The Five Stages of Empty Nesting

Momservation: They say true happiness begins when the kids leave and the dog dies.

♥          ♥          ♥

So I seemed to have entered a new phase of Empty Nesting.

The funny thing is, I think I’m zipping through what I’ve decided are the Five Stages of Empty Nesting and I think I might already be at Stage IV: Acceptance.

Everyone’s heard of the Five Stages of Grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

But I think I’ve stumbled upon the Five Stages of Empty Nesting:

  1. Grief
  2. Shock
  3. Ambivalence
  4. Acceptance
  5. Euphoria

I definitely thought the first stage of Empty Nesting was Grief. I mean, before my kids even left for college I was crying in the pasta isle because I wasn’t going to need to buy the Family Pack of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese anymore. And then when they left I was crying over laundry because there wasn’t as much to do any longer. What the hell? Who cries over less laundry? Definitely the Grief stage.

So I thought: This feels like a death. My kids are gone. Not gone-gone (thank God), but gone. Am I going through the Five Stages of Grief?

But I wasn’t in denial or anger or even bargaining. Sure, there was some denial when I tried doing the morning school routine with the dog instead (What do you want for breakfast, Darby? Would you like me to pack you a snack for later? We better hurry and get to the park before we get stuck in the drop-off lane!). A little bit of anger when my son would call his dad to chat, but text me only when he needed money. And some bargaining when I would try to tempt my daughter into calling me later by telling her I had a great story to share.

But what I was feeling wasn’t the Stages of Grief. It was just flat-out grief. Going Full Golden, ugly-cry sad that my babies were gone and the chapter of raising my children was over. So Stage I of Empty Nesting? Definitely Grief, I decided.

Interestingly though, it didn’t last as long as I thought it would. I heard other’s stories of the months it took them to settle into the idea of their kids becoming adults and moving out and on, and I thought that would be me too, because I LOVED being a mother. I loved the active parenting of raising kids, and I loved who my kids had become. I wasn’t looking forward to them leaving.

And I guess, technically, the Grief stage might have been longer because it started when my oldest left for college last year. But I definitely got over it after he came home for the summer and I was ready for that independent wild stallion to go back to school.

Then my daughter didn’t leave for college until late September this year because she’s on the California quarter system, so there isn’t as much time to miss her with Parents’ Weekend, Thanksgiving, and Christmas break allowing me to see her each month.

So I’d say the bulk of the grieving happened before the kids left, mourning the end of the child-rearing stage.

Because then came the next stage of Empty Nesting: Shock.

I’d say I’ve been in shock that this has finally, actually happened: I have no kids at home.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was crying because I was so sleep deprived from having two kids under two? Wasn’t it just last week that all I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be left alone and no one to call “Mommy!” just for a few hours? Wasn’t it just last year that I had a calendar full of kid-related activities with barely any time for myself?

Isn’t this what we are supposed to be looking forward to? The day we successfully launch our kids into adulthood and it is all about us as a couple again? In this nice, quiet, empty house that finally stays clean? It’s finally here? Shock. Stage II of Empty Nesting is definitely Shock.

Then as the shock slowly wears off and you settle into your time being your own, only cooking for two or just going out, weekends spent with friends and not on a cold, muddy soccer field in Outskirts Where-The-Hell-Are-We…you realize you are now in Stage III of Empty Nesting: Ambivalence.

It still feels strange, I haven’t gotten used to this quiet house and am still trying to mother the dog, but…I kinda like where this is going. I could see myself getting used to evenings out with friends, impromptu trips to Napa, not having to volunteer for the Crab Feed. I can still cry in the cheese isle because there’s no one to buy cheese sticks for, but also realize Apple Hill can be fun without the kids. Ambivalence. Stage III of Empty Nesting is solidly ambivalent.

Which brings me to Stage IV where I think I am now: Acceptance.

How do you know when you’ve accepted that your kids are grown and flown and you are embracing Empty Nesting? It’s when you learn to say (and mean it): Oh well. They’ll figure it out. Then you get off the college parent Facebook pages and quit helicopter parenting your kids.

They lost their room key? Oh well, they’ll figure it out. No going on the Facebook Helicopter Pad and posting: My son lost his dorm key! Can you ask your students in Chug-a-Beer Hall to keep an eye out for it?

Couldn’t drive to school because they came out to a flat tire? Oh well. They’ll figure it out. No posting: Hey local Monsters University Parents! Anyone know a good mobile tire repair so my kid doesn’t have to figure out how to use a car jack and change a tire?

They still haven’t gotten a job and they’re quickly draining their account of summer job money instead of saving it for a rainy day? Oh well. They’ll figure it out. Looks like Saltines and ketchup packets and wiping with Playboy’s Miss November cause Momma ain’t Venmo-ing you beer money.

Yep. We’re in Stage IV of Empty Nesting: Letting go and Accepting that they’ll figure it out. The relinquishment of worry and transferring it to your kids feels wonderful. Loving Stage IV.

Which just leaves Stage V of Empty Nesting: Euphoria that the kids are gone.

I’m not there yet. We still have two separate college tuitions to pay which reminds you that the kids aren’t really gone. But give me another summer of my wildly independent kids coming home, messing up my house, making me stay up worrying all hours of the night until they come home, forcing me to actively parent again…and I think I’ll be ready for the Euphoria of Stage V Empty Nesting.

But apparently that won’t happen until the dog dies.

#StagesOfEmptyNesting   #Momservations   #Acceptance


  1. Amy Rogers says:

    OH MY GOD we are twins! My thoughts EXACTLY, because I happen to be on the exact same schedule (daughter to college last year, son to college on quarter system just four weeks ago). Expressed so honestly, accurately, and with good humor. Thank you Kelli.
    I definitely grieved before they even left. And I might not be advancing through the stages as swiftly as you but I’m close behind. What next, right?

    • kellimwheeler says:

      Okay, glad to have confirmation that I have accurately stumbled upon the Five Stages of Empty Nesting, Amy! 🙂 I realized after getting more feedback on this that there is likely to be some bouncing between the stages. It’s also been easier for me to progress because my kids are loving college. So there should be an asteric that says: Go to the 5 Stages of Grief if your kid is miserable at college. Today, I feel I have slipped back a little to Stage 1 because it’s my son’s 20th birthday and we can’t spend it with him. However, he is on Day 2 of celebrating his birthday, carrying it through the weekend. He is at Stage 5. 😉 Thanks for taking the time to check-in, Amy! Cheers to making it to Stage 5!

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