Please Don't Judge Parents For Being Sad About Their Empty Nests

Everyone's experience is different.

Over the weekend, I was paying for groceries when the checkout lady nonchalantly said, “still really hot out there?”

“Yes, definitely,” I replied.

“Well, no worries. It’s almost over. It will be fall before you know it,” she said.

I hate when people say that to me, when we’re barely into the second week of August. This is the month when I want time to slow down, not speed up. I want it to be like when I was a kid ― when a week was a very long time and summer seemed to stretch on forever.

Because for me, there are only three more weeks or so when my life is “normal” ― or should I say, “the way I love it most.” Three more weeks during which my three kids are thick as thieves again. Three more weeks during which no one “feels” the empty seats at the dinner table. Three more weeks during which I hear my 21-year-old son practicing piano in the next room; I watch HBO’s new “The Night Of” series with my 18-year-old son; and I smile as the two of them playfully torment their 16-year-old sister about her new boyfriend. Three more weeks when everyone is under one roof. When everything is the way I like it best.

It won’t be that way again until a few days before Christmas.

When my oldest child left home for college the morning of August 29, 2013, I truly understood for the first time the emotions my older friends described to me; the anguish they’d endured at that moment. The telltale puffiness around my eyes could attest to the fact that I cried — a lot.

He’s about to return to college the first weekend of September. On his heels will be my middle child, who just graduated high school in June.

I’d like to say it gets easier ― and a lot of parents say that it does ― but, for me at least, it doesn’t.

I’m still grieving the end of my experience of being the kind of mom I’ve been for the past 20 years — one with a lot of face-to-face interaction with my kids. I’m still grieving a core identity that has been forced to budge. Some parents might read this and think, “What’s wrong with you? This is what your kids are supposed to be doing. Wouldn’t the alternative be so much worse?”

Just last week, Huff/Post50 published a blog by Ronna Benjamin, who told women to stop whining over their empty nests.

Benjamin said women should: “Rejoice in the fact that weekends are your own. Rejoice in the peace and quiet of your home. Rejoice in the fact that you can have sex anywhere in the house.”

She said she was “tired of women (because it is hardly ever men, I’ve noticed) whining about their Empty Nest ‘Syndrome’, like it’s a degenerative disease ― a time to mourn, fester in loneliness and abandonment. But the fact is, I don’t know any mother who hasn’t completely embraced their empty nest eventually, and usually they do so by Thanksgiving.”

Needless to say, the piece garnered many dozens of comments from parents who felt judged.

“To any parent who reads this and feels hurt, you have every right to struggle through this phase in your life. You are not a whiner and certainly do not deserve to be judged for grieving the end of a significant time in your life. Parenting is so much more than loads of laundry and I’m not sure this author gets that,” said one.

“This phase of life is a major milestone in the lives of parents, especially mothers. To give voice to it is not wallowing but part of the process of adjustment. It IS a big deal,” said another.

I actually see both sides of this argument but the truth is, every parent experiences the empty nest differently and it’s not for any of us to tell others how we think they should or shouldn’t feel.

I have friends who didn’t shed a tear when their child left for college and others who cried buckets.

For me, I always knew this phase would be hard. But I guess I never knew it would be this hard ― for so long. Yes, the fog does lift, of course, and you do, indeed, enjoy more time with your husband and friends. Making plans certainly helps with the transition.

For me, it will be a mix of sadness and excitement ― at least for a few weeks. And, after all, I still have my daughter at home for another two years. I just hope they are slow ones.

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Before You Go

Kathie Lee Gifford

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