Adjusting To An Empty Nest Brings Grief, But Also Freedom | WOSU Radio

Adjusting To An Empty Nest Brings Grief, But Also Freedom

Dec 19, 2017
Originally published on February 7, 2018 10:48 am

When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.

For Crystal Joyce this school year is a series of lasts: her son's last picture day, his last marching band halftime show, their last Boy Scout troop meeting together

It's all building toward next fall, when her son, her youngest child, leaves for college, leaving just Crystal and her husband at home in Winston-Salem, N.C. It will be the beginning of a transition to, "maybe not being needed as much as a mom," Crystal says.

After 21 years of parenting, between her son and her older daughter, Crystal, 52, is bracing for a difficult adjustment. "I'm feeling that little bit of grief there," Crystal says, "wondering how I'm going to get through that."

Ana Machado's three sons have all left home and graduated college. Now 55, she says she enjoys the freedom, but still remembers how sad she felt preparing for them to move out. She says she would walk by their empty bedrooms at her home in Andover, Mass., sit down on the stairs and cry. "It was really, really hard," she says.

Ana tells Crystal to focus on the positive. "Think about all the good things you did — how great your kids are because of you," Ana says. "Those are not little things."


Advice from Ana Machado

On filling time that was spent on kids' activities

I started doing things that were out of my comfort zone. Because when we are moms, we are kind of behind them, even to make friends. We go to school. We make friends there. Everything that we do is based on their lives. Try to remember things that you liked to do before, and try to do them. Start little by little. It's not going to be easy. It hurts in the beginning. It really hurts. I think the pain is even physical.

On the surprising things you miss about your kids

I even miss things that I hated. I used to come home with all my papers from work, books. I was not seeing anything in front of me, and I would trip over their backpacks and shoes. So, now they're not there anymore, and I miss that. I miss tripping when I got home. So, you miss everything.

On keeping in touch

I call them as much as I want, but I tend to call them two or three times a week. But that becomes a great moment in your day, in your week, when you talk to them, and you see they are doing fine. Or even when they're not doing fine, they need you. It's reassuring when they come to you and they're still looking for our input, our help.

On how her relationship with her husband changed

It became different, but different good, after the boys were out. Like, one day we went to Boston, just to go to a restaurant and to walk around. And all of a sudden I said, "Oh my God, we have to go home." And he says to me, "Why?" We had no reason to hurry up and to go home. It's weird in the beginning, but you get used to your new freedom, and it's really good.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For Crystal Joyce, this school year is a series of lasts - her son's last picture day, his last marching band halftime show, their last Boy Scout troop meeting together.

CRYSTAL JOYCE: I'm about six months left before he graduates from high school. And then we begin that transition of moving my last one out and maybe not be needed as much as a mom. And I'm feeling that little bit of grief there, wondering how I'm going to get through that.

SHAPIRO: Crystal and her husband will be empty nesters in their home in Winston-Salem, N.C. After 21 years of parenting between their older daughter and younger son, it'll be a big adjustment. So we connected Crystal with someone who could help.

JOYCE: How long has it been since your last one left home?

ANA MACHADO: So five years.

JOYCE: So you're very experienced at this. This is good.

MACHADO: Yes (laughter), a real empty nest.

SHAPIRO: That's Ana Machado, who lives outside Boston. Her three sons have all left home and graduated from college. She spoke with Crystal for our series Been There to help Crystal prepare for her own empty nest. Ana told Crystal that her transition was abrupt.

MACHADO: I didn't go through that phase that I thought, oh, I have six more months. I started dealing with that in my head about a month before it happened. And it was really bad. Like, I would go up to their bedrooms and come down. I would stop in the middle of the stairs, sit down and cry, cry. So it was really, really hard.

JOYCE: I know how you feel.

MACHADO: Yeah. So I also think something that's very important - I always have a very good relationship with my husband. Men get it differently, but they are going through something, too.

JOYCE: My husband and I both devoted our volunteer time with the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, so we were heavily involved in activities. We devoted so much time to them in our off-time. So that's a little scary for me. How did you get through that?

MACHADO: I started doing things that were out of my comfort zone because when we are moms, we go to school. We make friends there. Everything that we do is based on their lives. Try to remember things that you liked to do before, and try to do them. Start little by little. It hurts in the beginning. It really hurts. I even miss things that I hated...

JOYCE: (Laughter).

MACHADO: ...Like when I get home - I used to come home with all my papers from work, books. And I was not seeing anything in front of me. And I would trip over their backpacks and shoes. And so now they are not there anymore, and I miss that. I miss tripping when I get home (laughter). So you miss everything.

JOYCE: I know I'm going to miss not calling him and asking him, what do you want for dinner, little things.

MACHADO: It's going to be hard. But you can work through them I think. And there's another thing. My oldest son - he already got married. And I have a granddaughter.

JOYCE: Oh.

MACHADO: And I can't barely remember those days that I cried. And so you have things to look forward.

JOYCE: How often do you talk to your children now?

MACHADO: I call them two or three times a week. But that becomes a great moment in your day, in your week when you talk to them and you see they are doing fine. Or even when they are not doing fine and they need you, it's reassuring when they come to you. And they're still looking for our input, our help.

JOYCE: I know. That reminds me of when my daughter first went off to college. I was driving to work one morning, and I get a phone call from her. And the first thing she said was, Mom, I'm sick. You really think about in those moments how much you give for your children. And they appreciate that when they're not there because the first thing they do is call you.

MACHADO: You're still mothering them.

JOYCE: Yeah.

MACHADO: We never stop mothering them.

JOYCE: You mentioned you and your husband. Have you seen your relationship change? Have you guys gotten closer because of the extra time that you have?

MACHADO: We got really close when we moved from Brazil to here because it was just the two of us and the boys. And we kept a very good relationship. But I noticed that I have friends that when they send their kids to school and they go back to the house, they are with a stranger. So I always tell people, work on your relationship. So I always had my husband by my side. He knew what was going on with me. And I knew what was going on with him. It became different but different-good after the boys were out.

Like, one day we went to Boston just to go to a restaurant and to walk around. And all of a sudden, I said, oh, my God, we have to go home. And he says to me, why? (Laughter) We had no reason to hurry up and to go home. It's weird in the beginning, but you get used to your new freedom. And it's really good.

JOYCE: It really is a new normal.

MACHADO: Yes, yes. And you have to make that the new normal because there's no other way. I always say that sadness comes for free. And you have to work for your happiness. So do it.

JOYCE: (Laughter).

MACHADO: Not to say that there are not days that I'm home alone and sad, but I'm always trying to work to get out of that state. Try to be positive, and think about all the good things you did, how great your kids are because of you.

JOYCE: They are pretty great (laughter).

MACHADO: Yeah, see. Just grab the little things. And those are not little things. That's a big deal. So just hang in there.

SHAPIRO: That was Ana Machado, whose youngest son left home five years ago, and Crystal Joyce, whose last child leaves home in the fall. They spoke together for our series Been There. And if you want advice about a big life change or you have some advice to share, let us know. Write to nprcrowdsource@npr.org and put Been There in the subject line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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