We’re supposed to be empty nesting.
After our youngest went off to college last fall, my husband and I settled into a low-key routine that, for the first time in 21 years, centered solely around us. Our daily life became a bit more relaxed now that it wasn’t driven by our children’s schedules, high school activities, or the daily inquiry whether the boys would be home for dinner and then trying to come up with a meal they'd eat.
Initially, my husband and I worried about suffering from empty nest syndrome, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” And we did feel a little melancholy after dropping our baby boy at school.
But there was also a deep sense of relief and accomplishment that we were closer to achieving one of our major life goals — raising two well-adjusted, responsible and loving young men who were well on their paths to adulthood. Ultimately, that’s every parent’s job. From the first time we drop our children at preschool or put them on the school bus, we begin the process of teaching them to eventually leave us, to become independent adults in the world.
Now, all my husband and I had to focus on, day-to-day, was one another and our jobs. I anticipated traveling more for work now that I didn’t feel the need to be physically present for my children.
We even celebrated our new phase in life by booking an “empty-nest-moon" to London and Paris. We got a great deal. For the first time in years, we were able to take a dream vacation in the off-season at unbelievably low rates. Here was a very bright side of empty-nesting. We immediately started talking about planning another getaway in the spring.
But then COVID-19 happened. The boys came home for spring break and never went back to school. My youngest felt cheated out of his freshman year and the joys of dorm life. My eldest, a junior accounting major, was supposed to spend the summer visiting potential employers across the country — from Boston to Florida and Texas. Now those externships are happening online.
And my husband and I are cooking a lot, again. Where we’d been picking up a roast chicken or making omelets when we didn’t feel like making dinner, now we’re cooking more than ever since no one is going out to eat.
However, the isolation brought on by the pandemic has also given me a gift — time with my almost-adult sons that I would have never had otherwise.
In all likelihood, my 21-year-old won’t live at home fulltime again, since he’s already received some excellent job offers. But now, most mornings, he comes by my home office with a cup of coffee in hand. He settles into a comfortable stuffed chair and we chat over morning coffee. My younger son might stop by my room while I’m watching TV or reading before bed. He’ll stretch out across the bed and talk for a while.
I also have more insight into their college life —what their classes are like and how much stress can surround their exams.
We all eat together as a family every night — something that hasn’t happened in years due to their school activity schedules and part-time restaurant jobs. My boys are two-and-a-half years apart and have vastly different personalities and interests. They didn’t fight much growing up, but they also weren't particularly close during their teen years. Now they spend more time talking and relating to each other.
I normally spend most of Mother’s Day with my own mother because the boys are usually working. I would see them for part of the day, after they had worked the Mother’s Day rush at the restaurants. This Mother’s Day, both will be home all day. The youngest will make dinner and they’ll both play Scrabble with me, although they hate the game and refuse to play with me any other time of the year. We will laugh and spend this unexpected time together that we would not have had if we weren’t isolating at home.
On all fronts, our family bond is deepening and strengthening.
I have all the joys of having my children at home and none of the burdens. They don’t require constant attention and they mostly look after themselves. I don’t have to worry about homeschooling them; the boys retreat to their rooms for long periods of time to work on their college courses. It’s all good. Very good.
Isolation isn’t fun. But it’s given me the sweetest, most unexpected of gifts, more time with my children before they go out into the world to become whoever and whatever they were meant to be.