The Half-Empty Nest

A week ago my son moved out of home. I knew it was coming – he’s nearly 25, but it still caused an upheaval in my life all the same. I have my other son at home still, so the nest is only half-empty, but I’m feeling a sense of loss akin to grief that only another mother could relate to.

This is the son who I bonded with immediately after birth when he latched on in the delivery suite. It was complete love at first sight with my second baby. My first baby had been born three years earlier when I was mourning the death of my mother, and this meant my bonding with him was affected by post natal depression and anxiety, and from not having the one person there for me – my mum, whose presence would have made such a difference to a new mother. He had colic as well so he cried a lot. In contrast, my second baby was a calm, relaxed and cuddly child, and I was a more experienced and confident mum.

For years my second son was my shadow – he clung to me. As he grew our bond was strengthened by our similar sense of humour and enjoyment of banter where we fed off each other, talking about diverse subjects at great length to the bemusement of the rest of the family who didn’t really ‘get’ us. Our mutual love of animals and our taste in music, our enjoyment of cooking together, and our daily walks with the dogs meant that we spent a lot of time together over the years.

My son went through a period of depression a few years back and he dropped out of university. 18 months later he decided to re-enroll in a different course in another university. I told him then that I would be keeping a close eye on him to make sure his mental state didn’t suffer by taking on another course of study. Our conversations became more in depth as I didn’t hold back with communication – I needed to make sure he was ok this time around, and that the pressure of studying, working and internships didn’t impact his mental health.

To my absolute joy he thrived under pressure, and was able to take on a heavy study load while working almost full-time and doing two internships at the same time. He was more motivated to accomplish his goals when his schedule was full. He completed his degree in communications, public relations and journalism in just over two years.

He applied for jobs all over Australia in his chosen fields, and was keen to start his new career and get out of the crappy retail position he’d held since the age of 14. He struggled to get so much as a reply to his application, and the few interviews that he attended did not even bother to let him know he’d been unsuccessful. After six months of knock-backs we were both disheartened and incredibly disappointed. For me as a mother, it was like a stab in the heart to watch him go through this. Honestly, I do not know what is wrong with employers these days – they do not even send out an email to let applicants know they’ve been unsuccessful. No wonder young people struggle to find a job, and when they do, there’s not the sense of loyalty that we had to our employers. I’m disgusted by how rude it is – the least they could do is send out a polite email thanking them for their application and telling them they have been unsuccessful.

So my son stayed in his retail position, stayed living at home and gave up on applying for jobs. My husband and I went on holiday and while we were there my son rang me to tell me he’d quit his job. He couldn’t work there anymore – it was making him ill, both physically and mentally. He was getting migraines nearly every day and spiralling into depression again. Of course I was stressed about this and begged him to reconsider. His employers met with him and pleaded with him to stay as he is a hard worker and reliable employee, so he dropped back to casual and took on another job (retail as well!).

Then he decided to go back to university and do his Masters Degree in Secondary Education – he’d be able to teach high-school English and History. I wrote about it in my last blog post Don’t Hold Back . He was all set to start university this month and then out of the blue he decided to move out of home and take on a full time position in his new workplace. Just when I thought he was set on one path, he did a 360 and has now put off going back to university just so he could move out of home.

Our household has been in turmoil for the last few weeks – quite a few deep discussions have occurred between my son and I as I attempt to persuade him to reconsider this decision. But he was set on this path and has now moved out. My main concern is that he’ll regret this down the track, and that he won’t be fulfilled in his current job as I know it won’t be challenging enough for him mentally. He needs a job that will stimulate him intellectually for his own well-being, and he acknowledges that but is still keen to spread his wings and become a fully functioning adult by cutting the apron strings.

I was fine until I drove toward our house the evening before he was due to move out, and I realised it would be the last time our family of four would sleep in the same house together. The floodgates opened and I couldn’t control the tears for the next 12 hours until I had to show up for work again. It felt like I was grieving for my father again – he’d passed away 18 months prior. That’s understandable because it is a loss, just like all the other losses I’d experienced in my life. I’d had the same reaction when my mother and sister had passed away, and when I separated from my ex-husband. No-one died obviously but I was losing a massive part of myself all the same.

