We Are Finished! Or, Thoughts On A Truly Empty Nest

Not quite a week ago, Marianne and I checked off the last item on the list of Family To-Dos – we got everyone married off. Now the hard part – processing how we feel about it.

This project started in January of 1992 when the first of our three children was born. Isn’t this checklist a universal one? Get them walking and talking, then into school, then through puberty (a rough one), then through high school, then into/through college, into real-life employment and, finally, into their own marriages.

Everyone told me that if I blinked I would miss much of it – and that was true. What seemed for so long like a daily grind (or maybe a slo-mo series of daily grinds) is suddenly over. We have now completed the course in parenting (though we will be waiting awhile for a final grade).

It was about three years ago when our eldest, who surprised us with the desire to enter life in a Catholic religious order, took his final vows as a Dominican Friar. This is the equivalent of marriage, a lifelong commitment to the Order of Preachers. That Order, having done this sort of thing since 1216 A.D., is pretty experienced so we think he is on his way. After a year as an associate pastor at a parish church in Wisconsin he is being reassigned to a Dominican-run high school in the Chicago area.

It has been the recent whirlwind that saw us through two weddings in a three week span that allows us to check off the “you’re on your own” box for the other two. I have some random thoughts on these. First, it is an incredible blessing when each of your two marrying children choose for a partner someone who we parents are delighted to welcome into our family. It is almost as nice when those families are delighted to welcome our offspring too. Each of those kids of ours dated some individuals we were less enthusiastic about (listen to me be so polite!) but those rocky times have passed and we could not be happier with the outcomes.

Each of the newest married couples in our family has a unique style and those styles were similar yet different when it came to the weddings that came hard and fast in near succession. There was a mixture of tradition and un-tradition, in different items and proportions between them. But both were lovely in watching young people in love make vows to one another. Those are hard vows to keep in this day and age (as they were in 1990 when Marianne and I made them) but from all outward signs, these couples are well-matched in their temperaments and personalities, which makes for a really good start.

It has been gratifying to watch our family growing with the addition of no-longer-future in-laws who have, in turn, welcomed us as new additions into their own extended clans. Several people have told us how much they love our children and how they appreciate that we raised kind, thoughtful and independent young people. Isn’t that how it is supposed to be? It has also been enjoyable to get to know Fr. James Pierce’s brother friars, knowing that we are in an extended family relationship with them as well. This is less familiar territory for us, but we seem to be picking it up as we go along.

I have concluded that every parent comes from a flawed family, creates a flawed family and raises children who will enter into their own flawed families. The object is to minimize the flaws by improving on the messes we brought into our lives and by not creating too many new ones. But every couple is made of two imperfect humans, so the varieties of dysfunction are almost infinite. But as I gaze at these young adults that are the product of our upbringing, I feel pretty good about how well they came through the process. They have become the kinds of people I (and others) enjoy being around and I am extremely proud of them.

It is now time for our parenting habits to transition into the realm of suggestion and request rather than the “tell and demand” phase of a few years ago (like the years of high school and early college). I think I will like being a resource (as opposed to the one responsible for everything in their lives). I also look forward to settling into a life of being some part of their new families the way they have previously been part of ours. The seeds were planted and watered, the hard work is done and now it is time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I look forward to this phase.

A more sobering thought occurs to me – what is farther down the checklist for Marianne and me now that we have spun our younger family members into family units of their own. There are a few years of productive work ahead, and the task of getting our lives in order for retired life. There is also time for us to enjoy one another’s company and maybe (if all goes as hoped) the ability to impart a little love and wisdom as grandparents. These things are so much more pleasant to think about than the inevitable declines in health that eventually overtake us all.

So now that the weddings are over and the new couples’ rest-of-their-lives are underway, it is time for Mom and Dad to put their feet up and savor the successes that we had some part in creating. It is also time for those new couples to get on with making and nurturing a good marriage. They – and we – deserve it

COAL Update – I am not now, nor have I ever been royalty. But for a couple of years in the early 1990’s, Marianne and I lived the Imperial lifestyle.

