The Upside of an Empty Nest

Hallie Lee

 

DENIAL

It will be just like sending her off to Kindergarten: I’ll survive.

I remember my tiny, long-haired little girl prancing toward the school bus, looking unfazed as she lugged her absurdly large bookbag behind her. She didn’t even turn around to wave goodbye. I, on the other hand, fought the pressure behind my eyes and wondered how I’d ever get through the day. ‘Well,’ I eventually consoled myself, ‘at least she’s not driving yet.’

Fast forward ten years later, and all those dreaded pangs of separation carved through me again. I watched as she drove down the driveway, this time accompanied by the heavy bass beats of some group I couldn’t even pronounce. ‘Just another stage,’ I thought, ‘I’ll survive.’

On and on it went, each stage mollified only by the unbearable notion of the next. But during her high school years, life seemed to pick up speed. When graduation rolled around, all those stages behind me seemed silly in the face of this one. This was the big one. The precipice upon which she launched her adult life, and I... what exactly? What would I do?

ACCEPTANCE

I’d survive. That’s what I’d do.

Naturally, my only child wanted to go to Baylor University, a school over 600 miles away. Soon we were shopping for bed sheets, towels, and scoping out bikes. She’d need a bike capable of zipping her from one end of the campus to the other. I pushed back the vision of the horrors that could occur from one end of the campus to the other. Added a helmet to my shopping list.

The summer before she left was the Rubicon between the past and the future. This clash of concepts was no more evident than when she ditched her long, trademark locks and chose instead a no-nonsense pixie cut to begin her college journey.

When we arrived, the future greeted us in the form of fresh-faced college kids wearing green Baylor T-shirts. Before my husband could even put the truck into park, the cheerful welcomers unloaded her boxes and steered our little girl toward her dorm.

The morning we left for home, we decked ourselves out in our Baylor Mom and Dad T-shirts and exchanged teary goodbyes. After a few pictures, our daughter hugged us and walked away.

Just like Kindergarten, she didn’t turn around, but I saw her falter. I recognized the slight hitch in her step, followed by the correction in her footing. It was in the correction that I understood the extent of her strength.

Despite the powerful, almost visceral, sense of letting go — of leaving something precious behind — my heart grew lighter. Somewhere between Baylor University and home, I realized that not only had I survived, but I was looking forward to this new stage in life.

THE UPSIDE

This new stage in MY life.

The steady hum of the air conditioner replaced the garbled music that previously echoed throughout the house. I marveled at the silence, knowing I was adjusting when I dug up my Eagles Greatest Hits album and cranked it up. Then sang along.

I was golden when I started to dance. You’ll find you dance a lot more when you don’t have an eye-rolling, judgmental millennial in the audience. God bless ‘em.

For me, the act of reclaiming my house was invigorating. Cooking became fun again. Oh, the joy of serving up garlic herb lamb chops and roasted Brussel sprouts without complaint!

Another positive? Rest came easier. Apparently, dozing with one ear keyed for the late-night return of your teenager isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep. Go figure.

Amazingly, within months, my husband and I became more spontaneous. We were accepting dinner invitations and going to concerts, like in the beginning, before a long-haired, prancing little girl consumed our time, thoughts, and energy. The sensation was strange. We felt almost... guilty.

But then we got over it. More and more, we delighted in our daughter’s independence and embraced our own newfound freedom.

Inspired by the purchase of our daughter’s bike, we did something radical: we invested in our own. The grown-up fancy kind with gears and all. Armed with helmets, trendy water bottles, and a newfound appreciation for why bikers wear rear- end padding, we launched our empty-nesting biking venture.

While the old saying about “never forgetting how to ride a bike” proved true for my husband, I found the mechanics of remembering a little more difficult. Especially the part about stopping — a shame I didn’t think of that before taking off.

There are several old cycling adages that can be applied to life, including some pretty poignant ones in the context of empty nesting. For example, Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” Cartoonist Charles Schulz said, “Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”

It turns out, as much as I feared my daughter leaving the nest, I found it profoundly liberating. I rediscovered the importance of balance. I found some new gears.

And even better, I got to dance!

THE UPSIDES

It may seem impossible that there could even be a silver lining in an empty nest. While one chapter of your life is coming to a close, that means the next chapter is just beginning. Look at this time as a blank canvas for you to color the life you want to lead.

  • Space for Hobbies - You likely have found yourself with unoccupied rooms in your home. Repurpose them as studios for the hobbies you always meant to explore.

  • More Time for Friends - You’ll be able to connect more with your neighbors, friends and extended family. Many empty-nesters find themselves entertaining more than ever before.

  • Less Input - With fewer voices weighing in on every choice, you’ll feel more free to make bold choices. With no teens to roll their eyes, no picky eaters nixing gourmet eats, nobody groaning when you flip on the radio... you might find that you enjoy having things you way once in a while!

  • New Traditions - While you may find yourself mourning old traditions, you will have the opportunity to build new ones.

  • Spontaneity - Day trips, vacations, get-togethers and date nights will require less planning. You’ll be free to pick up and go!

  • Love - You will find that this is a new chapter in your romantic life, no matter if you’re married or single. If you have a committed partner, this may be a fresh start in your connection. Even if you’re not looking for romance, you’ll find yourself open to deeper love among your friends.

TIPS

Becoming an empty-nester can be a daunting prospect. Here are some ways to ease the transition.

  • Paint - Painting rooms of your home is a surefire way to breathe a sense of renewal into your spaces. It will signal a fresh start and help you think of new purposes for each room.

  • Plan Your Days - If you have found yourself without a regular routine, build one.

  • Join a Class - As part of building a routine, join a class that will teach you something new, hold you accountable to a new activity, and will afford you opportunities to socialize with new people.

  • Journal - Writing out your feelings can be beneficial to your mental health.

  • Ask for Help - If you’re struggling with the transition, never feel afraid to ask for help. Friends, family members, and peers may have helpful advice to
    share. A counselor or therapist can provide help in understanding your feelings at this time, as well as how to find yourself in your new life stage.