!?!?!

    This is a gorgeous post.
    You are gorgeous- I love you & can’t wait to see you in NYC if not before.

    What’s that old saying about motherhood?

    “As your mother I wish you two things:
    To give you roots, and to give you wings.”

    It’s sad when they fly. Be proud and enjoy the slightly cleaner nest!


  6. Since mine is still six, I have no words of wisdom for you because I’ll be in the same boat someday. Instead, how ’bout I just cry with you, since that beautiful piece of writing just totally dissolved me into a puddly mass of goo?

    He’ll be back, though. A stronger, wiser, better man. And you’ll have helped him get there, like you have from his very first moment on Earth. <3

    Dammit, I'm out of Kleenex…

  7. My sister launched both her daughters in a year. She has started walking half marathons, 5k’s, etc. She said she can only clean so much when there isn’t anyone making a mess. You know my situation so I haven’t had a truly empty nest yet. I am sure it will be really hard when it happens… Sending you big hugs!

  8. It was hard on me, it was hard on my husband but it was also really hard on the siblings left behind. We have banded together with 16 mom’s just going through this to write, edit and blog about this together—join us!

  9. My oldest is a freshman in high school and has his first girlfriend. I didn’t feel much until he started high school. Only 3 more years after this of everyone being together the way we are now. Pretty soon a drivers license and jobs will be consuming him also I’m sure. It’s weird. I don’t know if I’m quite ready for all of this. I guess I don’t have a choice!!

  10. So beautiful and I can relate so deeply. My oldest is a junior in college and the youngest is leaving this fall for college. So I will have a completely empty nest in just a few months. I’m excited and happy for them, but letting go has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

  11. So great to have found you and read your lovely post. We, at http://www.grownandflown.com, are parents who, like you, have our oldest in college and youngest still at home. Everything you say about missing your son is so true but the changing relationship we have with our college kids is interesting as the adults they are becoming are so interesting. That being said, I will have to reread all the good advice I am dishing out when my baby, a very sweet daughter, leaves herself for college in two more years. Good luck and let’s stay in touch!

  12. I was brought to your wonderful empty nest post by Marymac… what a heart wrenching, and so true post it is… I totally understand what you feel like, having had 2 daughters and a son fly the nest. It’s been 1 year, 4 months and 20 days since the last one left and yet, it feels like she’s been gone forrrrrevvver… I keep wondering how long this emptiness will last and I’m told, by other friends, that it takes a few years.. OMG! Sometimes I feel like I’ll never make it! Who would have thought that these little monsters that kept me up throughout the night, with nightmares, love sickness and monsters would make me this miserable by just not being here? Not me. I’m so glad that there are those of you out there willing to share these feelings so that I don’t feel so alone (and crazy?)… thank you all.

    1. Funny how it works out, they drive us crazy and then leave us feeling lonely. Tough job. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Damn. Now I’m sitting here at my desk with tears streaming down my face. (Good thing everyone is away at lunch.) My baby is a freshman at college this year. It’s only a 2 hour drive and he comes home every 2nd or 3rd weekend. And I miss him like crazy every single day.
    Le’Ann´s last blog post ..Weighing In – Week Forty Two

  14. And to think you trusted me with capturing him. An amazing man he will be. You can see it in his eyes, in the way he interacts with his little siblings, with his girlfriend, with you…

    He is amazing!!!!

  15. I happened upon your blog while researching “empty nest syndrome” !
    I can totally relate, and am having the absolute hardest time since my only son left after high school graduation. I did not expect to feel this way AT ALL, I feel like somebody died! I am so glad to see that there is support out there, that it is real, and I am just experiencing something that will pass (although some sites say it could take up to two years, 2 years? really? I don’t have time for that!) The thing that really is getting me is that I will cry at the drop of a hat (unlike me)…like when passing the playground, walking by his room, seeing back to school supplies…gah!
    I know it will get better, but right now the sadness is killing me!

    1. Oh Theresa I feel your hurt. It’s been a couple of months now, and still little things will get me all teared up. I can’t imagine how hard it would be were he my only son. It does, slowly, get better though. I went through about two weeks of bone-deep sadness, but started to feel better. Chin up. We raised them to fly. Let’s just hope they come back to the nest often.

  16. Theresa, I am right there with you on the feeling like somebody died. The day my son moved out (my baby, the last to go) I watched his car drive away, and I literally fell to the floor in my room crying so hard I forgot how to breathe. It was horrible. He lives 15 minutes away, and he’s been back home once. I’ve been invited over to his place twice. That’s it. He moved out May 22nd, which wasn’t that long ago but still. I cry all the time too. I look at pictures of him and my heart breaks into bits all over again, but I can’t stop looking. I am blessed to have my daughter; even though she is grown and married, she calls every day when she’s off work, and we see eachother several times a week. But at night, when I’m home alone (my husband is gone for work a lot), I miss them both so much I can’t stand it. “Empty Nest Syndrome”…I sure do have it. And it sucks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.