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Parenting

Why the Empty Nest Reality Is Much Less Glum Than the Myth

You’re supposed to feel weepy, forsaken and bereft. And maybe you do. Sometimes. Some days. But many parents are realizing that they also feel exhilarated, freer and, yes, sexier, when their kids grow up, leave home and go out on their own.

It might be an empty nest, but there’s no “syndrome”. At least, not in the negative sense. There’s no malady about it. It’s more like a club whose members are secretly celebrating having more quality time alone, with their friends and with their spouse.

Magazine articles and TV doctors still tend to focus on “coping” with this midlife transition, and the identity crisis they say could lead to depression, alcoholism, and divorce. But research reveals an empty nest can actually reduce stress and family conflicts. A 2008 study by University of Missouri associate professor Christine M. Proulx found that parents mostly felt pride and relief that they’d done their job and prepared their kids to live independently.

My husband and I dreaded the day when our youngest child went off to college. We had 29 years to prepare for empty nest syndrome, but the symptoms we experienced were far different from what we expected.

Here are some of the things you can look forward to:

  • No more arguments over who holds the TV remote, and every light in the house is turned off when no one is in the room. Your phone charger is where you left it – charging your phone.
    • The receipt from your weekly trip to the grocery store is less than two feet long. (And, yes, you read that right: You only have to go to the market once a week.)
    • The bathroom vanity is devoid of the many tools required for young adult beauty: no more blow dryers, flat irons, makeup and acne medications to move aside so you can wash your hands or brush your teeth. Your things are in the linen closet where they belong – lids on and cords coiled. And the drain is no longer clogged with hair.
    • You get in the car – and there’s gas in the tank. The driver’s seat and mirrors are always where you like them. And there are no mysterious new scratches or dents.
    • Meals are what you want, when you want, and where you want. No more planning around your child’s band practice – just the symphony concert you’re attending with friends.
    • Pretty much every bill you have will go down – and all that extra money can be spent in any way you wish. New furniture. Paris. Or paying off all the bills you’ve run up over the past 20 or so years.
    When researchers at the University of California-Berkley tracked 123 women for 18 years – from their early 40s to their 60s – they found that empty nesters reported greater satisfaction with their partners than did mothers with children at home. My husband and I felt like we were two teenagers left home aloneAll that apprehension and dread about the empty nest was for nothing.