My youngest, like students all over the country, has been back in college for about a month. I miss him and his brothers every day.
But there's a chance I may feel differently as the days stretch on. In studying empty nest parents, Carin Rubenstein, professor of psychology at Pima College, found that the sadness we experience initially after drop-off fades over the course of a month or two. Grief, she explains, turns to relief and for most parents, to real joy.
"Moms don't like to admit this, but in essence, their lives can be much better when their kids leave. We have many years of life left afterwards and we can enjoy those years," Rubenstein said.
As I faced down the empty nest, dragged kicking and screaming towards the day when my sons would leave for college, compassionate friends offered advice. Having your life and house restored after the two decades of the chaos of parenthood is a good thing, I was told. Less laundry, fewer trips to the grocery store. And you can run around your house naked and no one will know. Everything my wise friends asserted is backed up by research.
If you're in the throes of sadness over your newly emptied nest, here are seven good things about having the kids off to school to cheer you up.
Kids equal worry.
The only way to worry less is to know less. The only way to know less is to get your kids out of your house. While our children live in our homes, we ride the emotional roller coaster of their daily lives. When they are gone, we can ignore their texts, calls and problems.
Sharing your car with teens is like driving around in a dumpster.
My backseat had layers of dirty gym clothes topped off with missing homework assignments, empty beef jerky packages and long-lost winter jackets. Turning the corner when driving my car sent a dozen empty energy drink cans scurrying across the floor. The glove box was a repository for long-forgotten parking tickets and hidden pork rind wrappers. Did I mention the smell? I may miss my kids in my home, but not behind the wheel of my car.
Teens are nocturnal.
Studying, keeping in touch with 25 friends simultaneously and ransacking the kitchen are regular late-night activities. I consider it nothing short of a miracle every morning as I find my kitchen, and the rest of my house, in exactly the condition I left it the night before. I have had to apologize to my husband more than once. He was right; it was the kids.
When kids live at home, they complain.
I get it; complaining is something teens are required to do. But now my sons love their home and everything in it. They love the clean sheets, good coffee and the refrigerator that is always full. They marvel at the pantry stocked with food and the car filled with gas. Nothing has changed in our house, except them.
We can go out late, with friends, on a school night.
There are no school nights.
Ditching unused items is so much easier.
Every time I tried to purge a closet, throw out outgrown clothing or unused toys, my kids acted like I was giving away their most treasured item. I understand that each item was a piece of childhood, a reminder of a time they loved. Well, they are gone, and so is their crap.
Marriages are easily buried under a pile of attention-grabbing children.
We may give lip service to the holy date night and promise ourselves life won’t be all about the kids. But those are just lies we told ourselves in order to face parenthood. When the kids leave it is a moment of truth: Here is a chance to reacquaint yourself with the other babysitter with whom it may feel you have done little more than pass babies, children and then teens back and forth for decades. If you can still remember his or her name, there is every chance your marriage will survive.
Lisa Heffernan is the mother of one college student and two recent grads. She is a writer and cofounder of Grown and Flown, a site for parents of 15-25 year-olds.