Boys Are Off To College. Part-time Empty Nester Rollercoaster Ride

A year ago, I was filled with emotion. My youngest was going off to college and I was going to be an “empty nester.”  Or so I thought.

On the one hand, I was ready. Ready to do re-group and start a new chapter. I was sad to think that my life which revolved around my children was going to change and they wouldn’t need me anymore. Dinners would be quiet, the house would be empty and I would just have to accept the change. What I didn’t quite understand was that I was really going to be a part-time empty nester. At least for a while.

The boys left last summer and it felt strange, and then life was full of possibilities, activities and a new sort of freedom.

Just as I was getting used to my new life they came back. Came back for Thanksgiving, Christmas and then a 4 month summer break.

Hmmm. So lets really analyze this empty nester thing. With the comings and goings,  I am really only an empty nester for a little over a half of a year. On the one hand, it eases the pain of having the children move out for good to far away lands. On the other hand, it requires tremendous resilience and re-adjusting on our part. It is kind of tease. What life will be like down the road. But not yet. My guess is I will not be a true empty nester for some years. And by the time both boys permanently move out it will not feel so hard because it has been years in the making.

So, now here I am after just dropping my boys at school. I am feeling the exact same emotions I felt a year ago. I am sad. The house is eerily quiet. The fridge is mostly empty. My husband and I need to readjust and start to focus more on our life as a couple. As much as I thought life would change in one direction last year, I really didn’t understand the change.

I looked at what I wrote last year.  It feels like a repeat, a ground-hog day of sorts. My checklists remain the same. Some things I did last year, others I did not. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is not the same next summer.



It doesn’t hit you until they are gone. Sure, we have been talking about it for a while, preparing in every way possible but it doesn’t hit you until the quiet takes over. The abruptness of it all is what is so hard. Until that time, you are going 100 mph, there is activity in the house, you are checking off all the boxes to get ready for college, shopping, packing and then going to school and setting up a new life. You say your goodbyes and that is when life abruptly changes, in a moment, when you return home and the house is seems so quiet and empty.

We have been alone before when our children went to camp for a month and eventually for the summer. The first few days were strange but then you get used to it. This time it is different because of what it represents. It is no longer a brief period of time when the house is quiet.

For 21 years, our life has revolved around the day-to-day activities of our children. That time has come to a close. Now they will return but as “visitors” rather than residents. At least that is what we are planning….

Their departure represents a new set of chapters and also reminds us of all the years that have actually passed while we were busy going to school events, sports practices, baseball, basketball, football games and countless other activities. We come up for air now and realize our youth is behind us. Children seem to make you feel younger, regardless of the number of candles on the cake. My husband and I look at each other as we walk through our sons’ college campus. We both are envious, wishing we could do it all over again, especially knowing what we do now. Our time has passed and we will live vicariously through our children.

Those who have been through the process of raising children will tell you, “It goes so fast.” I have to admit, there were many moments I wondered what they were talking about. Life with children has its ups and downs and there were certain moments where I would think of the trials and tribulations of the day, children in tow, thinking this is not going so fast.


Life is busy thinking about what’s for dinner, where we need to be, what is next on the agenda. It is not until it comes to a sudden halt that I start reflecting, looking at all the family photos and realizing it went so fast. How did that happen? It is all a blur. Now what?

I reflect on what I observe around me. People raising children, micromanaging their every move. What they eat, what they say, what they wear, what they watch. Everything they do. We can be very controlling, so protective and we manage everything. And then one day all of that changes. They start eating junk food, swearing, engaging in friendships we may not approve of, drinking, smoking, having sex and we have to readjust. Those doctor’s appointments we religiously scheduled and held our children’s hand now turn into “I am sorry, he is 18 and we can’t discuss anything with you.”

We take control over the little things but realize that it is no longer about control. We have done everything we could to provide our children with the tools to leave the nest and it is now up to them to control their future. I think our adjustment is harder than that of my parents because they didn’t micromanage. They were often removed and let us grow up faster.

I need to let go. The worry will not go away but will change, as I will not know their every move. They will make their own choices. They will take risks that make me shudder. Each night I will say a prayer that they will stay safe.

Though our children may not make all the same choices we may make, the hope is that we have given them a tool box for making their own decisions. We are proud of who they have become and it is time to let them fly.

Still, I give my advice as my youngest heads out the door. That is the constant that will never change. Our support and advice.

imagesExplore and take advantage of all that is available to you

imagesTake a class in astronomy or art history because this is the time in your life you can do it

imagesTry a new club or sport because once you start working full-time this will be hard to do

imagesAlways be true to yourself. Step back and take a deep breath when the going gets tough and you feel pressure. Believe in yourself and know you are strong.

imagesYou have worked so hard to be given this new opportunity. Seize it. You start with a clean slate. You determine what you will do and who you will be.

I won’t miss:

bullet-css2The mess

bullet-css2Dirty dishes in the sink

bullet-css2Looking for a beer or any alcoholic drink or favorite food for that matter, and realizing it is all gone

bullet-css2The late nights waiting and worrying

bullet-css2The tv blaring in the middle of my house with some unappealing program

bullet-css2Not being able to find any of the car keys

bullet-css2Making a full course dinner to learn that they are going out with their friends

I will miss:

imagesThe smiles and humor

imagesThe conversations

imagesThe trips to the golf course, Maine and dining as a family

imagesThe companionship

imagesMy children, who have been my world and seemed to belong to me. Now they belong to themselves and to the world.

It is kind of like turning 50. You think about it for months and months, dreading the day. And then when the day passes you realize it isn’t so bad after all. A new energy takes over.

I will:

small-green-checkmarkClean my house

small-green-checkmarkOrganize their rooms

small-green-checkmarkStart making the food I like

small-green-checkmarkReconnect with friends

small-green-checkmarkTalk to my dogs even more than I do now

small-green-checkmarkTake control of my own life

small-green-checkmarkSign up for that Spanish class that I have been talking about but never did

small-green-checkmarkPlan some spontaneous trips

small-green-checkmarkDetermine my next chapter

As the days, go by I will ease into my new chapter a life without the chaos, the activity, my children.


And just when I start to really get used to it, they will be back. And I will have to adjust all over again.



About Shari

I am a two-time cancer survivor and patient advocate. Diagnosed as a young adult, at age 25 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I had to quickly face the reality of life’s curveballs. My treatment offered a potential cure while at the same time, underestimated the long term side effects including a secondary cancer (breast cancer) nine years later. Shortly after my breast cancer treatment ended, my youthful, seemingly healthy mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and passed a year later. I have lived the cancer experience as a patient and a family member/ caregiver and understand both sides. Life after treatment is often challenging emotionally and physically and there is a gap in providing needed support. I don’t consider cancer a gift as it is not something I would ever want to give to someone. Rather, I view cancer as an opportunity; one I received at an early point in my life to live intentionally, understanding how things can change at any moment. I live without regrets, fully understanding the gift and fragility of life.
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5 Responses to Boys Are Off To College. Part-time Empty Nester Rollercoaster Ride

  1. Linda Kane says:

    Fantastic as always xxx


  2. Elaine Marchesseault says:

    Excellent blog! All the emotions are captured as we parents go through life’s transitions! My dghtr could have written this…as she sends her triplets off to college!
    Friend of Judi’s


  3. Pingback: Top 5 (Most Read) Blog Posts: 2016. A Year in Review. | Life According to Somebody

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