Half Empty Nest Syndrome Harder & Happier Than I Expected

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How come the term half or partial empty nest syndrome doesn’t exist?  Because my heart is telling me that it is a thing.  A real thing.  My mind is constantly shushing my heart.  Be still my restless heart, please!  It is harder than I expected.  It also has happy moments that have surprised me, too.  It is both. But right now at this new and raw stage, it is a bit harder than happy.  Let me explain and other moms out there in this stage, let me know if you agree with what my heart and my head is about to share. broken heart teddy bearI am not a sad person.  I am an upbeat, optimistic, glass is always half full kind of girl.  So I don’t like this new feeling of a partial emptiness.  Of crazy change that took 18 very full years and then appeared in an instant when college move in day arrived.  That was almost one month ago now.  And for the first time I can’t say that time flies.  Because it hasn’t flown this time.  This time is different. 

My mind reminds my heart that we still have one at home, although now that she is in high school, she is rarely home so that isn’t helping as much as I thought it would.

My mind is also conversing with my heart that a pity party is not acceptable because my lucky heart has been blessed with an overflowing trunk full of happy and fulfilling memories.  These memories should be enough to carry me forward with smiles and a calm heart.

But my heart doesn’t want to be still just yet.  It is telling my head that right now the heart wins out and that my head needs to figure out how to process this half empty nest/heart time in my life’s journey.

True that I still have one left in my nest, but she is teetering on the edge preparing to fly out like her big brother just did right before her anxious eyes.  I can see her leaning out in the wind and my efforts to pull her back in are failing me.  I am not supposed to be yanking her back in and she also can’t go yet at this stage of her life’s journey.  It is my job to begin to let her lean out a bit with me holding her gently with support and guidance.  But she, too is tugging on my heartstrings as she hovers over the exciting edge that is waiting for her to arrive in just 4 years from now.Class of 2020 lexThankfully, so far, her attention is directed to the right areas. She is super committed to her academics as she knows that obtaining scholarships is her ticket out of the nest…and to fly much further away than her big brother did, as she is dying to attend college out of state.  This has been her dream since the 4th grade.  I know this because I recently found a first day of school 4th grade welcome sheet that the teacher had the new students complete. The dreams she wrote on that paper still match up to her goals today…five years later!  Yep, that is my independent girl!

So I didn’t mean to lie or to sugarcoat this new parenting stage in my previous posts.  Because on most days, I am strangely OK.  I don’t really miss my son like I thought I would because he is so happy and that makes me SO happy.  So I miss him but I think I miss the job of being a busy mother to a full nest. Because he is doing so well, I don’t need him to be here.  I need him to stay there, in his new college dorm, where he is grabbing college life by the horns.

That makes me SO happy!  Truly!

But oh there is still this emptiness that at times takes over.

I had just about had it with the days that were so crazy busy and so full that I felt like I couldn’t keep up. Putting an excessive amount of miles on my car and steps on my Fitbit day after exhausting day.  Life was so crazy then with hockey tournaments, rehearsals, recitals, teenagers here blasting the music too loud in the backyard. Running food out back that the hungry friends always appreciated.Homecoming food ready for teensThen running out of food and thinking that next time I will buy more grub for the “hangouts”, as the teens call this time together.

What fun that was! And it was tiring.  Asking their friends to resist doing back flips in the pool, waiting up on my son’s curfew.  Posting the weekly calendars on Sundays while wondering how we would get it all done.  It was a selfless time for me to be sure.

So now I get to be selfish.  I am rested.  I am so lucky that my memory trunk overflows with all of these incredible experiences.

So hush heart!  Be still!  This stage of sadness and letting go will pass…I expect and hope!

And for once I can’t say time is flying during this stage as it so often does with the other parenting stages. This parenting experience is so different.  Definitely not easy.  Easy on some days but not every day. This parenting stage goes much slower than the others that came before this one.  Time is moving much slower now.  So odd.  So strange.  How does the concept of time change so drastically in this new parenting stage?! Gift of TimeFor those fellow Moms of mine that are in this same transitional and emotional boat, it is an odd time, isn’t it? I guess that is why it is called a syndrome with those emotional words, “empty nest” in front of the syndrome word.  My nest is only half empty I know, but don’t be fooled because that one whole half, that 50% of the nest, which is a big number, does indeed feel…well…empty.

