The Empty Nest Review
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Even though my eldest is only on the verge of looking at colleges and my youngest is still in middle school, thoughts of them leaving home haunt me. But the book The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop reminds me that I’m not alone. This diverse collection written by moms and dads, married and single, expose candid relationships with children fleeing the nest for a variety of reasons.

Harry Shearer humorously writes in “The Godfather” of his and his wife’s decision not to have children of their own—and his actual experiences as a godparent. Then there’s the amusing account from the widower who compares his life as a father to the items he’s placed in his grocery cart throughout the years.

Not all of the stories are witty, though; many are heart-wrenching. One mother mourns the passing of her adult son who was in the later stages of schizophrenia. She reminds us, “Yet to have children—or simply to experience great love for any person at all—is to throw yourself wide open to the possibility of pain at any moment.” How true. Another woman details every mother’s nightmare of her son going to war. Suffering from substance abuse as a teen, he decided that he needed challenge and discipline—and the only way to get it would be to join the armed forces.

One parent even admits to having been too permissive, thus having her daughter constantly criticize her once she became an adult. Another mother tells of the son who moved back at age 38, after his divorce. And a cancer survivor is just thrilled to have been able to live to see her son leave the nest. And then, what about the 18-year-old who doesn’t want to leave—or who hates college and wants to come home?

Brenda Roberts puts “leaving” into perspective in my favorite story of the book, “A Mile Ain’t What It Used to Be.” Having sent two daughters off to college herself, with the advantages of cell phones and e-mail, she contrasts this to how her grandmother and other southern black teenagers of that generation had to leave home to work in other states. She discusses how their parents must have felt, not being able to contact them using today’s technology—or simply not at all.

Many suggest that instead of the nest emptying, it expands or changes. The emptiness is temporary, but family and friends return. Some parents even became less defined by their jobs and embraced a more balanced life. After her daughter left for Australia, a corporate attorney decided to take a cabaret performing workshop, only for it to lead to a career as a cabaret singer and part-time attorney.

Most of the authors in this anthology are professional writers and editors. Therefore, the only flaw I found—which I think is actually a huge one—was the absence of the perspective of stay-at-home moms and dads, as well as that of the increasing number of professionals who leave the workforce once their kids become adolescents.

I don’t think it will make the inevitable departure any easier, but The Empty Nest doesn’t claim to accomplish that feat, either. Still, I recommend this book as an entertaining and often emotional experience for parents with kids of all ages—even those with adult children.

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