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The Half Empty Nest

There’s a couple that live in the house behind ours who are about our age and never had  kids.  Because of how the houses are situated and separated by fences, we don’t really share a neighborhood with them and we only see them from afar with the occasional wave and hello, but have never really socialized with them.

Throughout the years when I was still working in a corporate job and getting up each day at 5:30 AM to get dressed, get the kids ready for daycare, race home after a 10 hour work day to get dinner on the table, the kids fed, bathed and read-to before putting them to bed, I would think of the two of them enviously.


During the week, I’d see the woman in the mornings after her husband left for work around 7:00, while I had been up for a few hours already, groggily getting breakfasts and lunches made for the kids before I took them to daycare and then went to work.  She’d be outside in her backyard with her well trained labrador, methodically and peacefully tending to her beautifully landscaped backyard garden.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings in the spring and summers, she and her husband would sit on their deck, reading the paper and drinking coffee, just the two of them looking so calm and relaxed. It looked like heaven to me.

I would watch them from my kitchen window longingly, as I stole my precious ten minutes of solitude on a weekend morning, gulping my morning cup of tea down before the inevitable moment when the kids and my husband would come downstairs and the mad dash of the weekend parenting gig would begin with breakfasts to be made, chores to be done and kids to be driven all over the place to their various weekend activities.

Their life seemed so peaceful and calm, such the opposite of ours with its chaos of kids and a full time job, working and racing around.

There was no morning coffee on the deck for my husband and me when the kids were growing up.  I would watch the couple from my kitchen window while I washed endless dishes and cooked endless meals, as they sat on their deck reading the paper and later lazily watered their well tended garden or swam in their beautifully clean built-in pool.

Later in the day I’d pass the two of them walking their friendly and well-behaved black lab downtown, while I drove my minivan full of screaming kids on endless trips to school, baseball games, Tae Kwon Do classes, playdates, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, birthday parties and all the other hundreds of things kids do when they’re in grammar school.

And now, all of a sudden (or so it seems), I’m living the life of the couple in the house behind us.

I quit my corporate job seven years ago and have worked from a home office ever since, which freed up my time dramatically.  I don’t have to spend 45 minutes commuting each morning and night, and get to work from home in jeans and a T-shirt with a nice warm cup of tea next to me at my home office desk.

My daughter is 18 and off to college in the Fall.  She drives now, so I don’t have to take her to school or Tae Kwon Do classes or to her friends houses or her many other after school activities.  And she even pitches in for me and picks up her brother if I’m on a conference call when he needs to be picked up after basketball or baseball practice.

Next month my 16-year-old son will get his permit and soon he’ll be driving as well and in a very short while he won’t need a chauffeur anymore either.  The days of driving the kids around all day are almost completely behind me.

We put in a pool the year I had breast cancer and now I get to sit by the side of the pool, reading my books and having my friends over on Friday afternoons in the summer.  I’m free to do what I used to long to do when the kids were babies and in grammar school.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s fabulous.  I love having the time to read good books, the time to watch grown up movies, to pursue the intellectual pursuits I longed for when I was busy with the kids, never watching anything but Sesame Street or Nickelodeon and only reading The Cat In The Hat or Winnie The Pooh.  I can even travel pretty easily now, unlike when the kids were young; they’re pretty much able to take care of themselves.

But, I miss the days when they hung on my arms and lay in my lap and wanted me to read them one more story before they went to bed.  When they’d chatter away endlessly and never stop talking about their day, while now I don’t get much more than a few grunts out of them if I’m lucky.

It’s really true how quickly the whole process flies by.  One minute I felt tethered to them, thought I would never have any freedom again.  And now, I fear that they’ll grow up and leave and never come back.  It’s neither a good time nor a bad time; it’s limbo time.

I feel like I’m in the middle of the two worlds.  I can’t really embrace a child-less world yet.  And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to let go, but sitting here in the middle is rocky for me.  I don’t feel like I’ve mastered either world and wonder if I ever will.

What do you think?  Do mothers ever learn to let go?  Will my kids come back after they’ve left the nest?

Read more from Claudia Schmidt on her blog, My Left Breast

Claudia Schmidt

Slightly obsessive-compulsive, self-employed mom with 2 very cool but snarky teenage kids who just happens to have been diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in February of 2010. Looking at life through a new lens now.

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Annah Elizabeth

Friday 8th of August 2014

I think it's the unknowing, Claudia. My last one graduates next spring and I've oft wondered what it will be like not to have at least one at home. Though he drives now, we do spend a great deal of time following him to his athletic and other school events, as well as attending any we can for our older two...

And yet, I am looking forward to having more 'me' time... You seem to have a pretty full life yourself, so I imagine you will have plenty to fill those "empty" moments you may be anticipating...

Claudia Schmidt

Tuesday 12th of August 2014

I'm starting to plan things already, that I can do when she's gone, so that I don't miss her too much. It's going to be interesting -- I have mixed feelings about it......

Rena McDaniel-The Diary of an Alzheimer's Caregiver

Tuesday 5th of August 2014

As a full blown empty Nester I can tell it gets even better once you get used to it. They do come back often because nobody cooks or does laundry better than mom. Then comes the prize for all of your hard work. ..grandchildren!

Claudia Schmidt

Tuesday 5th of August 2014

Good to know, Rena. My older sister always says the same thing and her's are in their 20's. I'm looking forward to that stage, not so sure about grandchildren quite yet!


Tuesday 5th of August 2014

Life is just always evolving!

Claudia Schmidt

Tuesday 5th of August 2014

Yes, it sure is, Haralee! I guess that's what keeps it all interesting....

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Tuesday 5th of August 2014

I could almost hear the quiet from your words. Funny I should read this this morning. My 20 year old gave an important presentation in Houston. I am in Arkansas. What I wanted more than anything was to hear it. Just silence. Am waiting for a text to see how he did. I have grown accustomed to it. But it's quite an adjustment - has to happen for others to see what a great guy he is, however!

Claudia Schmidt

Tuesday 5th of August 2014

I hope you got that text, by now! I think it's going to take me a while to adjust....this age is tough for me (16 & 18). I have a feeling it gets worse before it gets before.....


Monday 4th of August 2014

I can relate to your post. Our younger two (16 and 19) are still home. The older two are married. Some days I cherish the quiet and other days I curse it.

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