There they were brother and sister, peacefully together, in the most ordinary of moments. Baker was asleep with his head nestled next to Vivian’s. Schnitzel rested cozily on Vivian’s lap, her tail doubling as an eye mask for Baker. Panda, ever the burrower, had wedged herself into the gap between Baker’s back and the seat.
All those backseat moments came flooding back—Baker reading Roald Dahl’s The Witches to his little sister, the two of them falling asleep with their heads on each other’s shoulder, and the vision of them holding hands while buckled into car seats. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There were arguments about music, temperature and, of course, territory. Like all self-governing states, borders mattered. They were always accusing each other of encroaching upon the other’s sacred space. Sometimes the land disputes became so intense, I was forced to pull over on the side of the road.
After lamenting to a friend about their annoying fights, she sent me the lyrics to a Trace Adkins song:
You’re gonna miss thisYou’re gonna want this backYou’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fastThese are some good timesSo take a good look around
You may not know it not
But you’re gonna miss this
All I know is that I am going to miss all of it—the fights, the peace, and just being together in those ordinary moments that, when you think about it, are extraordinary.
How parents navigate these transitions has been on my mind a lot and I was recently invited to discuss Empty Nest Syndrome on the Today Show. While not an official diagnosis, it captures the grief and sadness parents sometimes experience when their children leave home. The anticipatory dread is often worse than the reality.
For most parents, the transition is bittersweet. While they miss their kids, they also report positive experiences. When it comes to emotions, we’re taught to consider moods as binary: you’re happy or sad, calm or anxious. Ask your friends, “How was your day?” or “How are you?” and they’ll probably answer along positive or negative lines. In reality, we can be both. There is value in recognizing that far more nuance exists in emotional states than we often allow for, and that negative and positive emotions can exist side by side. As many empty nesters find, endings can be new beginnings.
Is there a friend you never had time to see? Make plans for lunch. Is there a place you always wanted to visit? Call your travel agent. Does playing Bridge appeal? Join a card club. Reframing the transition as a gateway and not a dead end unleashes possibility and potential. The key is to replace the stillness with a new rhythm. Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. Make sure yours is as well.
Instead of an empty-nester, reimagine yourself as an emerging eagle.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman