Embracing My New Normal—A Half Full And Half Empty Nest

Is it normal
that when I say goodbye, a huge chunk of myself leaves with you?

Is it normal
that I’m happy, thrilled, relieved, excited, depressed, sad, confused, conflicted, all at the same time?

Is it normal
to both overidentify and actively, consciously, choose to separate my emotions from yours
so that I can get through my day?

Is it normal
to feel that our house is so quiet
despite having multiple kids still living at home?”

-Excerpt from Ruchi Koval’s “To My Grown-up Kids

As the leaves begin to change and the cooler air sets in, I become keenly aware of the many transitions in my own life. I am still working to finfall leavesd my new normal. Adjusting to the very different vibe that exists in our house since sending off our college freshman and college junior to their respective colleges in late August. Quite frankly, the vibe is a bit calmer, less intense, and less chaotic. My husband and I are embracing this time to focus more energy and attention on our two younger children, on each other, and on ourselves when we can.

As wonderful as many aspects of this transition have been, there are some days when the energy shift in my house feels completely counterintuitive and deeply painful.

I find myself staring at the black car parked in our driveway. I can still hear the inappropriate music that blasted from within as my older kids zipped in anthe half empty nestd out at every hour of the day and night. I can see my younger kids hopping in the back seat, their heavy backpacks in tow, thrilled to be riding to school with their big brother or sister.

Now I drive my younger kids to school in my car, and play appropriate music at an acceptable volume (to me). The black car remains empty, stagnant in its spot in the driveway. It has done its job, served its purpose. It’s no longer an essential, integral part of my older kids’ daily lives. It is needed less and less frequently.

I feel a kinship with the black car.

Even though the black car (and I) are are less of a focal point for my older kids, this is what I truly hoped for them—to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives (and eventually of their own car that they buy with their own money). However, for now I know that my older kids are grateful that their trusted, loyal black car (and me) are there for them when they need it, and that they will be thrilled to see it (and me) when they get home.

I feel the chilliness of this transition when I enter either of the two unoccupied bedrooms in our house. Scanning my older kids’ rooms, I take in the remnants of their lives that they left behind, and I am overcome with a sense of happiness, gratitude, longing, and loss. Happiness and gratitude for the wonderful memories I have of mothering them in my home; the longing to resurrect some of those memories and to linger more in the time spent with them; and the loss of being physically connected to the daily rhythm of their lives.

Coming to terms with the inevitable physical and emotional separation that occurs when kids leave home has been an uncomfortable and challenging process for me, as it is for almost every mom who I have talked to who has sent kids off to college. Typically, the college kids propel us through this process whether we are ready or not because during the limited number of phone minutes college kids allow for, they will only answer a few of our questions before they ever-so-politely interrupt with, “Gotta go, mom! Off to dinner with friends!”

And they’re gone. And we are left with seven other questions that we really wanted to ask, in addition to a few follow-up questions on the questions they did answer. Most often we are left to try to piece together a picture of their life away from home, and pray that the full picture, which we are no longer have a full grasp of, is happy, productive, and fulfilling for them.

Learning how to accept the unknowns and the ambiguity that comes with with parenting adult children from afar, coupled with the uncertainty of how we fit into their present and future lives is an ongoing process that requires patience and trial and error. But for me, probably the most important and challenging aspect of this transition is trusting that the unfaltering, unconditional love I feel for my older children will stay with them always, helping them to feel secure and grounded, and that our connection, no matter how many miles between us or how many of my questions go unanswered, will remain solid and strong.

Trusting this bond is essential, as it allows me the freedom to let go a little more, exhale more fully, and open up more space in my heart and mind to embrace the present moment, my two younger children, my husband, and the beautiful life that is right in front of me.

This is my new normal. And it feels okay.


  1. Amen! Julie, you put it perfectly! I’m feeling all of the above now that our youngest has flown the nest also. Now we are total empty nesters—or as one friend calls it: “free birds” :)) I am choosing to look at it that way, but it’s hard sometimes when I long for the days of noise and activity about the house that I so loved. The black Explorer with rust sits in our driveway too, and I drive it a couple times a week to keep it exercised and ready for when kids are back home. A time of change, but like you say, we have to trust that we’ve done our job well, and that all will go well for them.

  2. Thank you so much, Martha! I like “free birds”! Much better than “empty nesters.” My house feels really quiet right now with the two, I can only imagine how silent it will feel when the last one leaves…or maybe by then, I will be ready ;)!

  3. My daughter just got her diploma and her first “real” job- she’s really and truly flown the coop now and I find that I’m feeling at peace about it all. It becomes easier as time goes by, when they are really out in the world as adults, rather than in the gray area of college students.
    Like you, I still have two at home, and I have to say that I’m loving every minute of my easier, simpler life. I feel like there are times of transition that are painful, but when you come through to the other side it all feels right again.

    • Miriam, It’s funny because I have heard that our kids are not really “launched” until they are off the “payroll” and on their own with their own place and their financially independent. I have heard that this is another big transition, and then there is another one when they get married (and then I suppose when they have a child…). So I guess the letting go and the transitions continue…and that is a good thing! So glad you are loving your more simple life! And I love what you said about the painful aspect of the transition but then “when you come through to the other side, it feels alright again.” Beautiful! Thank you for this! Congrats on the true launch of your daughter! Brava :)!

  4. For us, the car that sits in the driveway is silver. 🙂 AND, it has been sitting there for so long that there are actually cobwebs growing under the tires! But seriously – As always, your emotions are so beautifully laid out, with such raw honesty. There’s not a doubt in my mind that your kids will now and always feel your unconditional love…I think in many ways, the physical separation from our kids can make our connections grow even stronger.

  5. So beautifully said, Julie. I hope you sent it to Ruchi!

  6. juliecgardner says:

    Wow. When you said you felt a kinship with that black car….that got me in the gut.
    My son is a senior in high school, my daughter a junior. Within two years, they will both be gone.
    Jack has applied to 11 colleges – all of which are out of state. Not a single California school. Yet.
    Maybe ever. So he won’t take his car with him, I’m guessing. He won’t be living driving-distance away.
    I can just picture it parked on the street gathering dust. It’s black.


    My sister’s boys are freshman and juniors in college and she’s selling the car they shared.
    SELLING IT?! I can’t even. And now I know why.
    It would be a little like selling a part of me.
    Too soon.

    • Thanks, Julie. Ironic, your kids leaving CA, and my son there. I look at the black car every day and am grateful for the memories, and excited for my older two kids to come home and use it again! Selling it…nope. Not yet.

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)


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