Joan's Blog

"Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out Of My Hat"
FEBRUARY 1, 2010 7:22AM

The Empty Nest

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 I am sitting in the living room with a stranger.  I have lived with him for twenty years but I am not sure I recognize him these days.

When our only child left for college we mourned. We took care of one another's broken heart. It was a sweet time in the midst of the saddest time.

We are strangers in many ways. Our child breathed life into us and without her presence we are flat. Deflated.

I hear his key in the door as he calls out helloo... It is the same greeting every day.

Each night around five o'clock I ask the same question. Dinner?

It is the same answer. Whatever you want is fine.

I hear him calling out the answers to Jeopardy questions from the bedroom.

The skype thingy is ringing.  We come alive. Come quick! She's calling!

We take turns talking and listening. But mostly listening. It is our daughter who has a life with so much to tell.

So, what's new with you guys? We hem and haw. Same old stuff, sweetheart.

Love you guys. We love you too. Her face is gone. Skype has given us  back our reason for living for ten minutes.

We have to rethink this.  Reframe. She cannot keep breathing the life back into us forever.

Being her parents' life support is not her job. 


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Oh, I have felt this deflated sense so deeply! When our second (and final) child left for college, "mourning" is a good word for what we felt. My husband hated to come home from work at the end of the day because she wasn't here, and when either of our daughters called or skyped or emailed, we would get so excited. This youngest daughter is a sophomore in college now, and it still stings when she leaves the house after a long break, but it does get easier.

I think you deal with two things—intensely missing the child and then reintroducing yourselves as partners.
I hear you, Joan. So hard, this time of life. So many questions, so few answers. This is beautifully written.
My husband and I always subscribed to the philosophy that our children were only on loan to us. The day would come when they would leave to pursue their own dreams, and then, it would be just the two of us as it was at the beginning. So, if we had allowed our relationship to get lost in the bumps, bruises, measles and runny noses that are a part of parenting, we would also be lost to each other. We made a conscious effort to always, always keep the "us" in our marriage. It worked! Kids are gone but we still love being together and look forward to the end of each day when the house is quiet and we can do whatever we want without worrying about "the kids will hear us."
I know perfectly what you mean. Our last -- a daughter -- went away last year, and that's was the first time we had ever been alone togther, really. Luckily, my husband and I have always led rather seperate lives due to our strange work schedules, and diverse interests (he's into sailing and foosball; I'm into dogs, shelter work and cooking), so that there weren't a lot of empty holes to fill when she left. And when we do converge, we have something to talk about. It's been a different time in our marriage, but different isn't always bad, even for someone like me who hates change! Lately, I've roped him into taking some pictures for my blog. He has a sailing blog, and I tease him unmercifully about his lack of traffic.

Sometimes I do still feel lonely, and things get too quiet. But sometimes I am also relieved that she is gone because there were times when I needed -- when both of us needed -- some quiet and some calm. She was no more difficult than any other teenage girl with an artisitc temperament, but the drama and chaos of "teenage girl with artistic temperament" can be exhausting. I guess I'm saying it does get easier over time. Hang in there!
oh, yes. my husband and i have two adult children (from previous marriages). everytime we talk to one or the other child - both living out of state, we look at each other after the phone is hung up and shoot out our lower lips....xx A
Ah, yes, it is complicated! All of it, the letting go, the re-finding and redefining... all of it.
When my son left for college it was hard because we loved the same movies and art and music. But I started to really live my life, do things I had never done and travel. But one thing I learned, THEY COME BACK! and there is no more walking around in your underwear and Sunday morning coffee late in bed. You'll see. R
Joan, sooner or later we all face the empty nest reality, but our children are really gifts to us to keep and nourish until they develop their own wings. Now it is time for you to concentrate on revisting what drove you and your husband to each other before you had your daughter and to rekindle it . I never had the opportunity of growing older together with a partne,r and often wonder how it would be to be by ourselves with a lifetime's worth of memories to celebrate and do new things that we had to sacrifice in favor of raising our son and daughter. Look at this as a new beginning for you - another journey you are embarking upon - and don't miss any detail along the way. ~R~
Oh, this is so sweet to me, this precious grown-child is so loved. Her parents will be fine, but it strikes me that this kind of pleasure-taking in one's child is a rare gift that is its own reward. I know I didn't get that when I left home (far from it), and also that my relationship with my grown son, now 40, is a remarkable thing, better than anything to me. The relationship is just beginning in some ways. She is lucky to have you.
This will be me and my partner, all too soon . . .
Joanie: I like what Risa said. You know that there's something unfulfilling about having 5 minutes on skype give you a reason for living. But on the other hand, it must be a wonderful thing to love your child as an integral part of the family you've created. I never felt like that -- I had a clingy mother who I ran from as fast and as far I could. (Not healthy)
Maybe yall need a trip to the Xmart Adult supercenter? ;)
Beautifully written. I wish I had answers, but being unmarried with no children I'd only be making assumptions.
Beatifully written. My question as someone whose never been married and no kids: There must have been something there to begin with that you can revive. No?

