January 22, 2021   3:58am

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Cindy Talks: Empty Nesting …

Our “What’s Next” advisor Cindy finds her youngest on his way out the door. As college beckons, she’s navigating the love, pride and sadness that accompany that event …

It’s official. I will be an empty nester this fall.

The college letters have dribbled in. In a few instances, there were hoots of joy, big smiles, bear hugs. One time there was a closed bedroom door….the air heavy with disappointment. A few colleges have been revisited, and a final decision will be made by May 1st. In the end, my delightful younger son will go to a college of his choice. He is prepared and hankering to take on the world.

I, on the other hand, am a blubbering mix of emotions. I feel tremendous joy and pride for the person he has become. I feel profound sadness at the prospect of losing his presence in my every day life. I feel relief that I have worked through enough of my own issues that I bring a sense of autonomy and a long list of my own projects with which to fill the void. I am anxious but hopeful that my relationship with my husband will adapt to this changing set of circumstance, as it has to many before. I am tentative about how to be a good mother to adult children but will trust my instincts as I have for the last 21 years of parenting.

The departure of my older son to college four years ago was also accompanied by this suite of feelings. Then, however, I could fall back on still having a child at home to give purpose to my parenting routine. I grew to treasure the precious alone time that I had never had before with my youngest. Now, there is no avoiding the note of finality to this phase of motherhood; when your last child, your baby, leaves home.

To paraphrase Anna Quindlen,* I have two almost-adults, both taller than I am, who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid to disagree with me in their opinion of them. Who, miraculously, go the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth. The babies I held are buried deep inside of them. I alone in the world can discern and respond to certain of their small gestures and shifts in tone of voice. They have done more than anyone to excavate my basic humanity. I am so, so sad that this phase of my relationship with them must end.

One of my motivations for becoming a snoety contributor was my belief (shared with Harriett) that women have unrealized potential in the “be a better community” department and that snoety could facilitate us supporting, sharing, enriching each other. So this post will test the hypothesis. It is my first “What’s Next?” post where I am not sure that I have a helpful perspective to share – I’m too much in the midst of this particular change to trust my perspective.What I can to do is give my voice to the raw feelings of intense love and pride and sadness that accompany letting go of my son and hope it resonates with some of you.

What you might do is share your perspectives with me. Whether you have children or not; whatever side of empty nesting you are on; we all experience separation intensely.

I would love to hear from you, our emerging snoety community….


* When she talks about raising her own children in her many books and articles

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Pat says: April 29th, 2008 at 8:25 am

I really appreciate Cindy’s article which so beautifully expressed her feelings of separation which I am definitely feeling. I cried when I read it.
Thanks for your honesty.

Sidney says: April 29th, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Ah, Cindy, I have happy news for you. They come back! You send them off to school and it initially feels like an amputation, undeniably. And for a few days you pick up a stray sock or sweater and get all misty-eyed, but you move on, and even out the door of your empty nest home, and what you define as your home can grow. You become more of a citizen of your neighborhood, your town or city… your borders expand. That energy you gave to daily mothering you can give to other causes, including the care and nurturing of talents you have that became secondary to homework and routine. The world awaits!

Those children we launch are still our children, forever. You have given them roots, the next step is to give them wings. And think how clean the house will be…. and you don’t always have to fix dinner. There is an upside, I promise.

Cindy says: April 30th, 2008 at 12:20 pm

Dear Sidney, What a lovely message. I love your notion that one’s definition of home can grow, that our borders can expand. Very cool. Very uplifting. I’m still a teary – eyed mess these days but appreciate your perspective and will be on the look out for the upside! Thank you – Cindy

Eileen says: May 1st, 2008 at 3:11 pm

As Sept 2006 approached, I was more than mortified at the prospect of my only child leaving home to go to college. After returning from Boston that first weekend we dropped him off, I filled my house with family and friends and celebrated the Labor Day holiday in good company. After about a week of the silence so thick you could cut it with a knife, I got used to the quiet, and came to welcome it. My husband and I were able to concentrate on each other, and then had a major distraction with relatives that took up the better part of 2007. I was relieved that our son was not around to experience the stress of that year. It takes a while, some longer for others, but you do get used to the empty nest eventually and come to enjoy it. Then they come home for Thanksgiving, and their presence fills up your house (and they eat you out of house & home). Either way, they are a joy.

Kirby says: May 23rd, 2008 at 8:57 am

I cried too! I do that a lot these days. Is it hormonal? Is it that my first is on his way out the door — with full bravado I declare, I’m ready/he is ready, but it is a major life change, no getting around it. Your essay is beautifully expressed, Cindy. Thank you.

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