Empty Nesting for the Second Time

Adjusting to the empty nest is difficult, there’s no doubt about it. When my youngest left for college in the fall of 2010, I felt as though my life’s work – being a full-time mother – was over, and I wondered – a lot – about what I was supposed to do next. I missed my kids, but almost more than them I missed my daily sense of purpose – the time-consuming and emotionally fulfilling job of being a mom, available and eager to help whenever I was needed. Not that they didn’t need me anymore – in fact, my son would need my husband and me, to some extent, more than he ever had, during his first two years in college – but no longer was I compelled to do anything or be anywhere for the purpose of caring for others.

Then my son came home.

His first two years in college had been challenging and difficult in a variety of ways, and after much discussion and debate, he decided – with our support – to come home and attend a junior college. By this time, I had found my new life, and was immersed in my blog, my social media activity, and a sense of purpose that had replaced my job as a full-time mother.

“I don’t want to be a full-time mom anymore,” I thought. “I’m a blogger now!” 

“I have things to do!”

It wasn’t easy when he first returned home. Besides the mountains of stuff that he brought with him, the return of the constant drone of ESPN Sports Center on television and the sprouting of wet towel piles in his disaster of a bedroom, there was my expectation that now I had to be a full-time Mom (with a capital M) again. A few weeks after he came home, my daughter also returned, newly graduated from college and starting a job about an hour from home.

There’s a big difference between a family -2 adults and 2 children – living together and four adults living together. With four grown people in our house, the old rules didn’t apply and a new dynamic developed between all of us.

I was surprised. One aspect of that dynamic was that rarely did anyone want me to be their mommy anymore. My kids were taking care of their business. My daughter, beginning her career, quickly found an apartment and moved out, happy to be on her own and starting her life as an adult. My son, though he would now and then revert back to the little boy I adored, was on his own – for the most part. There was very little nagging or checking on his progress (except about cleaning his room – a futile battle), and we were thrilled when, a few months after he had returned , he made the very adult decision to go back to the university he had left the previous May to finish his college education.

I think it’s partly because I don’t cook a often as I used to.

This time around when my nest was empty, I felt no sense of confusion or fear about what to do next. My definition of who I am had drastically shifted during the two years when we were empty-nesters the first time around – I had gone from being a full-time mom to being a blogger, writer, and now a businessperson. After the initial discomfort of adjusting to having my kids here again, I grew to enjoy my son’s company and looked forward to when he would return each day- other than the noise of ESPN Sports Center.

The truth is, adjusting to the empty nest the second time around has been easy. Having found my new passion, I was able to let my former self – the full-time mommy of 20 years – go peacefully, replaced by a mother of two grown people. I’m ready for anything now. And if the kids come home again – which I doubt they will – I’ll be ready for that, too. Because no matter what job I have or what direction my life takes me in, I’ll always be their mother.

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  • Congrats Sharon on making the most difficult shift there is to make..from mommy to happy empty nester. Honestly, we all deserve metals for that feat. I love your son’s pjs here..and omg your daughter’s precious shoes. I always think I’m moving along nicely and then I go back and look at photos like these and I fall apart..something about adorable pjs and shoes 🙂

    • Thanks Amy – if my son had been older those pjs would have been banned from our house, since he’s now a rabid Green Bay Packers fan! The only thing more difficult than becoming an empty-nester is being a new mom – so many changes.

  • Congrats on success on a job(s) well done all around! A very heart warming post.

  • We had a ‘second time around’ situation as well. Both daughters moved out, married, and had their own adult lives. Then our youngest daughter and her husband, and toddler daughter (and our daughter was pregnant with our grandson) moved in with us while they were house hunting in our community.

    While I had a horrible time several years earlier when she moved out and my nest was painfully empty, I did eventually adapted and enjoyed the quiet peace in my home. When my daughters family moved in with us it was no longer quiet or peaceful…two families cannot live under the same roof without there being some tension. We were each use to our own routines and sound level so it was difficult. Examples, we did own a television for watching an occasional movie but otherwise it did not get used for months at a time…however the kids watched it everyday, all day. I like silence as my background noise, my daughter likes the TV. Laundry for two people meant laundry ‘day’ with three new people (and a newborn the last month) in the house it meant laundry ‘daily’. Cooking for two is pretty easy because I know what we both like, trying to please the tastes for 5 people is way more difficult.

    I did love having my granddaughter and my new grandson with me everyday but nanny does need some down time…I am not as young as I use to be.

    We were ALL very happy the day their house escrow closed and they were able to move in to their new home. Six months of living under the same roof was a test of everyone’s patience…we made it through but would not want to do it again.

    When my nest was empty the second time, I relished the peace and quiet again.


