The Zen of Empty Nesting


Here is a small sample of the questions I am NOT asking my son since he started college last month:

Did you shave?

Have you done laundry yet?

Are you making friends?

Did you sign up for all your classes?

Are you eating healthy food?

What will you wear when the freshman class has dinner with the new college president?

Do you miss me?

I’ve decided that August 28, the day we dropped our son off at Haverford College, was the polar opposite of November 14, 1994, the day we brought Max home from the hospital. On both days, our lives changed completely. This change, I think, is as hard as the earlier one, but not quite as scary.

After 18 years, we know him so deeply, and to whatever extent, our ways of being and loving helped formed the person he is. What he becomes next is something completely out of our control. As it should be. 

Drop-off was pretty classic: although we had carefully agreed ahead of time that my husband and I would stay briefly to do a few things like make the bed and build a bookcase, when the day came and the 3 of us were crowded into a cramped single dorm room, he just wanted us OUT of there. 

Max's Desk at Haverford

Max’s Desk at Haverford

What helped enormously was the panel discussion we attended led by the school’s counseling staff, who told us, “Get over the idea that in 15 minutes, you can tell your kids everything they need to do this brilliantly. You are done. Even if you are pissed at them, hug them and say good-bye.”

I didn’t have a complete plan for anything other than getting my son ready for college: I didn’t get me ready, really. But even in these first few weeks, I’ve figured out some basic wisdom about this new empty nest living that is serving me well. I started by insisting to my husband that we didn’t head straight home from the emotional day to an empty house: I booked a pretty hotel on the Delaware River near New Hope, Pennsylvania, and made a dinner reservation too. 

We arrived emotionally spent, but were met by a charming, old hotel with a river-view suite. After a delicious meal, complete with champagne toasts to our future, we fell into the luscious big bed and fell asleep. By the time we got home the next day, we had something else to talk about, and were returning from a fun adventure that reminded us that we know how to have a good time on our own. 


View from Our Hotel Room

View from Our Hotel Room

The first five days without a phone call, surviving on the crumbs of occasional emails, was killer hard. But I kept reminding myself that while only one thing had changed in our lives, EVERYTHING had changed in our son’s life, and he needed to pay attention to that. If he were out in the world and at a job, would I be calling him up and asking him “Did you finish that report yet?” or “Have you explained to the boss why you missed the meeting?” Of course not. That would be ridiculous. But his job now is learning how to live without us, and that should also be done without nagging, needling or unnecessary interruption.

The other big part of this change is addressing this new era for myself, seeing it for the real opportunities that are opening for both my marriage and my work life. Who am I now? What else belongs in my life?

So many things are coming now: like signing my husband and myself up for an 8-week course in digital photography. We can travel more, eat more veggies and less meat, go see movies without CGI special effects and battles. We’re doing movie nights weekly, and finally starting the book group we always wanted.

What is your hard-won wisdom for living wholly in the empty nest?

I think I might be able to make a habit of this letting-go. But I am so glad that he has now promised to call every Sunday.


The Secret to Empty Nest Happiness

The Secret to Empty Nest Happiness


  1. So well expressed, Meg! My nest has been emptied and refilled a few times and just emptied again so very timely!

Comments welcome