I've never experienced a relationship losing it's steam. All mine ended for different reasons. But, i always think that If I loved someone enough to marry I can't imagine losing that love.
Hauntingly written. Skype will help, and you all will adjust. Just one of the major passages, and most of us feel this and go forth, renewed and changed -- and many times for the better.
I commend you for your honesty.
Boy do I relate. Problem is, you marry someone in your twenties (or so) and while the kids are growing up, your attention is all on them. When they leave, you look at your spouse and say "Who is the person?"
Beautifully written, keenly felt. Such a time! We're there too. There's simply no preparing for it, you're forced to feel feelings you've had safely packed away for a lifetime. No more distractions.
You end on such a wise, profound note. You are NOT alone!
Joan, you may be like Terri and myself. We lived for the kids and worked our butts off to get them through life, now it's time to do something. Anything. We are planning on going to Mexico. It may take awhile to get the money, but just making plans is exciting. Life can get stale. I hope it gets better!!
Joan, this is the same thing I worry about when all of mine are gone. We've put so much effort into being parents that I'm not sure we remember how to be a couple any more. I'll be following along to see what you learn along the way.
I worry about this too. It seems so far away, my oldest is 12, but I know it's sooner than I think.
I do know this. (Well written & Rated). I know you will do for yourself what you need to do...because you know what you need...rethinking & reframing.

We became empty nesters ten years ago. We had focused so much on our kids (biological as well as a few "adopted" kids who stayed with us off and on) that we had become functionally married. We were married but rarely talked about anything other than bills, house repairs, schedules, car usage, college options, etc. Once we were alone it was so quiet and odd. In time we found each other again. Because I best communicate non-verbally (mime/writing) I began writing a journal of my thoughts about "us" that I shared with him.

Then just as we were really enjoying "just the two of us" our daughter came back to live down the street...and because her husband is an entertainer who travels...she the three grandkids are usually at our house.
O Boy or rather, oh woman - my daughter went off to school last year - it was not so much the impact between my partner and me. What I went through was mostly between me, myself and I. He and I have only been in this relationship under ten years so it is different dynamic I think if the both are the child's parents.

I don't give it out advice but I know for me I had to get busy and quick! Get out of the house, take a course, join a yoga class; something for yourselves or yourself.
best xox
Hoping that you can find that "new" and "different" relationship now that things are ne and different.
A moment in time that seems to go on will be worth it to bear down and go through this...a new life, a new partnership is being formed...xox
Sit down and make lists of things that you each want to do. Then take turns picking from each list. Go out and have fun on a weekend day, and that will carry over into the week.
Poignant. Resoundingly true. I love that you love her so much. There's always books and music.
Oh boy. Be a hippie. Grow a garden. Start a book. Find a new thing to research [ancient Rome?]. My pre-parent self is re-surfacing after years of putting my son first, that's how it's supposed to be. They truly are only on loan to us. I hear it's hard. You'll come through it.
I haven't had a chance to respond to all of these thoughtful comments. I thank everyone for reading and commenting. You have given me much to think about.
_especially miss amanda_
Oh my! is this what is coming? I´ve thought a lot about moving house to the interior of the country, but that would mean leaving my eldest son behind... like an empty nest created by the parents... I don´t think I can do that. Thanks for this post, you´ve got me thinking, a lot.
Good luck, kisses,
I won't be where you are for a long time, my kids are still young. I hope I'm prepared when my empty nest day comes, I can feel how easy it would be to find myself where you are.
I can't seem to say much tonight...rated though
My daughter called me yesterday. No matter what I am doing, I drop everything and answer the phone. Even after almost 4 years away at college for her, my life is still centered with her but I am not married. She is the one getting married soon. If I had a husband, I would start thinking: Time to start dating again and get that romance back in gear. One date a week - movies and dinner or going out and doing something fun together. Doesn't have to be expensive. Going for a walk together or just talking at a museum as you walk around and look at an exhibit. Start thinking about your courtship and what brought you together in the first place and the fun things you did together. No reason why you can't relive your own courtship again.
"It is the same answer. Whatever you want."

