Skip to content

Are You Almost An Empty Nester?

  • by
empty nesters

The empty nester issue is possibly one of the most emotive subjects when it comes to being a mother.

As an empty nester at 60, I still have a little knot of pain that lives in the deepest part of my soul.

It lives behind a door I try to keep tightly shut.

(This blog post is one I originally wrote back in 2016 – I’m actually 68 and a half now😍 and updating this post in May 2024.)

Does every empty nester mother have this knot of pain?

empty nester
My comical, lovely little boys who were such brilliant company before the empty nester thing struck.

I have no idea.

Because when I talk to my many empty nester friends, we make jokes about the fantastic freedom we have.

And it is fantastic – make no mistake about that.

So what is this knot of empty nester pain all about?

And why did mine burst through that door this morning?

And why did it make me cry when my empty nest has been empty now for quite awhile?

It was all down to a woman I have never met.

She crept up on me and clobbered me with some words that made me swallow hard.

Something was rattling that door in my soul as I read what she had to say about the end of the school holidays.

As a blogger, one of the most important things I do is read other people’s work.

It isn’t easy keeping up with reading and commenting when you have a busy life of your own.

So I set aside a couple of mornings a week when I don’t get up early to start work.

I stay in bed with my iPad to catch up on other bloggers’ articles.

Today, I read one called ‘I Don’t Want Them To Go Back To School’ by Darla Halyk.

Darla is smart enough to see an empty nest on the horizon.

It sounded innocent enough – nothing likely to cause a major melt-down before my feet had even touched the floor of my empty nest.

But before I was finished reading, the words were swimming before me.

The abandoned mummy living behind that tightly closed door began to cry.

How did she escape to wreak the emotional havoc that the 60 year old me spends a huge amount of energy on suppressing?

Well Darla is a very switched on mum who knows what is coming.

She is making sure she mines every last drop of childhood gold from those precious years she knows can never be lived again.

She has the foresight I did not have, the lack of which makes me live in a state of regret.

A state where I long to go back and enjoy my little boys more while working and worrying less.

But I haven’t been able to allow myself to face such painful feelings.

To go back there long enough to figure it all out for fear of losing my mind to grief.

When the painful thoughts leak through – I banish them.

I send them back to their place behind that door and close it a little tighter.

Yes, I am very lucky to have two fine young men as sons, now aged 33 and 36.

Some mothers don’t get to see their children mature – I know that.

And of course, I feel guilty for having grief when I should be happy and thankful and grateful.

And I am all those things. I am grateful for the three beautiful grandsons I now have and life is wonderful. I don’t grieve for my adult sons – of course I don’t.

So what is it, as an empty nester, I secretly grieve for?

I have never really known what it is, until this morning, when Darla’s words prised open the door that part of me hides behind, and showed me exactly what it is I grieve for.

It’s for all the time I thought I had. It’s for the time I did not use wisely.

The important decisions I made too quickly. The issues I did not consider deeply enough.

It’s for all the school holidays when my sons had to go to holiday clubs because I was busy chasing money to pay the mortgage.

It’s for all the weekends when I had to cover news and social events that are now long forgotten.

The many weekends when I had no choice but to drag my unwilling sons along to places they didn’t want to go because I had to get pictures of the grand winner at some stupid flower show no one remembers.

It’s for my failure to be fully present in making an effort to understand my sons’ complicated feelings when their estranged dad passed away in the worst circumstances.

My own guilt should not have overwhelmed me – I was the grown-up.

There surely must have been a more balanced way to live that would have placed me centre stage in their lives instead of somewhere on the edge feeling tired and stressed from working.

empty nester
Enjoy your babies – the empty nest comes way too soon

When they were born, I was so glad I’d had boys because the prospect of teenage girls scared me.

I was confident being a mum of babies and toddlers and even growing boys up to about the age of 10 – then it started getting complicated.

It was then I realised that all teenagers are challenging regardless of gender.

How was I to know what teenage boys need from their mum?

How was I to know that when they kick against us and seem as if they don’t need mum any more, that is when they need us the most?

I had no idea that just being there is all that they need. Just being  a rock for them really matters, regardless of what they say and do.

They still need us close by, right through the teen years even if they seem as if they don’t.

I grieve for the things I did not know and the ways I probably let them down.

My wish is that I had been at home more and done less working and socialising in their teen years.

I wish I’d had Darla’s insight.

That is what made me cry.

