10 of the Hardest Things About Becoming an Empty Nester

When you have a house full of young kids constantly vying for your attention, it feels like you'll never have a moment to yourself ever again. You are never alone in your own home. You're always keeping track of multiple schedules and don't get me started on the never-ending grocery runs and last-minute errands you are making because someone just has to have something {poster board at 10 pm anyone?}. But then it all sneaks up on you. The house is empty. The kids are gone, and you are sitting in that empty nest you never thought would clear out. We had kids young, so many of our peers still have kids at home and look at our empty nest with longing. I'm not sure I could tell you how many times I've been asked what it's like or how we are doing as empty nesters. I often can't put it into words if I'm honest. Usually, I just say it's quiet. Sometimes I say that the house stays clean a lot longer. But really, if I had a captive audience that really wanted to know, these are the 10 hardest things I've found about becoming an empty nester.

10 of the hardest things about becoming an empty nester

10 of the Hardest Things About Becoming an Empty Nester

empty nest real talk about the hardest things

1. Coming to the Realization That Your Kids No Longer Need You

I love that all of my kids are capable adults. But that doesn't take away from the fact that they once needed me and depended on me and now they don't. The relationship between parent and child changes as your kids enter into adulthood too. Feeling the shift from protector and caregiver to supporter and advisor is just different. And don't get me started on when they get married and they have a new most important person in their lives!

2. Feeling Like You've Lost Your Purpose

My whole adult life has been consumed by motherhood. My first son was born five days after I turned 20. My whole identity was being a mom. Sure, I have other passions and interests, but at the heart of it, my most important job in the world to this point has been to be these three kids' mom and once they moved out, there was a loss of purpose there. I relate everything back to motherhood. The things that I'm passionate about are because of how motherhood has shaped me.

Not only that, we put a lot of things on the back burner so that we could be present with our kids. They were our purpose and now that they aren't here any longer, we are shifting and rediscovering priorities.

3. Feeling a Lack of Connection

The structure of my kid's schedules often allowed me to have that connection in the community that filled something. Most of our social life revolved around the kid's activities and once those were gone, we really needed to find something else to fill that time with. Or not. Let's be honest, sometimes it's just puzzles that fill the time.

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4. Feeling Lonely

This one is probably the hardest one to admit. I'm not sure why. Since I was home with the kids, I was always home with the kids. As in, I rarely had the house to myself when someone wasn't around. As the kids got older and went to school, there was a shift there, but I filled up that time with errands and my work from home. Even when the kids were in high school, they'd get home in the early afternoon, and we'd have a full house again for dinner. It felt like there was always someone here and now they aren't.

5. There's a Sense of Loss

We have kids that we enjoy spending time with. None of them have been tremendously sullen or closed off. Once they were gone, it felt like we lost our sidekicks. I would always have a thrift shop partner, and my husband would have someone to talk to about airplanes and sports. Their happiness in their new life situations makes this easier, but it doesn't mean that we don't miss having them on the couch next to us laughing at an Office episode or bringing a change of conversation at the dinner table.

6. Feeling Guilty

I was a pretty darn good mom. But for some reason, feelings of guilt pop up about the things I didn't do or the conversations I had or didn't have. I've reevaluated and scrutinized so many aspects of my parenting in the last few months thinking about how I didn't appreciate being in the moment as much or how I should have let things go that I didn't or conversations I should have had or handled differently. There's a lot of guilt that comes with reevaluation and looking back.

7. A Struggle With What's Next

I created a job for myself that allowed me to be flexible. I could drop everything at the drop of a hat in case one of the kids needed me. I could move things around so I could show up for them. I have always been a mom first. Now that I no longer need the flexible schedule that allows me to work from home, I'm starting to wonder what is next. I've applied for jobs and I've looked up getting new endorsements and taking classes. I feel like there's a lot of life ahead of me, and I'm struggling to know what that looks like.

8. I'm Buying a Lot of Plane Tickets...But Not For Myself!

We love to travel but we are finding that most of the plane tickets we are buying are for our kids to come home during breaks or to go to school. If we are traveling, we are making time to spend with our kids. There are parent's weekends, sorority mom's days, graduation, and moving days. This is not a complaint, we are grateful that our kids want to spend time with us and want to join them in these experiences, it just wasn't galavanting off to Europe on a whim like we anticipated. The dogs definitely don't help with that spontaneity either!

9. It's Very Quiet

Sure, there are fewer people here talking at the dinner table, but it's not just that quiet I'm talking about. It's the quiet that comes from not hearing the toilet seat slam down at night when you are tucked into bed. It's no longer hearing their car drive into the driveway and knowing the key would be going into the front door any minute. It's no longer hearing the slam of the pantry door or the crashing of pans as they make their second dinner. It's the quiet of life being sucked out of your home and the sound is deafening especially after they leave after a long holiday break.

10. There's a New Level of Worry

The moment you become a parent, you start to worry about your kids. But once you launch kids, there is a new level of worry. There's a heaviness that comes from knowing that the magnitude of their decisions can create catastrophic consequences. Plus, naturally, you start to feel helpless when you lose control over them. As parents, we know how important it is to give them space to make their own mistakes, but at the same time, it's so difficult to watch them experience any type of struggle, even if they do learn from it. 

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Now before any of you start an intervention, I want you to know that I am totally fine! I could write a similar post about the best parts of becoming an empty nester. Heck, it might even be longer. It's not bad, it's just different and there are a lot of things that seem to change all at once. When people ask what it's like to be an empty nester, they aren't looking for my 10 bullet points, but if I had to give them, this is what I'd really say. What about you? Are you an empty nester and found these 10 things to be true too? Or is there something else you'd add to the list?

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