Surviving the Empty Nest

By Suzette A. Cohen

It is not like I did not see it coming. When my oldest son was but 10 days old and we were dining in our favorite Virginia-Highlands trattoria, a stranger came up to us and said, "these are the best days, when they are small and you still have some control". I thought that man was rude and out of touch, but he was the first of many to remind me that childhood is such a temporary state.

That was twenty-three years ago and who I was then, and am today, bears no resemblance. In my mid-twenties, I was a career woman, not to be defined by my children or my husband. Two babies later, I somehow slipped into the role of suburban mom. Everything I said I would never do, I did. We moved from our eclectic Decatur neighborhood to the suburbs (schools were the issue), I did trade in my stick shift car for a mini-van (ugh) and I would open my mouth, and my mother would come out... "Don't run with that fork or you'll lose an eye, "Call me the minute you get to the neighbor's house" and more. Yet, I would not trade one second of the amazing journey of motherhood for anything in the world.

So what am I to do now? My youngest of three sons is a senior in high school. The two oldest are away at college, living independently of us. The days of carpooling, frenetic schedules, hockey games and religious school are now behind me. No more homework at the kitchen table, warm cookies in the afternoon, or baths and bedtime stories.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a very patient husband who would gently remind me that I was more than just a mom. He remembers me as a fun loving, late night kind of girl who was not obsessed with providing a rainbow of colors on each dinner plate. After twenty-five years of marriage, he convinced me that traveling overseas for ten days was not an abandonment of our children. In fact, our sons rejoiced over the freedom of a mom-free home where TV dinners were finally an option! We started our life as a couple and we were now ready to spend the rest of our lives together as a couple again.

Now that the house will be empty in just one more year, there are some things I realized I needed to do in order to get ready and adjust to a life without the children. One thing that had been an incompletion for me and continually loomed in my psyche, was that I never finished graduate school. When my middle son was a high school senior, I realized it was time for me to hone my skills and return to school. Three years later, I was granted a masters degree (with honors!) which showed me I still had a mind that worked and skills that were needed. Being a college student along with my sons showed a commitment to lifelong learning and that hard work will pay off. I still smile each day when I see that diploma above my desk at home.

I never abandoned my girlfriends. Most of my girlfriends have been friends for years and we often supported each other with the raising of our children. It is a special blessing to have friends who you can call for any issue and know they will be there to love and support you. Together, we mourned the loss of marriages, the loss of dreams, and the unfair challenges that life presented. But we are sisters, and we are committed for life.

I went back to work part-time after my third son started pre-K. My working enabled me to interact with adults and feel good about my contributions to others, aside from my family. It felt great to be productive and see immediate results. The money was also most helpful! I was incredibly lucky to work with flexible and understanding psychologists, who helped me find the perfect balance between home and the workplace. My co-workers saw in me potential I did not see in myself, and they invested in many workshops and trainings to make me the best mother, spouse, co-worker, and human being I could be. I surrounded myself with those I admired and received so much love and support in return.

I sought wisdom from those who walked the path before me. I began asking other women, how they adjusted to life without children in the house, and what they shared was invaluable. Most said that they finally had time for themselves and it was wonderful. Single moms began focusing on their own needs for once, and creating new friendships and relationships. Countless couples said they loved "dating" each other again and remembering what it was that brought them together in the first place. Many couples were traveling, taking classes together, and engaging in hobbies they had put on hold for so many years. What I saw was many empty nesters enjoying their lives to the fullest.

As is typical for me, I am spending much time and thought for what is about to occur in my life. I am in the home stretch after many years of sleepless nights, teacher's conferences, and cheering my boys on from the sidelines. I have done my job as best I can and feel it is time to pull back and let my boys soar. I gave them their roots and now they have their wings. I have become a much more compassionate and caring human being as a direct result of being a mom. I now have many more years to enjoy with my husband and opportunities to make a difference in the world with my newly acquired freedom. I have no regrets in looking back over my life as a mom, and am filled with hopefulness about what the future now holds for me and those I love.