Partially Vacated Nesters

Given our current life stage with two kids off to college at the same time there are two words I am hearing uttered on an hourly basis this summer and they are: Empty Nest. These words are so regularly employed I felt that some time was merited to research just how we as a society have landed on this so firmly on this term.

To me Empty Nest does not accurately encapsulate the experience of a child or two or more flying confidently away from our abode. Why? A few reasons but primarily because it is built around the word EMPTY. The nest of our home is not in fact empty. I am still here – so is my husband, our two dogs and the lives that we lead. 

The nest is now more spacious – the nest is cleaner – and a bit quieter. But it is not in fact empty.

I think it is time to re-consider how we refer to our partially vacated nests. Welcome to your lives with your cleaner nest!! Your spacious nest. Your peaceful nest. The freedom to do whatever you want to do nest. Your new found time nest. Your guest room filled nest. The more time to write (about empty nests!) nest. Or the more time to do meaningful work nest. Still not quite perfect or pithy enough, but certainly ALL better terms than EMPTY. 

Let’s revisit the definition of EMPTY: containing NOTHING, not filled or occupied. Hello my fellow nesters with new found space  – we are NOT nothing. We are HERE! We continue to occupy our spaces. And when and where there is space? One figures out how to fill it – not with stuff (ideally) – but with NEW and BRAIN expanding experiences, we will get to that another time, but at the moment not done dismissing the term EMPTY NEST. 

The term Empty Nest was introduced in 1914 by one Dorothy Canfield. When introduced, Syndrome was on the back end of the term. Somewhere in the pages of Mothers and Children – one of the many, many books that Ms. Canfield authored during her exceedingly productive, noble, and now anonymous life (she was cancelled in 2020), she wrote about Empty Nests.

The fact that Dorothy Canfield coined the phrase is widely recognized. What is more difficult to unearth is how she referenced it – so I bought the book – will revert back with my findings (and a whole lot of intel on the author in another post – she is fascinating!!). Until then let’s continue our shallow dive into the term Empty Nest. 

Definition of Empty Nest: A household where one or more parents live after the children have left home. Fair enough. Though still quibbling with the inaccurate term – empty. And yes some of you are saying – Linda – they are referring to a bird here. I looked that up too. The mom and dad bird also leave the nest when the baby birds go on their way. More proof this is an inaccurate and overused term.

Definition of Empty Nest Syndrome (thank you wikipedia): Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children move out of the family home. Super true for many, many of the early days on the front end of this experience. There will be grieving and a feeling that something you loved fiercely is missing, but this is not a forever. Humans, including this one, could not handle that. 

Hoping for a pre-baked alternative term to rally around, the following question was typed into my browser – is there a synonym for empty nest?? Google’s answer? No – there is no viable synonym for empty nest. What!? This means we have millions and millions of families living in nests that are not in fact empty, but called EMPTY because there is no existing synonym to explain this pretty major and also exciting and promising time in a person’s life. This is crazy.

We need to invent and rally around a new (foreshadowing!) term. This is for certain a terminology battle that won’t be won, but people – our nests are not empty! Be kind to yourself and do what you need to do to process the change and then let’s GO! I have lots of ideas for how you can expand your time. :). WE GOT THIS! 

Full disclosure:

I am not an insensitive monster. This stage is without question challenging. I was super sad leaving my daughter behind when we dropped her off at her chosen school and I will super sad again in two weeks when we have to leave our son behind on his chosen path. The week before my daughter left was even worse – I was mopey and prone to crying jags. My daughter told me to snap out of it, so I did.  

After her drop off I gave myself almost a full week to quietly grieve. The feeling was akin to experiencing a bad break up. It was hard. If she had called to say she wanted to come home? It would have taken a whole lot of strength not to hop on the first ferry and gather her back into my life. She didn’t call.

Giving my self space to mope helped. Crying it out helped. Exercise helped. Long bike rides helped. Reading helped (loved The Personal Librarian). Some chilled rosé at the end of a long day of intermittent crying helped. The biggest help though? Hearing her cheerful voice, thus knowing she is absolutely fine and flourishing.

Another thing that helped? Time and looking ahead and making a plan. Always, always have a plan and then ninja trick – IMPLEMENT it.

We have new nests and we can do whatever the hell we want with them. There! I found it – we don’t have empty nests we have new nests. I much prefer new over empty. Don’t you? If you have some thoughts on a new term for this situation please do share. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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Space does open up! When it does it’s often at the last minute. Will keep our fingers crossed. Would love to see you at this experience!