  • Having young adult children (my daughter will soon be 20) is a time of adjustment for everyone. My daughter swoops in for short visits here and there or we meet up for a long weekend, mini-vacation. Every time I see her she is more of her own person. I can really relate to your post, Sharon. Thanks for sharing!

  • When my kids left home to go to college 4,000 miles away across the Big Pond, I ached, but being in teaching and around teens all day helped ease the pain. Now when the Big Kids come home for short visits, and then fly away, I feel myself having to making the transition all over again. Your last line says it all…our lives may change, but we will always be moms.

  • I have two grown sons out of the house (and out of the state, which is hard), and I’ve found the transition difficult.
    I still have two daughters in their early teens, so I’m trying to focus on having time with them that’s very special. The girls have spent their whole lives in a boy-house that is suddenly focused more on them. Trying to see the glass as more than half full.

    • It’s so tough to adjust to new family dynamics – when my daughter left for college and my son was the only kid at home, there was the sense always that something was missing – but we enjoyed the time alone with our son. Now it’s a treat when the four of us are together.

  • Love the precious photo of your kids! I remember mine at that sweet age too. I found the first week after winter break particularly difficult. I wasn’t prepared for them fleeing the nest AGAIN. Thank goodness I had my blog and social media to throw myself into once again, though it still feels a little too quiet at home.

  • Your son is precious :>) We often forget how much our kids have grown up…

  • I love the coming home so I do get the “little boy I adored” once again. I think he and I both revert to those roles, I am the MOM who adores, and it’s only when DIL is there that we have confusion. Too bad I can’t go into all that on my blog, but it gets read, if you know what i mean!

  • Helene Bludman

    I think I recognized the dynamic had changed the first time my oldest came home for Thanksgiving break. When they talk about going “home” and that means back to school, you know things are different.

  • This is a wonderful post. I am so far from this, but I feel it every time my kids go to their father’s and then return. I almost feel like it’s pre-preparation for when they go for good…huh…I sense a blog post…

  • Well, congratulations on your own graduation! Saying good-bye to the mommy of your children’s youth and welcome to the mother of your adult children is something to feel good about. You’ve done something right with them and you should be proud of yourself.

    My son returned home after 1 semester at college. He hated the school. Now he’s commuting to a wonderful college 30 minutes from us and he is the happiest guy in the world; getting a solid education while being involved and becoming enlightened can do that to a young man. We readjusted to our lives with our son’s return. There’s a new relationship that evolved with our 20 year old and new rules of the house now apply.

    I hand you your diploma for finding and being who you are and for keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground as a fabulous boomer.

    Best always,

  • Hi Sharon, as a fellow blogger and recent empty nester, I could really relate to this post. I have written a couple of similar articles about the coming and going of my adult children (commonly referred to as ‘boomerangs’). It does take a lot of adjustment for all concerned, but you slowly get used to having your life back!

  • Love this post Sharon. I too have changed since my next became empty. It took a while but I am in such a happy place beginning a new chapter as well. With social media – my kids are just a facebook stalk, er, message away. Who knew the kids were going to be so much fun as adults? Who knew were were going to have so much fun at this age?

  • You should be proud of yourself! It’s having valuable work that makes all the difference to afterhood Moms, once the children are gone, so that you don’t keep looking forward into the past mourning what was your life’s work. Mine are gone; mostly they come back for good food! Cooking is a critical family building block in this household. When we do all live together for a few days, over the holidays or whatever, we – as my daughter so aptly phrases it, tend to have ‘our elbows in each other’s eyeballs’. It’s amazing how we do NOT fit together seamlessly any more, and I am NOT the boss of them!

  • Like Cathy, my daughter returned home after 2 semesters at college. I had acclimated just fine when she left even though I missed her. I had my blog and my other startup company that took up all my time and more! Now she’s attending an art school while living at home. She’s quite busy but when she interrupts me while I’m writing or commenting, I savor it and listen to her fully. Because when she no longer lives at home the second time and is fully on her own, there will be a void and lots of sweet memories.

    • I love when my now-grown daughter comes home to visit – since she lives nearby I get to see her a lot. But it’s different now, when she says she’s going home, and it’s not here.

  • Wow, I can relate! I actually started the blog to get ready for their leaving – my daughters a Sr. and will leave for college this August, but because I’m such an OCD planner, I’ve already begun to worry about the empty nest syndrome so started the blog and am also upping my client activity so that I’ve got a new life ahead to look forward to.

    And…your whole “wet towels on the floor” thing cracked me up – it’s one of my pet peeves with my kids! Funny how similar teens are.

  • Although my nest is not quite empty, this really resonates with me. After being a SAHM for 17 years, I feel I need to reinvent myself. It was sad at first but now that I have found blogging and writing, it has become exciting. I love how you say, “…having found my new passion, I was able to let my former self go peacefully.” This gave me goosebumps! Thank you for sharing Sharon!

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