Notes From a Now Empty Nest

We spend so much energy worrying about whether we will ever be a mom — and how to become one… then question ourselves at times about whether we’re doing motherhood the “right” way… then shuffle from activity to activity with and without our kids… time passes… and before you know it (really)… they are gone, living their own journey. Then what? Emily, long-time Choice Mom from the United Kingdom, wrote this compilation of insights from her empty nest.

Emily and son in early days Solo mothering has been my primary identity for 18 years. None of the other elements of my life ended the day my son was born, but they all moved to the back seats, jostling each other (and me) from time to time, but basically he has been the centre, and everything else fit in around him.

I can’t express adequately the wonder and joy of having him in my life. I feel privileged and lucky that I had the opportunity… that I
had the child I did… and every aspect of it, even the tears and terrors.

Was it worth it?

Every single second, including the three years on the treatment roller-coaster and all the dashed hopes and despair; the horrendous birth and months of zombiedom to recover; and the three years of broken nights. The happiness my son has brought into my life is immeasurable. Now that he’s on his way to being his own person, the pride is overwhelming.

How does it compare to what I expected?

I remember saying, to those who asked, that I had no idea what to
expect except that my whole life would change forever. That has
proven true. Things that never happened:

  • Nobody ever openly expressed their disapproved.
  • He never seriously grieved for a father, as far as I know. He did say it would be good to have one for various reasons (to play killing games with, or so I wouldn’t have to go to work so much), which I could sympathize with, but he didn’t blame me. I have to admit he might have just never wanted to upset me with his thoughts, but that suggests to me that our relationship has been good enough for him not to need to reject me outright.
  • I never heard of him being teased about it either.
  • He’s never been interested in the issue, even though he’s seen me
    getting involved and heard about it plenty.

Things I wasn’t expecting

  • How many people were impressed /delighted / positive and supportive about the choice I’d made.
  • The many new relationships I made in my neighborhood with other new mums and the mutual support that we developed.
  • That I could manage on much less money for the sake of having more time with my child. When I finally went back to work, I went halftime, thinking I’d increase my hours when I needed the money. Sixteen years later, I was still only working 2/3 of a full week, and then I lost my job! I was very happy to decide ‘Never again!’

The best?

  • The privilege of being part of his life from day one, watching
    him grow and learn and develop into a young man who is
    responsible, loveable, hard working and enjoying his life.
  • Being involved in his two-year-old passion for diggers through
    to his teenage passion for mountains.
  • Reading bed-time stories for a full ten years.
  • Taking him to football matches and all those things I’d never
    have done for anyone else, and had such fun doing with him.

The worst?

  • The unexpectedly hard decisions – choosing child care,
    nurseries and schools, which nobody could help me with.
  • Both of us being sick at the same time.
  • His unhappiness with school for six months, and the
    subsequent blips of wondering / hoping we would get it right
    for him. All vindicated now that he is safely ensconced at

What would I have done differently?

  • I’d have set up somewhere he could sit in the kitchen from
    day one, so he could be more involved and we could eat
    together more often.
  • I’d have involved him more in household chores, even after
    he stopped enjoying sweeping and hoovering – making sure
    he knew how to clean the toilet, iron a shirt and sew on a
    button before he went off to college.
  • I’d have made sure he could cook more than one meal (and
    several fancy puddings!) and that he would boast about it
  • I’d have had music on more often, and talked about it.
  • I’d have chosen an ID-release donor, (which I never realized
    was an option back then) just to make it easier should he
    ever decide to find out more.

What have I learned?

  • I have learned with absolute certainty that children come into the
    world with an agenda of their own, so we may as well start from
    where they are rather than fight it. On the whole, they want to please, so that can be used to work out solutions to most things.
  • I have learned to swallow my expectations and show my happiness
    and love of whoever my son becomes, as he changes and develops.
  • I have learned not to get hurt by his teenage need to distance
    himself from me, hoping he will move on sometime!
  • I’ve learned that putting extra money into my pension was the best
    decision I ever made, allowing me to retire early and manage until
    I can claim my State Pension. Losing my job was shocking and
    demoralizing, but it would have been much worse if there had
    been financial pressures.

What next?

Emily and son on recent tripNow I am facing the rest of my life with him at best somewhere nearby, but no longer in the centre of my life needing me right behind him. The emotional burden is lifted by his new girlfriend, so I am no longer his main source of love and support.

I feel quite unprepared.

I have a much smaller circle of friends than I used to have, and I
need to do something about that.

I no longer have a job that provided me with a separate identity,
but I do have several projects, most of them solitary — I need to do
something about that.

Having the house to myself has been great, and I’ve started making
up for 18 years of neglect, enjoying decorating and doing practical

Note for the U.S.

I know the work and money issues are very different in the U.S., and I sympathize with those of you who have no option about part-time work, early retirement and state pensions etc, but the point that does apply is that there are all sorts of ways in which we can adapt our lifestyle and expectations to maximise our experience of mothering. Many of them will set an important example to our children about materialism and consumption.


Celia Dodd, The Empty Nest: How to Survive and Stay Close to Your Adult Child. Her main message is to prepare.

Dodd’s book is in limited supply only from third-party sellers. Other options from Amazon are here.

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Notes from the United Kingdom



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