I found myself coming home to a quiet house one evening a couple of weeks ago. Quiet is not something usual in my family. I have four kids: two young adults and two teenagers. Normally there are music, movies/tv series, games, and friends -- the latter they seem to have an abundance of. I often fall asleep with some sort of activity in the background.
But on that Thursday night, only the tenth grader Sophia was home, and she was already asleep, tired from school and her commute. The oldest, Beatrice, had just left for the airport, on her way to Singapore for some regional youth event. The second, Josh, had extended his stay in Baguio with his friends who also happened to be his bandmates. Their jazz group was invited to play at a bar there. The youngest, seventh grader Elmo, was at boarding school in Makiling and would not be due home until the weekend.
This was something new. I decided to get a massage. Before stepping out, I posted a related status on my Facebook wall.
When I returned, I found messages from several friends saying that I should be prepared for the actual empty-nest stage in my life. It will be a lonely time, some of them suggested, something I should prepare for as early as now.
Empty-nest is that period in one’s family life when the children you bore and raised are just about ready to strike out on their own. It’s supposed to be a sad and humbling stage. All of a sudden, you who used to be so busy and so dependable would now find yourself not needed. Nobody’s asking for your help anymore -- even as nobody’s making your house dirty or your wallet empty. And whereas you used to complain about the noise and the clutter, the house is now silent and in perfect order.
And somehow that’s not as perfect as it sounds.
Not even 40, I may be quite young to worry about going through the empty-nest stage. Nonetheless, the one-night glimpse got me thinking: Is it really as scary and sad as it is made out to be?
I suppose the empty-nest stage will have different effects on different people.
Parents who relish their role as providers, care-givers, cheerleaders and all-around supporters of their children will likely experience a shock at not being needed anymore. Those who spend their days claiming they live for their families will find it odd that they no longer have anybody to live for.
The same is also true for those who thrive in company and activity. For them, so long as they are surrounded by people, they would be all right. When they find themselves alone, they would be lost.
But the empty-nest stage is also a perfect opportunity to reconnect with one’s spouse or partner. It is likely that over the many years spent raising children and earning a living, one or both may have felt that they have lost whatever it was that brought them together in the first place. It would be good, then, to find a common hobby. Start living healthy. Travel. Get to know each other as though the past years of everydayness did not drive a wedge between the two of them.
Single parents, on the other hand, will be able to conquer fears and try things they may not have had the courage or even the time to do before. Travel alone. Write a book. Read all the books lying on the shelves. De-clutter and keep only the things that spark joy, as one author advises. And after decades of bearing huge responsibilities on their shoulders, they can finally rest and do nothing, only the things they love.
It also opens them up to surprises the universe may spring.
Finally, empty nest is a good way to witness a change in relationships with the children. We can treasure them as friends and let them see us as their mentor, not as judge or protector. Allow them to get to know us for who we are, warts and all -- not only the stern, strong, superman or superwoman who took care of them when they were young. We can tell them a secret we’ve been wanting to get off our chest. Laugh like crazy, or seek their advice. Let them roll their eyes and say, “Mom!!!”
As an introvert I believe I would have an easier time dealing with the empty-nest stage when it does come. Imagine the peace and quiet, the absence of clutter, all that blank space and free time!
But for parents of all stripes, remember: the time for kids leaving the nest would come for sure. Just because we’re young parents does not mean we should not start preparing for this phase right now.
It also does not have to mean feeling empty, or being sad. On the contrary, empty-nest could yet be another wonderful stage in our charmed life.