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Can We Ever Really Get Used to the Empty Nest?

I have come to consider myself a poster child for the joys of being an empty nester. My nest has been empty for three years with daughters in New York, Atlanta and until recently, Boston. These years were exciting and fulfilling for me as I pursued my own passions and watched my adult children creating their own lives. I felt sure the empty nest transition chapter of my life had concluded. Yet my reaction to some recent changes completely blindsided me and left me wondering if the empty nest transition is ever truly complete?

I think it started when my only local child moved from Boston to Seattle. Although she had been out of the house for 10 years, she had never been very far. I got so caught up in her excitement that I never stopped to acknowledge how it would affect me: no more spontaneous meet ups or quick bites at the mall, no need to make her favorite foods (and extras to take home) for her bi-monthly Sunday dinners at home.

And then there were the holidays. In the past, at least one or two of our three children were able to join us. We’ve celebrated all the Jewish holidays with good friends and their families for over 20 years. The numbers and faces change every year as kids are away at college, significant others are added, kids live too far away or celebrate with their partners’ families. This past year we were childless at some of these celebrations. I love being with our friends and their children and used it as an opportunity to better connect with those who did attend. I had a great time. But, truth to be told, I was sad.

Then there was Mother’s Day. I knew well in advance that we would be spending the day childless, but again, I thought little about how I would actually feel. My husband was actually more attuned to the situation than I was. Weeks prior he began asking, “Barbara, how would you like to spend Mother’s Day? Do you want to drive somewhere for the day, go bike riding, or go out for brunch or dinner?” Each time I responded with some form of “we’ll figure it out when it gets closer.” Ultimately we went out to brunch and although we enjoyed the day, it was definitely a little lonely.

Another strange thing happened during these months; I stopped writing blog articles. I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I think I felt like a fraud. How could I write about the wonders of empty-nesthood when I myself was struggling?


My family

Fast forward to July 4th. In our family, the 4th has been a weekend of celebrating with our friends and their families on the Cape. Tons of kids, their friends and parents partying together. What could be better? Well guess what, none of our kids were able to come this year. But, this time I was prepared. I realized we would not be happy celebrating with our friends and their children without any of own, so, I thought about what I would enjoy and planned ahead. We still spent the weekend on the Cape, but instead invited good friends who don’t usually celebrate this holiday with their children to join us. We all golfed, ate, walked, beached, ate, drank, laughed, watched the fireworks, oh and did I mention ate. We had a great weekend.

And to my surprise, I woke up the next morning to find my writer’s block was gone! Why? I think because I finally figured out what wasn’t working for me, developed a plan, took charge and created something that met my needs.

Yes, these years can be the best years of our lives. A lot is changing. Some of these changes are freeing and exciting. But even if we have fulfilling careers, great friends and many interests, we still have feelings about some of our favorite traditions becoming wonderful memories. Denying that we are or will be impacted by these changes sets us up to feel sad, lost and stuck. By acknowledging how these changes will affect us, we allow ourselves to take charge and create new memories and traditions.

What traditions have you had to let go of? What new traditions can you create that will be fun, exciting and different?


Barbara Wasserman, LICSW

Barbara Wasserman, LICSW: Psychotherapist and Life Transition Coach; is the owner of Barbara Wasserman Coaching and a partner at Counseling Collaborative. Barbara created and leads the "Beyond The Empty Nest" and "Moving Beyond Divorce" Workshop series and coaches busy people navigating transitions in their lives to make the rest of their lives the best of their lives. Barbara is a speaker on Empty Nesting and Life Transitions and her work has been featured in the Huffington Post and Barbara is married and has launched her three daughters ages 27, 24 and 20.

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Friday 25th of September 2015

Aha! I may have found out why I have writer's block. Thanks for the very insightful essay!


Friday 25th of September 2015

Hi Barbara, Love your article. This is the age of change and how we adapt is key. It is disappointing that our children make decisions that don't necessarily fit into our paradigm but memories take the edge off. Again, thanks for the article.

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