Kathleen Murphy column: Expecting — and accepting — an empty nest

Looking back, it’s easier now to see the teenage years as preparing both teens and their parents for the day they truly are ready for independence.

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Kathleen Murphy
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Empty nesters: You’re out there, right? Those of us whose kids have moved out of the house and suddenly life is … different.

Full disclosure: I’m not 100% there yet. But it’s looming. I can feel it approaching. Out of my five children, only one still resides in my home. He’s on the verge of moving, but not quite there yet. But he’s independent in almost every way, so it’s more like living with a roommate than my son. It feels a bit like “empty nest lite.” People have begun warning me about empty nest syndrome. It feels like a dire warning.

When our kids are young, the days of empty nesting seem so far away. At the time, when they were toddling around my kitchen creating chaos at every turn, I couldn’t even fathom a point at which I wouldn’t have to hover over them and monitor every little thing about them, up to and including things like getting rid of all that extra wax in their ears. When you are that tuned in to another person, surely it would always be that way. They’d always need me. Right?

But then the middle years hit, maybe age 7-12, and you start to glimpse the adult they’ll become. They are suddenly doing a lot of things on their own, and they don’t always need you. They can walk to their friend’s house on their own, make their own lunch, and generally behave in a way where they don’t need constant monitoring. They still seem to need reminding about the ear wax buildup, though. They’re not completely independent of your hovering and reminders yet.

And then, the teenage years. The ear wax is weirdly still an issue, but they get angry that you’re reminding them about it. They’re in the practice phase of adulthood, and they want to manage things on their own. Understandable, but difficult for a parent who is used to being useful for their children.


I had only a few minor traumatic events to store. I am one of the fortunate ones.

I distinctly remember those years, when I had five teenagers in my house, all who had been very invested in me just the year prior and were suddenly … not. They wanted to be independent, to do things on their own. I understood, of course. You want your kids to grow up. What’s that painfully true phrase? It kills you to see your kids grow up, but it would kill you faster if they didn’t.

Their growing into the teenage years is inevitable, but I have to admit that I spent a lot of time during those years feeling like I was fluttering my hands in an anxious attempt to make them notice me. I had five kids who, up until that point, had made known how much they needed me, then, since my kids were all extremely close in age — five kids who didn’t really need me at all. I felt adrift. Useless. I’d grasp on to the times they did need me and cherish them.

Looking back, it’s easier now to see the teenage years as preparing both teens and their parents for the day they truly are ready for independence. I’m very close to being an empty nester, and I have to say, it doesn’t feel bad. I’m ready.

I look forward to long weekends of not running kids anywhere. I’m already marveling at the vast difference in my grocery bill and noticing how fast my toilet paper stash has grown out of control since I‘ve kept buying as though I were still a family of seven. I need to alter how I shop, now that I’m shopping for less. It’s been a slow learning process for me.

I didn’t think I’d ever be OK with my kids not needing me. I think that’s natural when they’re young. But now it feels not only natural, but good to see them move out and handle things on their own. I’m proud of them.

An empty nest is just around the corner. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make me feel a bit sad, but I’m also looking forward to it.

My kids turned out fine, and so will I.

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. You can reach her at .


Related Topics: DULUTHFAMILY
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth.
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