For those whose nests will never be empty, and for those whose nests have been empty all along.
As our children entered the teen years, our home became a gathering spot for their friends. I love teenagers, so this was fine with me.
Eventually, our first child headed off to college. My friends were concerned that I’d fall apart but I did not. It took about 20 minutes to get used to the new reality.
A year later, we sent off our second child, followed by numbers three and four. In a six-year span we sent off four kids, plus an additional teen who lived with us. While in college, the kids spent breaks and summers at home, however, so the nest was not truly empty.
Two years ago, our youngest child graduated from college and got her own apartment. The older three were married. Empty nest, right?
Nope. My niece Libby moved in with us for a couple of years as she got established after grad school. Only recently has she been ready to move into her own apartment. Empty nest, right?
Nope. A married daughter and her husband relocated from Connecticut to Steubenville, Ohio. My son-in-law made the move right away while my daughter Tierney remained behind to job hunt. She stayed with us.
Many empty-nesters have similar experiences as adult children return home during times of transition. What is unusual about our situation is how it culminated.
Libby signed a lease for an apartment and prepared to move two weeks hence, on a Sunday.
Tierney landed a great job, gave notice to her Connecticut employer, and prepared to move to Steubenville two weeks hence, on a Sunday. The same Sunday.
Our youngest daughter, engaged to be married in the summer of 2016, moved the wedding to the summer of 2015. A bridal shower was quickly planned for a Saturday afternoon in our home – the same weekend that Tierney and Libby were moving out.
Grandmothers delighted us by attending the shower, with transportation to and from Cape Cod provided by Peter and me. That weekend.
The cherry on top was that Peter and I were scheduled to teach a gathering of engaged couples that Sunday, since we had nothing else to do.
On Saturday afternoon, 20 people crowded into our home.
Sunday night, the house was empty.
Over the years, Peter and I have taken a variety of steps to prepare for this stage, but the best thing we’ve done is to stay in touch with one other.
When the children were babies and we were desperate for a few hours alone together, we began the tradition of Saturday date night. Peter’s parents cared for the children, and I credit them for whatever sanity we retain today.
All these years later, we still do Saturday date night. Sometimes it’s just the two of us; other times we meet with friends. The key is that it’s our time to be lovers, leaving behind responsibilities and distractions.
Peter and I take turns planning date night with the caveat that the other is allowed to veto the plans. This rule was established after I dragged Peter to a “Sound of Music” singalong at Hartford’s Bushnell Theater, complete with patrons in lederhosen. A group of drunk revelers in the back row gave new meaning to “brown paper packages tied up with string.”
The singalong was payback for the time Peter took me out on his 10-foot inflatable raft in the choppy waters of Long Island Sound. In pitch darkness. We had no lantern, no navigation system, no map. I get motion sickness. We got lost. I’d say that we laugh about it now but I’m still not finding it funny – given that it was my first evening out of the house after delivering a baby.
But I digress. Suffice it to say that today’s empty nest is eased by playfulness and romance.
Unfortunately, this advice does not help parents who are single, divorced, separated or widowed, for whom an empty nest can be truly empty. A unique emptiness also exists for parents of an only child, a son or daughter deployed overseas and those who are simultaneously assisting elderly parents.
Such people have far greater challenges than we do. In all cases, however, we lean on friends. We visit family, write letters, Skype and send care packages. At the same time, we rebuild a life of our own. And we trust God.
Always we trust God, just as we did before we had children. Perhaps this is the real truth about an empty nest.
We trust God for the next step, not only for our children but for ourselves as well.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.