22 thoughts on “We Are Finished! Or, Thoughts On A Truly Empty Nest

  1. Congratulations! This has got to be a huge relief in so many ways. The lowering of your anxiety almost jumps off the screen. 🙂

    We are rapidly approaching the empty nest phase. Having only one is going to make it harder (for me, anyway) as there is no easing into it – it’s like flipping a switch. However, like I told Marie recently, I am enjoying our spending more time together than we have in ages. It’s like being reacquainted with an old friend – well, sort of, but not really if that makes sense.

    It’s obvious you are looking forward to seeing how this new chapter unfolds. It will no doubt be a great adventure.

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    • It is true that the switch to the empty nest will be more abrupt for you than it was for us – though with three who came in and out with the seasons at various times sort of led to an empty nest whiplash for us. But that should be all over now. I will say, though, that it has been enjoyable interacting with the kids as more-or-less equals instead of with the kind of parental authority we used to exercise.

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  2. Congratulations? I add the ? because while being empty nested has strong advantages, I’m sure that in part you miss the family days.

    We have two still at home, ages 21 and 26, with no prospects in sight for them to fly the nest. I’m growing impatient. Yet after they’re gone I’m sure I’ll wish some of the kids were still around sometimes.

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    • There are times that I miss earlier stages – I have never been much of a sports guy, but I enjoyed watching my offspring at practices and games of various sports, and also of having a handy human sports encyclopedia at hand in my eldest’s college years.

      I have noticed how easily I have acclimated to this more relaxed life-pace. And with 2 of our 3 living in town we get together periodically, which is always fun.

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  3. My congratulations also. This is our first full year of empty nesting, kids are still in university but worked their co-op jobs elsewhere and looks like 2023 will go the same way.

    It is very gratifying when other people seem to like the kids that you raised up, and to see their successes.

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    • Your last sentence hits the bulls eye. Through some combination of parenting and luck, each of our three has moved into a new orbit of jobs, friends and extended families and has done it very nicely. That is some consolation for a more quiet life for the parents. With yours both being some distance away, you will have more quiet time than we will. Two (with spouses) of our three live locally and the third is in the process of moving from Wisconsin to Chicago, which is closer to us by about half the former distance.

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  4. Congratulations. And good luck. In 2006 when my wife and I were at the empty nest point you are at now, we took our growing family on an Alaskan Cruise to celebrate our emancipation. That was a joke. We were nowhere near done. Our responsibilities grew exponentially! Life has never been more hectic.

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    • Give me a minute to recover from that big splash of icy cold water you just poured on me. Now you make me wonder if this new sense of calm we feel is just the eye of life’s hurricane. I will either thank you for the heads-up or curse you for spoiling the mood, I’m not sure which. Maybe both? 🙂

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  5. It was a weird feeling when son #1 and son #2 both moved out together, with son #2 taking a room in #1s new house. That lasted a while longer than expected with #1 having taken on a steady live in girlfriend. When #1 sold that house and bought a new build, he had to wait for the construction, so he and his future Mrs. moved back in with us. And all his stuff. #2 smartly decided to move in with buddies. Eventually, #1 moved out to his new house. However, lest we have other plans for their bedrooms here, #2 met his girl, and by then had put a down payment on his own new house. You guessed it, #2 moved back in here with his girl for a while. His stuff and hers too accompanied the deal.
    It was fun, both sons are out of the house, but there is always a rumble of,,, maybe we should get a new build house…. from one or the other. If #1 ever moved back in here, there would be extra vehicles, and a granddaughter to keep thinks lively.

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    • Or maybe you could build a new house and move in with one of them for awhile? 🙂

      My daughter (and all her stuff) moved back in with us for a few months after she graduated college. But after a few months of working she and a friend got an apartment. I guess we have been empty nesters for a few years, but now it is finally official.

