Empty Nesting Is Awesome, Except When It’s Not.

I love my life the way it is at this moment. I have one son who graduated from college and supports himself with an actual job, and I have another son who is a college sophomore, living only two hours from home. I work from home. I have the freedom to sleep in if I want, workout for as long as I want, not cook dinner for a whole week if I don’t want to, and most of all, pack a bag and take off to visit friends or accompany Jim on a business trip if I want, with no problem. Many of my friends who still have kids at home (which is about ninety-nine percent of them) tell me that I’m lucky, that sometimes they feel like they can’t wait for their kids to grow up, that they live vicariously through my crazy adventures.

But here’s the thing.
Empty nesting is awesome, except when it’s not.

The periods of exhilaration I feel when I am doing whatever I want to do—which is most of the time, and who could complain about that?—can be immediately followed by crushing lows: loneliness, a slight sense of having little purpose, and did I mention loneliness?

Not all the time. Not even half the time, or one-quarter of the time…but it hit me hard this week, having just returned from This Full House to my mostly-empty house. Jim has been on a business trip for nearly three weeks and although J was home when the cab delivered me from the airport, it was only for twenty-four hours until he had to return to the dorms. I’ve done this before, yet this time was different.

These feelings and the crying—oh my gosh, THE CRYING—that I have experienced over the last couple of days have made me feel like I’m having the newbie empty nester response I should have had more than a year ago right after we moved J into the dorm for freshman year. Why now??

I have no idea.

A sweet, smart friend told me that things happen in their own time and maybe I needed to process it all and maybe it’s not a delayed reaction at all but rather right on time. All I know is, I don’t like it. That goes along with being a control freak. Uncontrolled crying? NO THANK YOU.

That said and as you would expect, my plan is to try and turn myself around mentally and ride it out. Everything is the way it is supposed to be. My kids are doing great, my marriage is fabulous, and I am blessed in so many ways. I have to tell myself that this is completely normal and it’s only a matter of time before I’m back to my “old” empty nest-loving ways.

So while I struggle, I am keeping my eyes trained firmly on the light. It’s right there, at the end of this tunnel.


  • Phyllis

    Please come to Boston to visit! 🙂 I worried so much for my parents when my brother and I were both gone for college. There was one moment that my mom and I had a huge argument while I was in college – I was so mad. Then my mom said, “You don’t need me any more and that’s hard for me.” I had a total ah-ha moment right then. I also told her how much I really needed her – all the time. After that, she clearly enjoyed the freedom of not having us, kids, around!

  • Emily O'Donnell

    Melisa, this has been my experience settling in here in Brisbane–the kids head off to school and Douglas heads off to work, and I face a loneliness and lack of purpose that I never have before. Several bouts of uncontrolled crying (met with incredibly sweet notes written by my children)–and yet other days, I feel spoiled with the amount of alone time and freedom to choose how to spend my day. It is such a strange, disorienting thing to have a quiet house…hugs from the other side of the globe.

  • Donna Schwartz Mills

    I have only just begun this journey with you but I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I hope you can do that, too – and while occasional bouts of loneliness are to be expected, overall you have created a great life for yourself. Which I hope to copy.

  • Heather Groves Petri

    Oh I love this post, the rawness and authenticity. I’m not an empty nester yet. My only child is a 7th grader. Yet I get it a little bit because he’s entered this new phase of wanting NOTHING to do with me. I too work from home and so whether he’s at school, or home and hiding in his room or in the basement, not talking to me, because I’m not cool enough, well…then I feel lonely. And it sucks. So I am pretty sure I’ll be UNCONTROLLABLY crying when he really leaves. Sad trombone. Thank you for sharing your truth!

  • Shannon

    Though I hate that you are feeling sad, I think this is a beautifully written post.

    Please give me a shout any time. I am always up for a little company or a lunch out with you.

  • A'Driane Nieves

    (((HUGS))) Loneliness is awful. It really is. It’s a punch right in your soul that just crushes you. I hear you. I see you. Sending you love and comfort.

  • mom244evermom

    This makes my heart ache Melisa. The grief, for that’s what it is, albeit thankfully very different grief, that you’re expecting is somehow easier to deal with, but that grief that comes out of nowhere and sucker punches you? That’s HARD. Keeping you in my thoughts.

