by Susan Stiffelman
My youngest of four daughters is heading off to college for her second year. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that my husband and I will have the house to ourselves again. When she came home in May I thought I was going to die. The drama, the constant need for money, rides and teenagers in my house at night (when we were trying to sleep since we had work in the morning) was driving us crazy! Are we horrible for not enjoying this time when she is home?
Missing My Empty Nest
Dear Empty Nest,
Your question left me chuckling for a long time. I love how honest you are, and how you're -- appropriately -- claiming your own space and life after giving so much of both to raising your girls.
I realize that readers with little ones might be flabbergasted that you're thrilled to finally have your kids out of the house. When our children are tiny and adorable, we can't imagine life without them underfoot, despite the fatigue that comes from meeting their demands.
A parent in the midst of that love affair might indeed think there's something wrong with the fact that you can't wait for your youngest to get back to college. When these younger parents think about the day their children will head off towards their own, independent life, they feel dread and sorrow.
On the other hand, parents of unappreciative, unruly teens who are still a few years away from college will be envying you, eagerly anticipating the day that they, too, get to drop their last child at college and return home to a clean and quiet home ... one that stays that way for more than an hour or two!
And then there are those parents who are embarking on the very first step of the journey toward emptying their nest. Their hearts are breaking as they painfully say goodbye to their first or only child heading off to begin college, trying to keep a stiff upper lip so as to not dampen their teen's excitement.
These are the stages of getting to where you now are. As parents, we go from being distraught at the thought of our toddler ever leaving home, to anticipating the relief of them moving out when they become ungrateful teens, to dreading their departure once it's around the corner. After they're gone and we've wandered in and out of their empty bedrooms and cried over old photos, we begin to rediscover the version of ourselves we were before they ever arrived in our lives. And if all goes well -- as it apparently has in your case -- we find out that as much as it was an indescribably wonderful (mostly) to raise our children, there is a good life waiting for us after they leave home.
So, there's nothing wrong with you; you're right on schedule. After putting in the millions of hours of bedtime stories, bake sales and baths, you're ready to reestablish a sense of your own life.
My advice? Enjoy yourself, have new adventures on your own and with your husband, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
Yours in parenting support,
Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.