I was prepared to be emotional because my son and I had been together during several of the hardest periods of my life, and despite his youth, he had proved to be an incredibly resilient person and very supportive, emotionally mature and caring. When my father was suffering from cancer and spent the last few months in and out of hospital, it was my son who came with me to New Zealand to see him. I leaned on him more than what a mother would normally do with their son but his strength of character showed that he could handle this. He did it willingly and generously, not holding back from seeing the brutality of his grandfather dying from pancreatic cancer. We grew even closer from that shared experience. We both felt honoured to have spent that time with my father, who, despite being in pain and hallucinating from his condition, displayed utter peace at being so close to dying. He was praying that God would take him and he had incredible faith right until his last breath.

If my son had moved out a year ago I would not have coped as well as what I have, because I was still grieving my father. For anyone who has lost someone that close, you know that the acute stage of grief varies. It has been different for each person I’ve lost – my mum when I was 24, my sister when I was 45 and my dad when I was 52. But eventually it becomes easier to bear. So in no way do I feel that my son moving out is in any way as bad as losing someone who has died – I still see my son, he’s only 20 minutes drive away. But it won’t be the same without our daily walks, our cooking sessions and our nightly banter at the dinner table.

I’d love to hear from you, my readers – how was the empty nest for you? What helped you to adjust to the gap left in your life? Do you still miss your children or are you enjoying the freedom of not having dependents at home? My immediate way to adjust was to clean out his room and turn it into a study for me. A space where I can write freely without interruption, and decorate it according to my taste, in soothing colours. I write surrounded by my pets who are great company.

My New Writing Space
My pets keep me company as I write

18 thoughts on “The Half-Empty Nest

  • Great read Chris, I feel your pain. My eldest daughter moved out to play basketball and study overseas when she was 18. It was tough as she was literally on the other side of the world, young and straight out of school. However, I still had 3 kids at home so I didn’t have time to be sad as such, I just had to get on with raising them whilst continuing to study and work. Fast forward 8 years and now my next two daughters are getting ready to move out, one is 24, the other 20 so, as you said, I was expecting it, but I will miss their company immensely. So that will be 3/4 of my kids who will be leaving home. I’m not sure how I will cope with that. One thing we have all agreed on is that they all come round for dinner at least once a week – we do that now with our eldest and that will continue when our 2 daughters and eventually our son moves out. Someone once said to me when our children are born we give them two things: roots and wings. Roots so they will always know where they come from and wings so they have the ability to fly off and create their path in life. It sounds like you have done a wonderful job with your sons.

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    • Thankyou so much Alison. That’s a lovely idea – the weekly dinner together. You’ll really notice the difference when 3 are gone. I’m lucky that my kids stayed till they were much older. I love that saying – we give them roots and wings. So very true.

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  • I am not anywhere close to that stage of life (my eldest is only 11) but I can see what you are going through through your heartfelt post. It sounds like you and your son have an amazing relationship. How lucky you are to have each other!

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    • Thankyou so much for your reply. Yes I am so happy that I have such a strong relationship with my sons. So many parents are distanced from their adult children. Communication is the key I feel. Regard, Christina

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  • My son is an only child but I was more than ready when he finally moved out for the last time when he was almost 30. He had to, as I was selling the condo. We’d been through a lot together, but it was well past the time for him to move out and take on his own responsibilities.

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  • Hi Chris, thank you for sharing your story at #MLSTL and I know it will resonate with many readers. Having divorced when my children were quite young, they divided their time between their Dad and myself. I think in my case, I didn’t feel the angst of the empty nest because they weren’t with me all of the time. Your relationship with you son is very strong so even though you may not see him physically every day and there will be subtle changes to your relationship, you will always be close. I also shared the same experience you are facing when my son wanted to leave school in Grade 11. Nothing would dissuade him and I’m happy to say that he finally found his path in life and is happy. I certainly found a few more grey hairs but realised that our children are only lent to us and they have their own paths to follow in life. x

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    • Hi Sue, yes that is true about them being loaned to us. Our role of parents is to give them all the tools to become independent. Since he moved out I’ve found that we still talk nearly every day, visit each other occasionally and still walk the dogs together sometimes. I’m happy to see how happy he is. No more tears! Thankyou for your comment, much appreciated

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  • Hi Chris, I certainly feel for you because your relationship with your son had a lot of elements to it than most mother/son relationships. Our son was always extremely clever but very self-contained. He never caused us problems, but he certainly wasn’t clingy or huggy or overly engaged with me. Our daughter was much more connected, but still very much her own person. They worked for a year (two years for our daughter) before leaving home to go to the city to uni – we expected it, planned for it, ensured they were ready for it, and then happily launched them off at 18/19 and they thrived.
    Our daughter had a depressive episode and came home for a semester, recovered and then returned to finish her degree. It was tough at the time, but I’m so glad she pushed through and finished because she loves her job and has flourished there.
    My husband reminds me constantly that our job was to create strong, independent, capable human beings who could confidently navigate life and be their best selves. We’ve achieved that and I’m so proud of them both. I never shed a tear when they left and I’ve relished the freedom and flexibility of our empty nest. Hopefully you’ll get to that point too – my advice would be to not let your son know you’re struggling – let him embrace this next stage – at 25 he’s well and truly old enough to be out in the world making decisions (good and bad) and living life to the full, worrying about you would take some of the shine off that wouldn’t it?
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 😊

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    • Thank you so much Leanne. You are right, he’s more than ready to be independent and he felt ready to fly the nest a couple of years ago. He only stayed for financial reasons. I feel lucky that he stayed this long. He doesn’t read my blog so he doesn’t know how I felt – I don’t want to worry him! My dad always told me not to live my life through my kids because my mum was devastated when 3 of us left all at once. I knew he was right in theory but it’s easier said than done! Thanks for your kind words

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  • Oh Chris, I GET IT, I GET IT, I GET IT! I had an empty nest last year for one year. Both my daughters were on the other side of the continent. What a journey it has been for me and my parents are still alive. I can relate to so many things in your blog. The hardest thing for me was OK the girls have gone, what do you want to do with your life. Turning focus onto ones self is very important but very confronting. So what I have learned is self love is so important, I really didn’t even know what that meant up until now. So it as time to fill my cup. Something I work on every day, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Honour those emotions as painful as they are because you have every right to feel that way. The kids will make mistakes, we all make mistakes. They are there’s to make and they must learn to live with their mistakes. It’s so hard to stand back and watch it unfold, all we can do is be there when they need us and let them know the door is always open.

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    • Oh wow, thankyou so much. I’m just starting to get it together but I have a long way to go before I’m at the point you are at. Learning to love myself … well, that’s a tough one. I’ve always been a control freak and watching on the sidelines while my kids mess up and learn from their mistakes will be really hard. But you’re so right – that’s what need to learn to do. Thanks so much for your feedback

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  • I feel for you. I was surprised at my emotional response when our daughter left home at 21. Our son did not till he was 25 and it could not have come quicker. Each of them came to their own conclusions about their lives and what was next. We did give advice (not always sought, bad mistake!) and cared for their kids as they became parents. We are now living 2 hours from our family and learning how it is to be the long time retired couple. We are enjoying it. Transitions though are incredibly hard and I found moving here was a big emotional rift for me.

    I hope things eventually settle for you.

    Denyse #mlstl

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, transitions are hard and I’ve always found change hard to cope with. My advice often falls on deaf ears as well but I can’t help myself! From what I’m reading online from other mid-lifers, having a plan for this stage of my life and finding productive ways to spend my time will help. I’m looking forward to one day being a grandmother but it looks to be a long way off! But we never know what’s around the corner. Thanks again for commenting

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  • Hi Chris, I hope you are feeling more settled now, it is a big change to your life. Our daughters had to move away for university as we live in a small isolated town but we had prepared them and ourselves for this situation. It is hard seeing them leave us but you are lucky to have a good relationship which will endure. All the best for your empty nest 🙂 #mlstl

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  • Hi Chris,
    I can relate to this post so well. Our son left for Australia, Sydney to be precise, for pursuing higher studies in 2017. Since then it’s just my wife and me at home.
    Earlier, we had six people at home. Besides, we three, my parents, and my dad’s brother. Mom passed away in 2015, dad in 2016 and my uncle in 2018.
    Of course, we miss our son. Thankfully we can now see him on video calls.
    We have been keeping ourselves busy with our work and household chores. We too clean up his room and his shelf.
    Thanks for sharing this post.
    #MLSTL.
    — Pradeep | bpradeepnair.blogspot.com

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    • Hi Pradeep. You went from a busy household to an empty nest in just a few years! It must have been so quiet. I hope you both adjusted to losing so many loved ones alright. Thanks for getting in touch. I wish you well, regards Christina

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