It’s awful. Terrible. Horrendous.
That’s pretty much my initial response when people ask me, “So, what’s it like living in an empty nest now?”
It’s tough enough imagining that Jason, our oldest, is a junior in college this year. But our youngest son Ryan, a freshman? Inconceivable!
But here we are. These days it’s just me, my beautiful wife Allison and our incredibly stubborn dog Ace. It’s been just the three of us for about a month now and, let me tell you… it still feels weird.
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
I know, raising your kids and having them be successful in life is what it’s all about. Having them leave you and go off on their own is definitely a good thing and something to be proud of. But that doesn’t make it any less painful.
According to Psychology Today, “Empty nest syndrome refers to the distress and other complicated emotions that parents often experience when their children leave home.” There actually isn’t a clinical diagnosis for it, but basically, my kids are grown up and out of the house, and my wife and I are pretty beat up about it.
You don’t need to have a medical degree to know that when you’ve been raising little humans every single day for 20 straight years and they suddenly up and leave you, well… it’s going to hit you.
The quiet is what gets me the most. No shouts from the basement as a new kill is recorded in Fallout. No non-stop YouTubers talking about their latest Minecraft adventure. No being woken up at 2 a.m. by stairs creaking or doors shutting.
I don’t know who coined the phrase “Silence is deafening” but they absolutely hit the nail on the head.
What is it like living in an empty nest?
I remember when Allie and first came home with Jason as an infant. He cried the entire ride home from Good Samaritan Hospital, pretty much telling us and the world that he was here.
We walked in the house, got settled and put Jason down in his carrier and he passed out. The two of us sat on the couch, looked at each other and literally said, “Uh… now what?”
See, there really is no official manual for parenting. You give birth and have doctors and nurses around the clock for a day or two and then are kicked out on your keister and expected to raise the little rugrat.
Same goes for teenagers. Once they’re old enough to go off to college, you pretty much drop them off and then you’re left on your own.
Allie and I came back from dropping Ryan off at Binghamton and then Jason at WPI in the same weekend. We got home after the long ride, got settled and then sat on the couch. It’s a different couch than the one we had two decades ago, but the sentiment was the same. “Uh… now what?”
The first few days were definitely the hardest.
Waking up and walking past their empty rooms with the doors open was like a gut punch.
Eating dinner with just the two of us felt… well, it felt smaller.
And if I watched the latest Attack on Titan episode, I felt like I was somehow cheating on my kids.
Attending family gatherings with nieces, nephews and other assorted munchkins, yet ours nowhere to be found… was a bit unnerving. So many times I’d glance around thinking I could ask Ryan to chime in on something only to remember he wasn’t there. It was almost like a “phantom limb.” You know they’re not there, but part of you still “feels” them in the room.
And then there’s the tons of chores that we now have to take on.
I actually have to walk the dog every afternoon instead of pawning that off on Ryan.
Allie and I are stuck watching the same channel on TV forever, unless we physically move off the couch to pick up the remote. Life was so much simpler when we could just shout, “Jason, we need you” and then tell him to hand us the remote when he entered the room.
Same goes for getting the mail.
Helping bring in groceries.
I mean what’s the point in having kids if they’re not going to be around to do all the work for you?
What do we do now?
It’s funny, Allie and I dated for about seven years and then were married for about five more before we had kids. That means for as long as we’ve been together, roughly 2/3 of that time has been with a kid.
It’s tough to recall that 1/3 where it was just the two of us. But here we are, enjoying each other’s company once again. And as we get more and more used to this new chapter in our life, we’re starting to plan things out.
We love hiking (as does our mini-schnauzer) so we definitely will continue our weekend hikes with the little guy. But we’re looking to branch out a bit more. Maybe find some nice hikes upstate or over in New Hampshire or Vermont. Basically, start a quest for dog-friendly hotels near some nature-filled areas.
We’re trying to focus much more on our health overall. That means making (and keeping) tons of different doctors appointments. Everything from annual mole checks to the cringeworthy colonoscopies. We’re also looking to cut down on the junk food and ordering in, as well as spending more time prepping and making healthier meals. With the weather cooling down, we’re looking forward to making loads and loads of vegetable soups.
And there’s also the exercising. Walking for sure and at some point, we’ll hopefully get into a regular routine of yoga. I have an impingement in my left shoulder (fun!) but I’m getting PT on it now and once healed, I hope to start some weight lifting again.
Then there’s books. We both love to read and just haven’t really gotten back into the habit of it. Binge watching Doctor Who hasn’t helped any. But we’ll get there.
And for me, I’m looking forward to not just reading more, but writing more. My blog posts have gotten more and more spaced out and I don’t like that. So I expect to be keeping busy on Mommy’s Busy a lot more in the future. It’s fun and for me, writing has always helped me get the stress out.
Oh, and two other things I am very much promising myself that I will do are: learn to play the guitar and get back into video games. Besides my beloved Atari 2600, I want to dive into the Spider-Man game on the PS4.
Yes, living in an empty nest is most definitely a shock to the system. But we still talk to our kids regularly and text more than we used to. Mix in Parent Weekends and holiday, and we’ll be seeing them soon enough. So yes, it does get better. And if it doesn’t… well, we can always get ourselves another dog.
How are you dealing with an Empty Nest?