by Deb Lawrence
I am the mother of 3 daughters. When Youngest graduated high school a friend asked how I felt about the empty nest. I laughed. What empty nest?
Not every child moves on after high school. Oldest and Middle chose training at local community colleges and lived at home during the years of part-time school and changing majors. Each one was where she needed to be during that time. Though Youngest would have tied herself to my leg to be close to me as a child, she was the first to move out to go to college and has not lived here since that time.
Youngest went to college about an hour away in the heart of Chicago. On the day we moved her into her downtown dorm it turned out that I did not have time to get emotional. I work with couples giving birth and was called to join a client who was in labor. Middle was dropped at the commuter train station to find her way home and I was off to support my clients. (That is one way to manage the goodbyes!)
I was intentional about holding my college age daughters living at home with an open hand. I wanted them to have the freedom and responsibility of setting their own schedules, like they would have away at school. I did ask them to follow the household courtesy of letting others in the home know when they planned to arrive home. Otherwise, I backed off on being a mom, both in giving direction and in taking care of them. I had spent years being intentional about increasing their responsibility and freedom as they approached adulthood. It was time for them to have both, no matter where they lived.
My children lived at home long enough as young adults to become friends. When they were children, Oldest resented Youngest having the interests she did. As young adults living together, this resentment dissipated. They ended up becoming the best of friends. Eventually, Oldest moved to Chicago to live with Youngest and other some other roommates, moved to another city and had a fairly awful set of roommates then married. Middle spent a year and a half traveling full-time for work.
I had a period of time with no children at home, then Middle left the road and moved back home. Not long after she moved in, I said, “We need to have a roommate meeting.” She was startled by my use of the word. I continued, “That is what we are now, roommates. And you have been doing all the bad roommate things that drove Oldest crazy.” She ended up agreeing with me that she had been taking advantage of being home rather than taking her share of the responsibilities! I found it helpful to frame our living arrangement in terms of two adult housemates, and it helped us navigate workable solutions to the challenges we faced.
When my girls were young, I was the kind of helpful mom that caused teachers to be glad they got one of my girls in their classroom. I was a room mom in elementary and oversaw costumes and served as a band booster in their upper years. When the last one finished high school, it was a pleasant surprise to realize that I did not have to adjust a calendar for rehearsals and lessons and work schedules. I hear parents say how they miss their children being small. I enjoyed each stage of the their lives but I really like them grown up!
I wondered if I would be at loose ends when running around for and with my children was no longer needed. There was a transition period, but I was very happy to discover the new opportunities that presented themselves in my life, both volunteer and income streams. I am part of starting a childbirth education organization, have added to my birth work services and, in the past two years, have trained and begun practicing therapeutic bodywork.
My (sort of) empty nest has given me new ways to be a mom. My daughters and I are all friends. My self-employed schedule allowed me to take care of Youngest when she broke her knee sophomore year. I moved onto the couch in her apartment for 5 weeks and provided support that helped her stay in school that semester. I was available for Oldest’s appendix surgery and recovery.
My girls and I have navigated the adjustment into adult friendships. Every parent wonders how their kids will turn out. I rejoice at the people they’ve become. The process of emptying the nest has filled me with hope for the future with my girls. I look forward to the years ahead.
Deb Lawrence Is a birth doula, Informed Beginnings childbirth educator and therapeutic bodyworker. Crochet and knitting provide “constructive fidgeting” and an art medium. Her nest will continue to be shared with cats even when no longer shared with daughters.