I have two daughters, ages 23 and 27. One lives in Sioux City, Iowa, and the other lives in Denver, Colorado. My wife, Rhonda, and I have been married 32 years and live in West Des Moines.
Add up all those numbers and places and you get zero — the number of children I have at home. Aside from our dog, Molly, our nest is empty.
Cue the house party music.
I love my daughters, but I’m not going to lie: The empty nest rocks. Here are the pros and cons.
PRO: Freedom to do what you want to do with your spouse. Remember when, before children (BC), you could go to a movie on any random night? Remember when going to a restaurant didn’t involve the same logistical considerations as deploying the U.S. Army Second Armored Division? Imagine choosing a restaurant without UN-level negotiations. You can brazenly leave the house without spending four hours getting kids dressed. Yeah, empty nest doesn’t suck.
CON: Terror that the kids are on their own. This is harder for some parents than others. When the kids move out, you can no longer protect them from everything ranging from bacteria on up. Once out of the house, your kids now have to make their own choices which can have negative consequences. Learn to live with it.
Some of these choices will be bad. This will cost you some sleepless nights, I guarantee you. If you’re a helicopter parent, you may need sedation. This is hard for me because my urge is to swoop in and fix stuff for my kids. Having them 200 and 800 miles away, respectively, means I can no longer do that. So my antacid consumption has gone up.
CON: Loss of tax benefits. Soon after I could no longer claim my first daughter on my tax return, my tax guy and I had “the talk.” Loss of dependents and the paying down of the mortgage means fewer or no tax deductions which means higher tax bills. Lovely.
PRO or CON: Work with people your children’s age. This is not a con to me because I enjoy working with people of all ages. But it is a downer when you realize that most of your colleagues weren’t even alive when you graduated college, and some of them are younger than your kids. I get along fine with millennials; I try not to think about the fact that I have clothing that’s older than they are.
PRO: Welcome to our world, kids. The flipside of the CON above is the children finally will get a full dose of adulting. Insert chortle here. Car breaks down, you send them the address of a local mechanic. Did they have bills to pay? Better get out your debit cards, kids! Gotta work to eat and pay rent? I’m weeping a river for you. This is a nice precursor to if you have grandchildren, and they pull the same stunts that your kids pull on you. Payback is a you-know-what.
PRO: A chance to help the youngsters avoid your mistakes. It feels good to offer advice to the youngsters that can help them avoid mistakes you made either as a parent or a professional (that is a very high number in my case). I can, when asked, let them know that what they feel isn’t weird, the things they face aren’t unique, and if I can make it through these job and home challenges, they can too. Let them know you’re available for judgment-free consultation as someone who has traveled the road they are on.
CON: A constant reminder that you are old. If your nest is empty, odds are your age begins with a 5, or soon will. I’m not bothered by my age, but having friends and colleagues on the front end of parenting is a daily reminder that you’re “getting up there.”
PRO: Loss of cost centers. I love my kids, and I don’t regret financially supporting them growing up. BUT I also don’t miss the expense. Your empty nest food and utility bills will crater. I no longer pay for my daughters’ 18-minute showers or my child’s habit of using a space heater to keep her room at roughly 91 degrees in the winter. You may even downsize creating greater savings. Plus, empty nesters like me are closer to stopping the giant sucking sound known as our mortgages. (Only 5.5 years to go!)
CON: Generational dissonance. I work at an agency with a LOT of sub-30-year-olds, which means half my vocabulary sounds like gibberish to my coworkers. I said, “Talk to me, Goose” (a famous Top Gun movie line) to a 26-year-old colleague the other day, and she just looked at me. “Who’s Goose?” The movie and music lines in my daily lexicon sound like Chinese among the coworkers:
- “Negative, Ghost Rider.” (Top Gun)
- “I got that going for me, which is nice.” (Caddyshack)
- “Allllllrighty then. (Ace Ventura)
- “You’re killing me, Smalls.” (Sandlot)
- “Coolio” (Coolio)
- “Welcome to the party, Pal.” (Die Hard)
- “Show me the money.” (Jerry Maguire)
- “Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria.” (Ghostbusters)
PRO: You survived child rearing; these other people have no guarantees. I enjoyed all phases of fatherhood, but I do not want to go back and do it over. I’d rather enjoy my current empty nest and the ability to focus more attention on my wife. Whenever I see young parents with the 1,000-yard, sleep-deprived stare, I say to myself “I did my time. Now it’s your turn.”
Enjoy the moments of youth/parenthood and look forward to the empty nest.