Why I Don’t Grieve the Empty Nest
School is about to begin. Teenagers are packing up and leaving home for the first time, which means we’re about to see a deluge of empty nest grieving posts and blogs. I’ve already had several come across my social media pages. I had a double whammy when my youngest daughter graduated a year early, and my only two children left for college the same day. I get it; I’m not heartless. But here is why you won’t hear me complaining about the empty nest.
I missed my kids when they left for college, and I will admit that the first semester of having them away from home was a big adjustment. Yet, even when I missed having my kids around, I never wished it were different. How could I wish for the alternative? I wanted them to have experiences and adventures. I loved seeing them discover who they were and what they wanted to become. As a sibling to a brother with intellectual disabilities, I knew all too well what the alternative to that looked like. Having an empty nest is a privilege my mother never had, and it’s always something I often thought about as my baby birds flew the nest.
I’m not the mom of a person with disabilities, so I can’t claim to know precisely what it feels like, but I did have a front-row seat to my family’s struggles. When my brother graduated from high school with an alternative diploma, there was no exciting trip to Target to get dorm supplies. There was no talk of careers, college classes, or fraternities. He graduated to the couch, television, and depression. My parents attempted to get him plugged into the few services and programs available, but it was challenging. When one person in a family has problems, whether from disabilities, mental health issues, or illness, it impacts the entire family. Although I was the sibling, my brother’s situation affected my life and left me with complicated emotions. I can only imagine the pain my mother felt. She would have loved the experience of having her youngest child go to college when he turned 18.
I acknowledge that many parents experience feelings of sadness and emptiness when their children leave home. Their feelings are valid, and I am not discounting them. It’s true that kids grow up, and in the blink of an eye, they are gone to college. However, I am saying that the experience of having an empty nest is a privilege denied to many. It’s also true that you can have contradicting emotions simultaneously. You can be sad that those years passed so quickly and happy that your children are independently pursuing life goals.
My life as a sister to a brother with intellectual disabilities affected my perspective on every aspect of life. It often has left me feeling like the odd one out. As much as I loved being a mother, I always remembered that my goal was to work myself out of a job. I was in the business of raising adults, and I felt so fortunate to be doing that. It’s true that they grew up and left home in the blink of an eye. I was lucky to have those eighteen years, but I also embrace the privilege of having the empty nest my mother never had. My birdies flew the nest, and I’m grateful for their wings.