And there is fullness, too.  My heart is full with joy when I see my son’s smiling face in pictures that I receive in the occasional text.  Look how happy he looks!  My heart swelled up two sizes when my phone lit up with this photo!Jack away at college 2016I don’t know his new pal in the picture, which is why I cut him out of this shot.  I don’t have his permission to share his image because I don’t know him.  That is different as well.  To not know my son’s new chums.  But believe me, my heart is so full with the knowledge that he is thriving and doing well.

However it still feels empty at times.

And I have truly been pretty OK.  A few tears here and there.

Until this weekend, almost one month down.  My friend told me that this would happen and that this day would come.  The day that I finally lost it!

I sat down on the kitchen floor and bawled my eyes out.  My cats look at me bewildered.  My husband came downstairs and found me there and he was also surprised.  I have seen him start to unravel just a twinge during this almost one month mark, too.  So he was confused, but he also understood.

It is funny the different comments I heard from friends as we neared the big move out day.  Most pals commented that my son would be around a lot since he chose to attend our local university.  Some predicted that he would be back multiple times to do laundry or to have a home cooked meal.  Others said that I should be thankful that he isn’t going far.

But one friend told me that even though my boy would be close by, he might as well have gone out of state.  He predicted that I wouldn’t see much of my kid once college life took hold of him.

Guess which friend was right?

It is like my son flew off to a far away college.  I have received a few text messages (that make my day, let me tell you).  But he has not come home to do the laundry.  He seems perfectly content with college food.  And the fact that he stayed in town hasn’t mattered.  I haven’t seen him. I don’t run into him.  I don’t know his new friends.  I couldn’t tell you his professors’ names or what his daily schedule is like.

No more daily chats or check ins to see how he is doing.

Now I wait.  I wait for word from him.  I text him sometimes but I am truly leaving him alone for the most part.  That is my job now.  To let go.  And like all of the parenting stages that I have walked through before this one, I am figuring it out as I go along.

I am going with my gut while I balance what my head and heart tell me to do.  Call him.  Don’t call.  Text him again.  No, no…the text I sent two days ago was enough. Send him a care package.  Wait, remember he told you that he didn’t want the basket full of food. But that was on move-in day.  Does he want one now?

Ugh, be still my beating heart.  Quiet down head.  Just take this new stage day by day.  Let him be. Let him go while knowing that it is also OK to reach out to him at times, which I do.  But I mostly wait to hear from busy him.

I worked hard during the first 18 years of my job.  That had challenging moments and many many wonderful magical moments.  No question.

But my job now just might be the hardest on my heart.  This business of letting go.

And yes, I still have one left at home.  But the dynamic here has changed so drastically that my head is trying to wrap around what our new life is and my heart is trying hard to be still and accepting.

So parents who are riding in this same transitional new boat, don’t let anyone tell you that this is easy. Do not beat yourself up because at times the joy you feel for your kid is weighed down by your own sadness. Because it is not easy.  That just isn’t true. It is still tough on our parental hearts.

These kids are embracing new beginnings.  My most recently received photo of him with his darling girlfriend before the big college football game aptly shows this.  And boy oh boy was I excited to receive this a few days ago!  This makes me happy!asu cuties 2016

And while they embrace these thrilling new beginnings, I am also forced to embrace the beginnings of letting go.

It is not for the faint of heart.  So if you find yourself curled up in bawling ball, I feel you.  I am there with you.  Hang in there.  Hang on.  I am told that this will get easier.  And on most days, I really am doing fine.

But on those other days when I ask my heart to be still, I know that my heart is not alone and that there are many other moms and dads out there going through this same exciting and emotional transition.  I just can’t end this post without using my overused word….bittersweet.

Exciting and painful.  Bittersweet.  Who said that letting go and change are easy and natural?

It is simply, not so.

Hang in there fellow empty nest parents.  It hurts so much because you tended to that nest so well.  You put your heart and soul into that nest.  So give your heart some time before it can be still again.  To heal.

It is normal to have a joyful heart and a heart that aches at the same time.  This new and strange ache is because that mama heart of yours loves that kid of yours so deeply.

P.S.  My daughter just called from her sleepover at her pal’s house and she wants to go do something today.  With her ol’ mom.  An unexpected surprise.  So be still my beating heart and walk through this stage as gracefully as you can.





  1. Well written Rachel! Thanks for sharing your heart. I think it will help Moms going through this to know they’re not alone. Take care of you!

    • ManagedMoms.com says:

      Thank you Kim! I hope it does help other Moms. To know that this new stage is strange, bittersweet and different for us moms…and that is normal…I think does help each other to get through, deal with and embrace this new chapter in life! XO