The Nest Is Empty, But We’re Not Alone


john and mariaI recently wrote about my fight with the leftover Christmas tree in a fun piece where I suggest that I had to take a chainsaw to the tree to take it down.

I was home alone for the weekend…my husband was on a trip to visit our oldest daughter, and the other two kiddoes have moved out into different parts of the city. I had lots of time on my hands and a harebrained scheme to get on with giving the house a good thorough cleaning. That included getting the tree out, an inconvenience made more difficult by its size. Nevertheless, I got it done. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. I was feeling less “empty nest” and more “they’ve flown the coop” and abandoned their poor old mother.

But the incident and my subsequent blog post got me thinking about what this new “emptiness” means for me, and my husband, and how it is changing the way we’re living in both big and small ways.

When this transition began years ago, with the kids’ departures to college and dorms, I could count on them returning for holidays and breaks. The long stretches of their absences were felt, but there was always the knowledge they’d be returning, usually all at once.

Then, they started moving into internships and full time jobs, and while two of my children are still in school, finishing up this year, they’ve taken on full-time jobs and commitments. Their moves out of the dorms and into those first, cheap, apartments has pretty much signaled the permanence of their departure from the nest.

On the one hand, I’m relieved to know they have figured it out — how to be independent. How to begin making it in the world. It’s what we want as parents, after all. We’re still here, getting the occasional phone call, or a visit ostensibly for some home cooking, but including serious conversations about upcoming decisions or professional advice.

I have to admit, it gives me a great deal of pride to see them grown-up.

My first fear — that they’d leave and never come back — has been put aside. But I still have other fears, for their safety, not just physical, but emotional, and spiritual. I have to give that up to Our Lady, who mothers us all, and I so fervently pray that she be a mother to them when I’m not around, which is pretty much all the time.

That has put us, my husband and I, back where we were so many years ago, newlyweds trying to figure out how to live together, how to share a space and make a life with each other.

Oh, it’s a sweet time, this empty nest. We cook together, do chores, if not together, then at the same time — he with the household accounts, me with the mop and the vacuum. Date night can be every night if we just make the effort. So, yes, there’s a certain joy about this season in our lives.

There’s also this thing about being alone…which is not loneliness, though that can be a topic for another day, but rather, the alone-ness. Of finding myself in a house that is too big for us, and only yesterday, it seems, was not big enough for all of us.

And then, there is this new pull by our parents, aging, and increasingly infirm. I can be a dutiful daughter, a loving daughter, and of course, I will…but it has, in a scary way, served as a reminder of what the next season of my life will be like as I continue to age and feel the limitations that seem to increase exponentially with each year.

What I’ve learned is that I cannot do this alone. That we are not meant to do it alone. I need the company of my children. I need the company of my parents, and siblings, and cousins and aunts and uncles. I need my friends. More than ever.

And I suspect, they need me, too.

Copyright 2013 María Morera Johnson 



About Author

Maria Morera Johnson, author of My Badass Book of Saints, Super Girls and Halo, and Our Lady of Charity: How a Cuban Devotion to Mary Helped Me Grow in Faith and Love writes about all the things that she loves. A cradle Catholic, she struggles with living in the world but not being of it, and blogs about those successes and failures, too.


  1. Thank you for your thought-provoking article, Maria. I am at a very different season in my motherhood, with six children ages 3-11. For so long, it felt like they would never grow up; they would be little forever! But even now, I feel that way less and less. Even though they are still young, this time really goes by quickly … and changes quickly! I try hard to savor every season. (Although I admit, I hope some seasons pass more quickly than others 🙂 Anyway, your article reminded me to appreciate today and where I’m at right now in this beautiful life God has given me.

  2. prov31wannabe on

    Thank you for your insights. Our two sons are freshman and sophomore at college. Many people consider us “empty nesters,” and indeed we are, but pseudo-empty-nesters, because, as you said, our sons come home on breaks and holidays. The day will come when they move out for good. We wish them success but we remember the good old days, too. Right now, we are glad when they come home, and we are glad when they leave, and I think they are, too! Thank you for reminding me to ask Mother Mary to watch over them when we can’t.

    The next season is upon us: caring for aging parents, and trying to graciously accept our own limitations, too. If you can do it, I have hope that I can, too!

  3. Oh Maria, you pegged it where you wrote about having to care for older family and seeing yourself headed in that same direction. How it sobers your perception of life when you’re most trying to avoid it.

  4. Maria, thanks for this. Mine are 28 and 25 and the last one moved out for good over Christmas. The adjustment really took about 10 years, beginning with college. What bothered me the most was adjusting to the comings and goings – you cry when they go, get used to them being gone and then they come back, either to visit while in school or move back in for a few months while getting their act together. You finally get used to them being back and they leave and the cycle begins all over again. Then there’s the child who lived like a gypsy (the 25 year-old did that for several years), a few days at home, a few days at a friend’s, and when at home, only bodily, the heart long gone. I got to a point where I was actually glad when both kids were finally out on their own! It’s a strange time. I feel exceptionally blessed however. Both kids are doing well. My husband and I, happily married for 35 years, are enjoying the quiet and just being together (just as you described), and I have an active creative life into which I can throw myself without guilt.

    I do miss them though and always will. There will always be comings and goings. I miss the weekend outings to the beach, exploring the outdoors, going to theme parks, etc. I miss all of us being in the same circle. It’s fun finding out what’s going on in their particular circle, but they are not so interested in what’s going on in ours, the “old” circle. I miss their company. Guess I’ve still got some letting go to do! 🙂

    • Oh Susan, you are so right about throwing yourself into creative endeavors guilt free.

      It’s interesting to see how our perspective changes over time. I’m close to my mother, and we often talk about these changes, and each new season for me usually gets a commiserating smile and chuckle from her. Of course, for her it’s a lot of been there done that, but she so enjoys hearing my stories of teenaged rebellion, young adult adventures, and grown up achievements, and hears them them through the heart of a mother, and grandmother. I hope that blessing will come to me in my lifetime!

      • My parents are gone now so I’ve already been through what you’re going through with your parents. How fortunate you are to have your mother with you to share these things. There are so many things I wish I could tell my mother now, she would be so interested in the twists and turns in my life since she passed. I feel her with me and my dad too.

  5. I am doing it alone, and it is awful. My only child graduated HS and joined the military, now in boot camp. My life is very empty as my parents have been deceased now many years, and my marriage of 27 years ended when my husband suddenly walked out on us. I have no siblings and my dear friends can not take the place of a family. It is just such a loss of every roll I had. I do work many hours to take up the time but nothing feels the same.

  6. Oh dear Jan, I’m sorry this is a season of so many losses for you. I hinted that there was also space for a discussion of loneliness in this time, and it is indeed very real for so many of us. I wish I could offer more than prayers, but be assured of those.

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.