I can completely relate to this! Marriages ebb and flow, don't they? We really do have to redefine things all the time. I'm only at the 10 year mark and I feel like we do it all the time. Thank you for such an honest post. You are a breath of fresh air here.
@Barking, you are absolutely, positively right. I am hoping that I have written this before I have become one of those "smothers."
*shudders to think*
Time to start dating again! Take a salsa or swing dancing class. Start a project together like remodeling a room or building an herb garden. Dress up and go out to the theater.

Have fun!
Wow. Insightful and terrifying. My day is coming, and you have to keep writing about this so that I know what to do. {bites nails}. You've got six years to figure it out and get back to me on this.
I had a somewhat different experience, maybe because I knew that last child was so ready to fly, and also that, as foster parents, we could always have more children! We have really enjoyed our empty nest. It wasn't so much that we had lost touch as that we just hadn't had time to do much alone together. Suddenly, time opened up. We were able to take up some forms of recreation we'd set aside because the kids hadn't enjoyed them, and we each started working toward what we hope will be our retirement "careers." The kids call frequently, and we don't bug them often. We try to take a trip together each year — last year's was a through-hike of the Grand Canyon; this years will be spring training baseball — and we try to get to each of their cities for a long weekend once a year, but mainly they're happily on their own and so are we. To everything, there's a season. I loved having them at home, and I love having them gone.
My boys may both leave this summer. I will be alone with an uncaring husband and complete ownership of cat litter, and feeding of three dogs, two cats, two turtles, assorted goldfish and a parrot that hates me. I understand! I hope you remember what you used to do before kids!
Ours fly in and out. Mostly in... so that lately I've been remembering when things were briefly quiet and my husband and I could figure out our own patterns. I've got to real reference for being without. We've been barely ever without children, and we weren't far from childhood when we started having them. But, as to your question in your tag... yes... I do find life complicated. I guess I'm trying to relish its complexity. I hope you find new patterns and new joys, Joan, as your sweet child finds hers. xo
Yes, I do find life complicated(as per your cute tag)

I reread this and the good news is that you're crazy about your daughter and visa versa, I'm sure. That in itself is lucky and not a given.
I have always been crazy about my mother and I've heard all the talk about how I need to disconnect etc but at 40 y.o I see it as a great gift that I stayed so extremely close to her. I just dig her more than I do anyone else, really. I find it so interesting how different cultures look upon the mother child relationship. Blogworthy? I think so.
fernsy, ya made my day, girl. How much you love your Mom warms my heart. Yes, my daughter never doubted she was loved and also really *liked.*
I live in dread of the day when my two boys leave our nest. I really do. I know that I have a few more years to go but after seeing how fast the last seven and half years flew by, I am holding tight onto the moments ... In the meantime, I nag Mike to spend time with me (ok, it's not really nagging if he's willing, right?) ... because we will finally have our time together! I just pray that his health will hold out ... lovely essay. I hope that you two will find special moments together and fall in love again!
Oh, Reb, thanks. I hope I did not project the message that there is no love here. That could not be further from the truth. We are just a little lost without her. It is an adjustment for sure_
Oh my God, Joan! Do you know what we were doing an hour ago? Sitting outside having a cocktail, mourning our solitude and ANSWERING TEXT MESSAGES from our daughter! I'm telling you, sister, I FEEL YOUR PAIN AND YOUR JOY in an ineffably magical way! Thank you for sharing this with me. I would never have found it on my own. I'm too overwhelmed keeping up with the beauty of your words in your current posts! I don't want to miss ONE!