Surviving an Empty Nest

Woman with backpack wavingMy son’s best friend just graduated high school and will be heading off to college this weekend. The one year age difference has never made a difference to these two boys, who have been virtually inseparable for the last five years. But it will definitely impact both of their lives when school starts. When my son starts his senior year of high school and looks around the halls, he will see fewer familiar faces. His friend will begin college classes amidst a sea of strangers. And his single mother, a dear friend of mine, is already experiencing a sense of loss, knowing that she will be coming home to an empty house now that her only child has left. But she will be okay.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry about my friend. Although she has walked down a mental road sprinkled with potholes throughout her life already, this step presents one of her biggest challenges. She worries if she did everything right those few precious years she was solely responsible for raising her son. She is feeling the financial stress of putting her child through college. She is trying not focus on the fact that she does not have a companion with whom to share a quiet dinner with or to relax with in front of the television. And she wonders what she will do to fill the void of time that was otherwise occupied with her volunteer efforts at the school. But she is fully aware of the signs and symptoms of psychological distress should things begin to spiral out of control. And she has me to keep a vigilant eye on her. So she will be okay.

Regardless of her concerns, maybe even in spite of her concerns, my friend has chosen to plunge forward with cautious trepidation. She has made the decision to seize this new chapter in her life and set goals for her personal and professional life. She has also, quite wisely, decided to take unnecessary pressure off of herself and allow plenty of time to find herself as she dips her toes into the waters of this unchartered phase of womanhood. She may have good days, she may have bad days, and she knows that no matter what the sunrise brings, life will go on. She knows that as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks and months into years, she will have more wisdom, strength and insight than she does today. She knows that with every wrinkle, every sunspot and every gray hair, she will learn more about who she truly is. And she will be okay.

I wonder why it takes us so long to discover things about ourselves. I wonder if I would have parented my own children differently, or better, if I knew then what I know now. I suppose that is an irrelevant question, because much of what I have learned about myself I have learned as a direct result of stumbling through parenting and years of self-exploration. I wonder if I will have the same concerns and fears as my friend. I wonder when I look at my own parents with legions of respect that I only developed through years of being called “mom,” if they too had those same moments of self-doubt. But because my parents made it through seeing five of us kids out of the house, and I am entirely confident that my friend will survive this new path in her road, I know that even if I freak out and begin to hyperventilate the day I say good-bye to my little boy, I will be okay too.

© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ron

    August 8th, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    it can get difficult for parents when kids go away to college.and this is particularly true for for a single parent.I have seen my friends go through this and am bracing for it myself soon :)

  • Scarlett

    August 9th, 2011 at 4:12 AM

    You ve summarized the feeling of a parent very well in his blog,Jen.My daughter goes to college next year too and just it’s anticipation is driving me crazy.She is my little baby and it’s not going to be easy not having her with me everyday.But I guess this is something we have to bear,both for their growth and our self-discovery.All the best xo

  • Kaye F

    August 9th, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    My best friend’s only child is leaving for college this Saturday as a matter of fact, and she is about to have a nervous breakdown!

    I really think that a large part of that is she is worried about her son but she also does not know how that will affect her relationship with her husband.

    You get to the point where all you do is relate to each other as this child’s parents it is hard to relearn how to be a couple again.

  • toby

    August 9th, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    parents feel lonely while kids are gone.but even we kids feel lonely without parents you know.we may have many friends here in college but we always miss our parents although we don’t say’s something we all need to go through-to grow,to progress,and to find ourselves.cheer up parents :)

  • Maggie

    August 10th, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    I hear you toby…separation from family is never easy be it for parents or for kids but its for a good cause so patience and perseverance is required.

  • Up, Down and All Around... with Jen :-)

    August 10th, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    Wow, I love the comments! Thanks for reading, and sharing your input. @Toby, you are so right. We do have to remember that you are dealing with an awful lot too, even though you kids may not show it! @Kaye – you brought up an excellent point. It is soooo important to maintain an adult relationship, sans kids, with your spouse, even if the kids are still there. Realizing that in the absence of parenting there is little at the core of the marriage can be devastating. Good luck to all of you and your friends!

  • Kristi Woodworth

    August 12th, 2011 at 6:33 AM

    I not only survived my first empty nest year, but have nearly made it through the first summer with the college freshman at home (which some people say is harder)! Sure, I miss my kids, but my days are packed with exciting new challenges and I think the key is moving forward – rather than looking back! I have launched a blog for empty nesters, to help us all keep moving forward. And now, just as the younger one is launched, the older son arrives home tomorrow, college degree in hand, but not yet employed. On to the next challenge!

  • Tanya S.

    August 17th, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    I had to smile at the “even if I freak out and hyperventilate…” line. It does take a lot to adjust to. I wakened suddenly many a night after my daughter left home thinking in my half-asleep, half-awake mode that I hadn’t heard her come home and feeling a surge of panic.

    It would take me a moment to remember she was at college now, not out with her friends here and I didn’t need to lie awake listening for her key in the lock anymore.

  • Megan Small

    August 17th, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    It helps if you find other things to keep you busy and appreciate your new found freedom. When my son went to college on the other side of the country I joined several classes that I would have liked to have taken before but didn’t because of school commitments or having to be home at a certain time to have dinner ready.

    In the past I had felt irritated that i couldn’t attend and now, there was nothing holding me back except myself. Trust me, in three months you’ll relish your new life, interests and friends.

  • tempest

    August 20th, 2011 at 1:40 AM

    You do rediscover your relationship with your partner too. My husband and I had spent so many years of our marriage where everything revolved around the children and their activities that quite honestly we were happy when the last one flew the nest and we had the house to ourselves! Oh you miss them terribly sometimes, don’t get me wrong but it’s so nice to be able to go on vacation or have a few nights away and decide on the spur of the moment to do it.

    Not having to worry about accommodating the children’s likes and dislikes is very freeing.

  • C. Stewart

    September 28th, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    Back a few months ago when it was time to head off to college my mom was pulling her hair out. I kind of get it, I’m an only child and everything but sometimes parents need to be able to detach. My school is 3000 miles away from home so weekend visits are on the “I don’t think so” list. A going away party and jokes about following me out in an RV were my mothers way of coping with me leaving.

    As for coping now that I’m gone. I’m sure her non stop phone calls help her along with her IM’s and video chats. Oh, and how can I forget the care packages! Sigh, parents will be parents.

  • mary

    May 23rd, 2020 at 2:13 PM

    I realize everyone has a different situation each one very special . I am a grandmother of a 16 year old grandson who recently moved out to live with his best friend and his family. Since he moved out he hardly ever comes over for a visit. He dose not even answer my texts. I am cautious about how much to text him so that I do not bother him. I find it VERY hurtful that he does not seem to want anything to do with me or other family members. Could you please help me to understand and find ways to cope with his change in behavior.

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