Susan B. Winston LMFT

Shift Happens

Empty the Nest One More Time

Just when you think you have emotionally managed the kids leaving, guess what?

Posted Dec 01, 2014

My third and youngest just pulled out from the driveway on her way back to school. Don’t let your therapist tell you that they are immune from the same things that haunt you.

Empty Nest syndrome is a real thing. One minute your house is filled with little kids with sticky fingers, mud on their shoes, painting the dog unique colors so he can run against the white couch, waking you up in the middle of the night because they watched a scary movie you told them not to watch. And then they are gone. You get through those first empty months looking at your nice and always clean house, the lack of daily laundry, the quiet and think, OK, this is not so bad. And then one child returns. Sorry, I’m out of money and out of a job and just need to hang here until I get it under control. So much for the Empty Nest. The Nest is now filled with more laundry, a room that looks like the white tornado ran through it, never enough food in the house . . . or never the right food, seething but quiet anger at the fact that one has to rely on parents and live at home. We pretend to care, but we are really thrilled to have someone to care for.

Then comes Thanksgiving when the rest of the crowd returns. And I loved it. Having all three whining about our rabbit food refrigerator, making peace with the fact that we had moved, figuring out transportation being down to not enough cars. More whining, the noise, combat zones determined. Yes, it was wonderful and then it happened.

My "returnee" finally had enough money to find an affordable apartment and off he went. My middle one had to return to New York early for work, and my baby just left. Rooms with rumpled bedding, the spare pair of underwear and toothbrush left behind, the special smell of kids who forget that we have a draught in CA and are overly clean, my husband knee-deep in a book per usual, and I have tears running down my cheek. I feel truly pathetic.

As a therapist I am supposed to be the support system for those going through emotional distress and right now I am nursing my own. Yes, I will get through this. A sweaty trip to the gym, a war movie that I really do not want to see, will pull me back to being me. I am lucky. I work full-time and spend my life dealing with the problems of others. I feel valued every day and put all my tools to work in helping people feel better and get through their pain.

Does my heart hurt today? You bet. Am I embarrassed to admit this to my clients and others? Absolutely not. One needs to feel deeply and emotionally to be able to understand the pain of others. While this is just a process of readjusting to the quiet and soon-to be-clean again home, to be in it is like a deep loss. I get today only to grieve and then get my act back together and do my job. If I sound selfish “grieving” over my children leaving home, well that’s just how it feels. That I love so deeply and feel so empty is my honest admission. We ate Thanksgiving dinner a second time tonight and it was not nearly as good or fun or funny. It was, however, filled with the thanks I have for my remarkable family and for my kids not giving me a hard time for crying when they left. Be thankful all you parents of little ones. A cliché, but wow does time fly.