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  6. Congratulations! First of all, the photo is lovely. Second, I think the best definition of good parenting is not raising successful kids with degrees and important jobs although that’s nice, but raising good kids whose company you and others enjoy. And thirdly, the Thunderbird kit, just add $$$$……thanks formy laugh for the day. I can’t imagine 5 cars in a drivewa/garagey unless you have teenagers.

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  7. As the expression goes, (although grammatically incorrect) … “you did good!” You and Marianne should feel proud JP – you reared three good-looking kids, without issues; they have left you empty nesters with offspring now into happy marriages of their own. Having been raised very strictly with no siblings to help act like a buffer between my folks and me in the dreaded teen years and the inevitable interactions with me pleading my case saying “well everyone else does”, it was a long hoe to row. I always wished for older siblings who might have paved the way for my adolescence. Oh well. My parents were strict about dating, especially since I was a year younger than all my high school classmates. This was because while living in Canada, I was double-promoted, so skipped one year. I thus graduated high school having just turned 17 years old in April. When I was finally allowed to date, I knew better than to bring home someone they would object to, no matter how badly I wanted to go out with them. I was warned “no long-haired hippies” … they stood firm on that, believe me.

    So, the funniest thing happened … something that surprised me as well. All Summer at the diner, we had a group of City workers come in for their morning and afternoon breaks. I hit it off with one of them, home for the Summer on school break from Central Michigan University, where he, like me, had chosen Print Journalism as a major. Every time I saw Mark, he was wearing his uniform baseball-style cap. I deemed him “okay to bring home” and when he arrived at the house for our movie date, the baseball cap was gone and his flowing, very long hair hung way past his shoulders, much longer than my hair. I answered the door, said “wait here, I’ll get my purse and be right back.” But no, Mom intervened from the kitchen and said “have some manners Linda, bring the young man inside so we can meet him.” I visibly cringed and left on that outing, knowing I’d hear about it later and did. He returned to CMU shortly thereafter and didn’t work for the City the following Summer, so it was never an issue.

    We had friends of the family that came for dinner the evening of my 16th birthday. They made a proposition that they would pay for my entire college education if they had a child and my parents raised it to age 16th. Unbelievable!! My parents said “no – you should raise your own kid, but thanks for the offer.”

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    • I found with our own kids that we were the strictest with the first, but relaxed a bit with each one after that – mainly because there was just too much other stuff to deal with. Marianne had an aunt with 9 kids, and I once asked her how she made the time. She said that after about 4 they didn’t take any more time “because you don’t have any more time”. What time you have just gets diluted to make it stretch.
      I guess every family structure has its advantages and disadvantages, whether only child or being one of 9.

      Marianne and I have never been “long hair people” but I don’t think it is the big deal it was when you were of dating age.

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      • I felt a little cheated with no siblings to be honest.

        Things were different in the 70s compared to now. I knew enough not to bring home a long-haired “hippie-looking guy” who drove a VW bus (hope you never drove/owned a VW bus). I’m sure the look on my face was priceless when I opened the door.

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  8. Having been around for this era of cars that were as long as a boat, or so it seemed, it still amazed me how the Imperial took up the entire driveway. Interesting dashboard – it that horizontal dashboard at the top a radio station or the vehicle’s speed – they look like they could be either. I like this line: “the Imperial’s lovely co-owner even sewed together some old bedsheets to make a nice car cover to keep the dust off in the garage.” How amazing that after you parted ways with the Imperial that years later you saw “your Imperial” in online photos. What a small world as to cars. Well it looks like you “found yourself” as you stated and had new priorities in your life now with offspring so cars were beginning to take a back seat.

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    • Yup, that was the speedometer. It’s funny how something that probably looked relatively normal then is so “out there” today. And yes, finding what I think is the same car is fun. At least I am 90% sure.

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      • That speedometer stretched across the dashboard! I’m still amazed at those very skinny steering wheels years ago – what a difference. You are so knowledgeable about cars because of your love for them.

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