Is there a better name for "the empty nest?"
I wish there were different shorthand for this stage of parenting & life.
I’m aiming my linguistic ire at the phrase “empty nest.”
From the footnotes of my post Solvitur Ambulando:
The metaphor has always rubbed me the wrong way, but even more so now that I’m in the “nest” that’s supposedly “empty.”
The avian imagery is useful…
…but the message is off. Years of hard work and growth and transformation — theirs and ours! — and we describe this pivotal moment as…a vacant bundle of twigs?
It just seems wrong. And vaguely patronizing, as if our lives are now husks, devoid of energy or purpose.
Of course, there’s loss. Our goal as parents is to raise children who will grow up and make their way in the world. Grief comes with the job and we should acknowledge this more often. But as I make my way through this transition, a nuanced “fullness” is emerging. (Both/and.) The “empty nest” feels more like a layover on the way to a new country. I wish I had better language for this. Or, at least, better shorthand.
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“Empty nesting” isn’t just about our kids flying away, it’s about our journeys as well: as parents, partners, selves.
I like the way Steve said it in last week’s comments:
The nest is not empty but rather reconfigured and renovated.
For me, part of the struggle in talking about the experience is that, like other parenting phases, it’s so different for each of us, sometimes in invisible ways. Hearing other peoples’ stories fills me up, but sometimes I feel like the odd one out. I can’t always see those potholes until I’ve fallen into one.
But usually that’s not the case. My slant on empty is spacious. And I’ve needed more space for years.
I ask myself: how should I fill this new space? With something I can find in the world like a new hobby or project? Or does occupying this space require internal growth? Maybe I should chuck the self-improvement and just stretch out and relax for a while. Most likely a bit of each.
Then there’s the fact that one’s nest may not empty on the timeline one expects. Or one’s nest empties temporarily and then one’s adult kid returns home.
Our families are unique. The farther we are from the cultural norm, the lonelier it feels. The “empty nest” metaphor fails parents whose kids don’t follow a very narrow path toward growth.
Thinking out loud hasn’t changed my irritation with the phrase “empty nest,” but it leads me to conclude that this parenting moment is too wide-ranging and complex to be summed up by any one phrase. Imperfect language is all we have for now. If it gives us a foothold and a way to find each other, it’s better than nothing.
What do you think about the phrase “empty nest?” It would be pretty cool if we managed to coin a new term.