Renovating An Empty Nest

Letting go is a matter of the heart

I was reading The New York Times last week and found an article about empty nesters titled, “After The Children Have Grown.” Originally drawn in by the illustration I immediately became absorbed in the authors’ observations about her three sons journey to adulthood. It wasn’t until I finished the article that I saw it was written by the psychologist and author Madeline Levine. I’m familiar with her work since I attended one of her speaking engagements. She is a wonderful speaker. As a psychologist she certainly has the credentials to relate to parents but it was the personal stories she shared about her children that resonated with me.

Emotionally I believe for most parents, this topic tugs at the heart. There are so many emotions involved with creating and sustaining a life and then watching as that life ventures out leaving you behind. Besides the more commonplace issues, Levine does raise two interesting observations. One is that she is flummoxed by her sense of loss and the other is that people assume since she’s had a successful career versus being a stay-at-home-mother that she wouldn’t harbor these sentiments. Levine’s stay-home-friends response is, “Luckily you have so many other interesting things in your life.”

As someone who left a career to stay home with my two children, I can understand their reaction but more surprisingly I found Levine’s response enlightening – that whether you work outside the home or not letting go is a matter of the “heart.” As she explains her work does not occupy that same psychological space.

Perhaps, it’s a sign of weakness and despite my stay-at-home stint I like to view myself as someone whose life does not revolve around just my kids. Who am I kidding? I’ve spent more time mothering than anything else I’ve accomplished. My core identity, like Levine’s has been mother, but as their needs dwindled I’ve found more and more of myself.

When I decided to stay home, I didn’t have a plan. The older, wiser me is now planning the second half of my life. I’ve committed to my dream of being a writer, picking up where I left off when I left my career and becoming involved in the discussion about women and work. I have a daughter and son who will face these challenges in years to come. The good news as Levine reports is that many women find the post parenting years the best years of their life.

Either way my nest is still intact for now but I know the day will come, and it’s not that far off, where my nest will be empty. Oh, but I have plans for that nest. I plan on jumping in, albeit I will refrain from major renovations, lest it’s unrecognizable when the former habitants visit – for they will always, always be welcome.

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