Her ability to see the empty nest looming on the horizon made me realise how blind I had been when I should have had my eyes wide open.

Darla’s children are very lucky to have such a switched on mum who gets life.

The years truly do fly past and suddenly, one day you will wake up to find an empty nest.

If you don’t see it coming, it really smarts.

In the past, it didn’t matter so much because adult children often stayed in their hometown.

But if they are like my sons who went away for uni and work and never came back to live, you may find the distance between you is too great to see each other every week or even every month.

When I do see my sons I feel proud of what they have both achieved. They are both successful in their fields and have gone after what they want in life with confidence.

So is it time to face the regrets and miseries that are still churning under the calm surface of my life and let them go?

Who knows? Some people might even say that in working so hard to pay my way in life, I gave them a good work ethic and made them independant.

Now that the tightly closed door in my soul has been opened by another writer on the brink of an empty nest, it needs to stay open.

empty nester
Happy days when it felt as if time was standing still.

As an empty nester, I need to spend some time thinking of all the good things I did for my sons.

I need to understand and accept that no mother is perfect.

And my goodness, if I feel like this despite having been a ‘stay at home mum’ until my sons went to school, what on earth are the mums of today going to feel like after putting their babies into daycare before they can even talk?

Thank you Darla Halyk – your writing made me face up to something today.

I wish you all the joy in the world as you pave your way towards an empty nest with the abundant, happy memories of a mum who was there for her children.

Am I alone in having these thoughts? Please share your long-term empty nest feelings with me over on my FaceBook The Write Life For Me.

This empty nester post is now eight years old – I can’t believe it!

I decided to republish it eight years on to give new empty nesters hope.

Now, at 68 1/2, I have more distance from the feelings I described above.

My sons are now in their 40s with families of their own, two more babies came along after I wrote this.

They and their wives are experiencing similar dilemmas to those I was faced with.

In fact, I would say worse ones, if I am honest.

Parents no longer have the choice to stay at home here in the UK.

So heaven only knows what empty nester regrets they may eventually have.

Mine were bad enough despite being at home with them throughout their baby and toddlerhood.

Mine were able to communicate with me by the time they went out into the world.

First play group and then school – but by then, they’d had a good grounding in having mum around.

And they were old enough to tell me if anyone treated them badly by then.

So the empty nester perspective does change as time passes – you will survive it.

One day, you will find it isn’t really even a thing anymore.

If you have grandchildren, close or even far away, your mindset will move on.

Your once painfully empty nest will eventually be filled with other things.

I will be writing more about this in future posts but for now, just know for many of us, the empty nester pain does subside.

As your children mature into middle age, the former pain you had at their leaving becomes a distant memory.

Of course, I realise with the growing issue of family estrangement, it isn’t like this for everyone.

And I will also be writing more in depth on the modern day growing phenomenon of adult-child family estrangement.

If you have any thoughts on what you’ve read here, please do use the Facebook link above to talk to me over there.

I don’t have comments active on here now because the spammers are a pain in the backside.

Even the very effective spamshield I was using wasn’t satisfactory because it would sometimes stop legitimate comments.

Are you now a long time empty nester?

How are things for you now that life has moved on?

Come and tell me over on Facebook – I’d love to know!

And if you enjoyed this post, you may like this one from 2024.

18 thoughts on “Are You Almost An Empty Nester?”

  1. My youngest two kiddos are 16 and every day is so hard, knowing that they only have 2 years left of high school and then it will be on to other things. My son even made a comment the other day. I don’t remember what I was doing or what I said but he said to his siblings, “Geez, mom’s already empty nesting and we’re only 16!” Only 16. I can’t believe the twins are 16 already 🙁 It came way too fast!!

    1. Hello Jen, thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, I know, 16 years just flys past – not sure where it all goes! The next 16 will be the same and before you know it, you have weddings and grandchildren happening! Enjoy those last years of ‘childhood’!

  2. Hi Gilly great article speaking as a Dad i feel i missed out as well my job kept me away from my kids but i felt like you i had to keep a roof over their heads. It’s so hard to get the balance right.

    1. Thank you for that view from a dad – we do tend to forget dads have opinions too! I am sure you did a great job under your circumstances and keeping a roof over our children’s heads is not easy for anyone. Thanks again.

