Eventually, all parents become empty nesters, whether it’s when the kids leave for college, work, marriage, or other pursuits. Suddenly, your home is no longer the place where your children live. Though it takes some adjusting, patience and creativity, being an empty-nester can be an exciting and rejuvenating time in a person’s life.
1. Your house is clean
Gone is the detritus of your children’s lives scattered here and there, carelessly flung about and forgotten. Your bathroom towels will stay hung neatly on their bars, the dishes are placed in the dishwasher instead of left to sit next to the sink. Beds remain made, floors remain clean, clothes are neatly put away. Mystery spills vanish, and you never wake up to a mess. Who knew it could be like this?
2. It is very, very quiet
The decibel level drops significantly when the children leave home. Televisions are watched at a moderate volume and music is played without an underlying “thumpa thumpa” that shakes the windows. No longer do you hear multiple electronic devices pinging and beeping at once – unlike your children, you aren’t capable of watching, listening and texting at the same time – nor do you want to.
3. You discover you still like your partner or you make a big change
It’s either one or the other. Some couples decide to separate and move on, others remember why it was they fell in love in the first place. Without your kids, you become each other’s only companion when you’re at home. I can’t overstate how much of a distraction our kids are while they are growing up. This is probably the most jolting part of the empty nest – when you look at each other and think – “oh wow, it’s just us now.” For better or worse, it will happen.
4. You can sleep through the night
No longer are you waiting for the sound of a key in the door, or the front door light to be turned off upon their safe return from another night out. Along these same lines, you no longer are part of the day-to-day ups and downs of your children’s lives…no matter how often they may text/call/email/facebook message/tweet you. Their mental and physical well-being, though still hugely important to you, are their responsibilities now, and you no longer have to endure the worries of their daily lives like you did when they lived at home.
5. Your food bill drops significantly
I know, if your kids are in college, or even if they’re not, you may still be paying for them to eat. But isn’t it lovely to go to the grocery store and come home with just enough of the kind of things you want, and not have to buy all the things they want, things that you really don’t want in your house? It’s been a while since I’ve bought a bag of Doritos or a package of Chips Ahoy cookies.
6. Your cash lasts longer
Again, I realize that if you are a recent empty-nester, you may still be supporting them – in fact, you probably are still supporting them. But no longer do you have to fish twenties out of your wallet because “I didn’t go to the bank,” or “the car needs gas,” or “I have to buy a football/baseball/basketball t-shirt at school.” They have an allowance, they manage their money, and you (almost) always have cash when you need it. As a plus, you can now redo your bathroom and buy a Toto toilet or a great antique clawfoot bathtub.
7. You have a lot more free time
Initially, this may be disturbing and/or difficult for you to deal with. I know I found it strange to no longer have show choir performances to watch or football games to go to, and my level of volunteering dropped off significantly once my kids left the house. But then a funny thing happened – I remembered how much I liked my solitude, and my husband and I discovered the joy of doing nothing much at all if we feel like it, truly happy to be in a quiet, clean home together. You may want to do things – museums, movies, theater, travel – whatever your thing is, there’s time to do it… a lot.
8. You can spend time with people you like
What I mean by this is, you no longer have to socialize with other parents because of your kids’ connection to each other. No more booster club barbecues or committee meetings, making small talk with people you most likely never would have crossed paths with if it weren’t for the fact that your children were on the same team/in the same class/part of the same group of friends. I’m glad to be done with all of those forced relationships. I have great friends, and now I have more time to spend with them.
9. You begin to experience your children as young adults
This is probably the most rewarding part of being an empty-nester. Your children leave home and, for better or worse, they have to grow up, no matter how much help you may be giving them financially OR emotionally. There are just too many daily things to manage, too many random people to deal with, too many bumps and blips that they have to encounter on their own that leads to them, inevitably and sometimes painfully, growing up. It’s a thrill when my kids take over, driving or planning or explaining – giving up some of my authority is in many ways a huge relief. And I like them, these young adults – they’re interesting and have lives of their own, and I very much enjoy getting to know them in this new and different way.
10. Your kids come to visit
There’s nothing quite as wonderful as seeing your kids after weeks or months apart. Their faces are familiar and beautiful, their smiles just for you, their laundry ready to be washed…seriously, it’s such a thrill to have them home for holidays, or summer, or just a weekend visit – and within minutes of their return, it’s as though they never left. You love having them home for a while, but then…
11. Your kids will go back where they came from after a visit
12. Your future is yours
Remember before kids, when you would dream and plan for the rest of your life? Remember when it was wide open, and you had no idea what would happen next? Well, you can do that again, now that you’re an empty nester. No longer do you have to worry about childcare, or kids missing school, or whether they’ll like the place you pick to go on vacation – your time, your future, and your life is yours to create. Always wanted to travel? Now you can. Go back to school? Now’s the time. Write a book? Get cracking. You have your life to live, just as they have theirs. Go do it!