  • lisanoel03

    I think it’s totally normal for loneliness to ebb and flow. I am not an empty nester, but as a single mom it leaves me with several hours each night with a quiet house. Most nights I enjoy my time, I have started crafting again, I watch what I want on TV etc etc. But some nights I’m overcome with the urge to have another body near me. It’s been a year and the loneliness can still totally sneak up on me. Another point….sometimes it’s 100% hormonally based!!! Especially when we’re talking uncontrollable crying. But regardless, I think it’s normal and I know I don’t need to really tell you how to handle it because you rock but extra furry cuddles and making special plans with friends tends to help me!!!!!!!!! love and hugs!

    • Melisa Wells

      Ah! Hormones never occurred to me and perhaps should have, Lisa, considering the *cough cough* perimenopausal stuff I’ve been going through lately. So I’ll throw that into the mix as a distinct possibility and regardless, that makes me feel a little better so thank you. 🙂


  • Kizz Robinson

    I find that we control freaks tend to plan for the difficult times. I bet you had a great plan for how you’d force yourself to feel just the right amount of sad and empty when you moved your boys. You had projects and work and the upside of the empty nest that you were going to enjoy to the fullest. The problem is that means we don’t always feel all the feelings so they wait to sneak up on us at a totally different time. Sorry you got sneak attacked.

  • Lesa Barker

    This post hit home hard last night when I read it. I just learned that my son will not be coming home for the three weeks I had been looking forward to at Christmas. He will be home for maybe eight days. Although I am excited to have him home I am sad at the loss of time we will have. I have been an empty nester for about 2 years now and I embraced it and yet now I find myself struggling. My two kids are doing so well and are happy but I miss them. My daughter who has been about 8 hours away is looking at graduate schools across the country next fall. This will put both my kids two or three days away by car or an expensive plane ride away. I am so happy for them but I find my heart very heavy at the moment. I think I have been adjusting but I feel like I have just hit reality and it hurts. So ready for some kind of change in my life – a smaller home, addition of a dog – something to shake things up and get out of the rut I feel I am in.

    • Melisa Wells

      Sending lots of hugs your way, Lesa. That bittersweet feeling is totally annoying and upsetting for so many reasons. I hope that you can make the most of the eight days you’ll have this Christmas with your son. Shaking things up sounds like an excellent plan!

  • A Grace Full Life

    Oh my friend, how is it I missed this when you posted it last night?
    I am a great listener and I love food.
    AND I am very funny.
    Haha funny not funny looking.
    Well, that depends on who you talk to.
    Let’s go get some hot chocolate, listen to our playlists and talk.
    Just you and me.
    Hugging you.
    Can you feel it?
    HOW ABOUT NOW?!?!?!?!?!

  • alexandra

    This kills me. And for so many reasons. Because I love you, because I know my turn is coming. But most of all, because I hear the march of time. Let’s have lunch, friend. I truly love you.

  • Tara R.

    I talked smack about not wanting an Empty Nest. I still don’t know what it’s like. I waver between wanting both of the 20-somethings out of the house, and shamelessly loving that they both feel that they can come home. There are days when all I want is to talk with someone my age, and/or do things by myself.

    I do envy your empty-ish nest… a little. It’s hard, but you’re doing great.

  • Mrs4444

    At the risk of getting “the look,” I have to ask; could it be related to hormones, too? I think it is normal to still cry sometimes, but the times I have cried like that have been related to my hormones. I think I’ve finished with menopause; got through it mostly unscathed, but there were a handful of days that I questioned my sanity!

    • Melisa Wells

      I wouldn’t give you “the look”! LOL Someone else already suggested that and although I hadn’t thought about it before I wouldn’t count it out. That said, I have never in my life cried non-stop for two days so if hormones were a part of it, they were probably JUST a part of a perfect storm kind of thing.

  • Angie Mizzell

    I echo Alexandra… the march of time! And whether our emotional response is delayed or right on time… I do the same thing. I think transitions are tough and we go through lots and lots of them. But your family has the stuff that all the good ones are made of. I hope when I get to my empty nesting place I’ll be able to say the same thing!

  • Heidi Sloss

    Our kids are about the same age (I too have one launched and self-supporting and another one is a sophomore in college–difference being that my older one is only 30 minutes away and the younger one on the other side of the planet, oops I mean country).

    Your title is great and says it all–empty nesting is wonderful, except for when it isn’t. It has been lonely and I have felt un-tethered since our baby went away. Her 2nd semester freshman year we spent living in Melbourne Australia and that was a great distraction. So it came as a bit of a surprise that I had to go through another (this time more mini) withdrawal when she went back to school this time.

    As for the crying, I have to agree that this may be due to hormones as much as the quiet, echoing hallways. Having gone through menopause 15 years ago, the unexplained crying and emotional ups and downs sound vaguely familiar.

    Thanks for posting!