  3. Gilly, Gilly, Gilly. This post… I am so with you. I was a single mom to 4 and I was so busy trying to keep a roof over our heads that I did not live in those moments and I regret it every moment of every day. Like you, I am proud of my children. They’re all successful and doing their thing. I console myself thinking that if things had been any different maybe they wouldn’t be where they are and who they are today, which is pretty terrific. I just have to trust God that they, this life, turned out exactly as it was supposed to but if I could go back in time don’t think for one second I wouldn’t.. Thank you for this post. <3

    1. Thanks for that piece of mother to mother support! Really appreciate it. Gosh – single mom to 4! That must have been a massive challenge and you have done well to bring them up alone. Yes – we do just have to have faith that everything is as it is meant to be and stop beating ourselves up over stuff we can’t change. Thanks again for sharing your experience – means a lot.

  4. Oh my goodness, this totally resonates with me. My daughter is 24, has moved out, and has a child of her own. My son is 18, has left school and is about to embark on his own new exciting journey of adulthood. I am bordering on devastated. I have been a stay at home mum, living an almost 1950s existence, where my life utterly revolved around my children. I adored them, I still do. As I stare down that empty nest barrel, I am struggling to find my place. I may have to write about this myself. I know there are those who insist it is important us women have things that fill our lives other than our children, I didn’t really have that choice, but reading your post makes me realise it doesn’t matter if you have a career or not, we still feel the same things about our children. I have no idea how we will sort this out, or indeed if the grief of “losing” our children ever really leaves us, but it is really good to know I am not the only one, and Darla, as you say, is a very enlightened mom indeed.

    1. Oh Sarah, I really feel for you – the pain is bad enough when our children are long gone but the pain of a newly empty nest is almost unbearable. But you will survive it and move forward even though you are probably walking around the house feeling sick inside right now. Pour it all out into your blog.Thinking of you.

  5. Beautiful and gripping, Gilly. You got me on this one. Sniff, sniff.

    Our son went away to school for one semester and I never thought I’d get through it. He ended up hating the school, applying to another closer to home and commuting until he graduated. Now he’s entering grad school but I still miss times when he was little when we did so much together. Did I rush through it? I, like you, tried my best to be mindful. But it went so fast.

    This week we are going on vacation and he is coming! At age 23 I consider it a great gift that he still wants to spend time with us! So I will be mindful and cherish every second.

    Oh, how I loved your beautiful post.

    1. Thank you Cathy,your words mean a lot to me as this was about as personal as I have ever got on here! It is so brilliant that you are having this vacation with your son and yes, it certainly is a gift at 23. That says something loud and clear about your bond with him as his parents. Thank you again and enjoy your wonderful vacation – hope you will be sharing some of it with us.

  6. I loved this Gilly. I felt the hurt with each step my children took away from me and yet each step toward independence was a merit mark for me as a mum. As a mum, it’s a job well done when they take off and fly.

    1. Thanks Fran – it’s lovely to hear other people’s point of view on this – your are right, each step away is a merit mark for us as mums and it is a job well done when they take off and fly. I just wish mine had only flown around the corner – but that’s just me being selfish!

  7. Thought provoking post. Yes – absolutely would go back and redo all those days of having children at home – even the hard ones. Don’t think my adult children realize how much I truly loved being a mother – still do. Teenage years – I wasn’t super thrilled about of course. Many people told me when I was a young mother, that time would go fast and “they will be grown before you know it”. I tried to keep that in mind when I got grumbly about toys strewn throughout the house, muddy floors just after mopping, etc. “Slow down to the pace of life”. Those words were often on my mind and often a true juggling act. Love my kids. May they never ever forget that.

    1. Thanks Jill for your visit and comment – maybe children never realise how much emotional investment parents put in – not sure I ever really thought about it with mine if I really think about it. I expect my sons and DILs will probably go through the same pain and soul-searching in about 15 years time – maybe even worse since my grandchildren all got put in nursery under 15 months old. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts – much appreciated.

  8. Oh, Gilly, NO! You aren’t alone. I grieve too for all the mistakes I made, and the opportunities I let pass by.
    I’ve found if I let myself grieve for a bit, then tell myself I forgive myself, and that I did the best I could, and I’m doing better now, it helps.
    Their childhood was so fleeting, and their adulthood away from me is so long!!

    1. Thank you Melinda! Oh my goodness, I so need to hear this from other mums – I have kept it bottled up for so long now. Thank you for sharing that – it really means a lot.

Comments are closed.

Don`t copy text!