Kids out of the nest…it doesn’t feel right

Recently I was lamenting about missing my son, Joseph who just went off to college. I likened the feeling to that of a mother bird pushing her baby bird out of the nest, but I don't feel ready to give that last push…

I said:

"It just doesn't feel right. I don't like sitting down to dinner with that empty chair across the table from me. It's really hitting me. My son, Joseph left for college just last week end. I am very proud of him. He's worked so hard at his studies and community service. But, why does he have to grow up so fast?

It's so true that our kids are on loan to us. Parents help them to form their consciences and raise them in virtue; steering them to the straight and narrow path that leads to Heaven.

I've been talking with a lot of parents lately about missing their kids. One Mom told me that she thinks she needs some "serious counseling!" She doesn't like her son out of the house so much embarking on his career after high school. Another Mom told me the other day that she cried for a couple of weeks before her son left for college because he was the last one leaving the nest. She added that he just recently called home to ask her a laundry question."

There are also parents who can't wait for the "freedom" they feel they will have when their children leave home, thinking that they've raised them for many years and they now want to relax or travel. I personally don't understand that kind of thinking but I realize that not every parent can relate to the empty HOLE feeling I have when my children leave. To be honest, I'd have to say it is bittersweet, but truly for me it is mostly bitter! I am so happy for each of my children when they reach the age to continue their education or embark on their career, but because I am such a MOM, I also hate it so. It's part of life, the part that's difficult for me.

It's doubly hard for me this year because I also miss my daughter, Jessica who just went back to college a few days after Joseph entered. Jessica is also out of state. But I am so proud of her, too. She works very hard and excels at college. She also has a big heart and does a lot of community service volunteering.

A Mom recently got in touch with me who also experienced that big HOLE feeling that I described about kids being absent from the home. She said, "I'm finding unexpected holes in the fabric of our family life, right alongside the ones I've expected. Who knew it would hurt so much, feel so strange? I am holding fast to the hope that there are unexpected joys soon to come as well." I told her that "there will be unexpected blessings (I know because Joseph is my fourth child "leaving" the nest). But, for now, we have that big HOLE in our family's tapestry. It's tough to push our children forth but we do it with with God's blessings and continued prayers. Don't worry, they'll be back, :)" I said.

Then last night, my daughter Chaldea came over for dinner (she's 25 years old and a college graduate). She's embarking on a trip across the country today (Oh my, lots of Rosaries are in order here!) and came over to spend some time before leaving for two weeks (yikes!). We had dinner together and then I took out the big brown bag of apples I had bought earlier so that I could make apple crisp for dessert. So, Chaldea and I sat at the kitchen table conversing and peeling that big mound of apples (Mary-Catherine had lots of homework to do, otherwise she'd be right there helping with the apple peeling). What a treat to have uninterrupted time with my daughter as we peeled the apples and chatted. I put the rest of the ingredients together for three pans of apple crisp and Chaldea popped onto the Internet on a laptop in the kitchen to show me the places where she would be visiting.

I remember when Chaldea left the nest a few years ago and how hard that was ushering another "child" into adulthood. I am so very proud of her for all of her accomplishments, but mostly for her kind and loving heart! She is a treasure to be sure. I cherished our moments peeling apples together last night, something she may not realize or fully understand until she has her own children. But, I think she knows how happy I am to be with her and all of my children.

So, to respond to that Mom's wondering about "unexpected blessings and joys" after the children have left home, YES the blessings will come and are found in our everyday lives. We have to seek them when we can, grab onto them and CHERISH them!

I just enjoyed a dish of apple crisp while I wrote this reflection! 🙂

(I plan on a Rosary and Mass later on for a safe trip for my daughter!)

PS To all of the parents out there with very young children: You may think that this talk about college and kids out of the nest certainly does NOT pertain to your life. After all, there is your little darling in your arms or on your lap. Trust me, they grow quickly and I haven't found a way to slow down time. It's very doubtful that you will either. Enjoy your family life, hanging onto your dinners together and family time. Later on, in time, that little baby that you are holding in your arms now will be all grown up–bringing back his or her own children to see you!


A Catholic wife, mother of five, award-winning journalist, best-selling author, photographer, lover of nature and a lay Missionary of Charity (Mother Teresa's Order).

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  • Guest

    Wow! This is how I feel, but my oldest still has to finish his senior year of high school. I have had moments when I missed him and he isn't gone yet. I feel it coming–the missing him–the empty HOLE as it was described. By the way, I am not his mom, I am his dad.

    For me it's is not just going away to college. It is about major events in my childrens' lives that remind me they are growing up and one day will leave my house. I recently had a hard time dealing with my youngest, my only daughter, who is only nine. She got her first bra. It really bothered me. Her mom doesn't seem to think it's a big deal, but all I could feel is that she will be grown too soon.

    Our middle child is 13 and went to summer camp a couple of years ago for a month. It was hard but we knew he'd be back. But college, that's really gone. What an adjustment that will be.

    I gather that with each child it doesn't necessarily get easier, because each child is different.

    The empty feelings caused by our children growing up can only be overcome by prayer and acceptance.

  • Guest

    Perhaps parents who feel this way should consider adopting or having more children?  

    Our oldest is a junior in college and although we miss her being around the house, we are in contact a couple of time per week, thanks to email, and free cell call plans.

    But the point I wanted to make is that, in the context of the other children, it makes the transitions seem to make perfect sense — we can see how each are growing and why and we can deeply appreciate how they are growing and maturing.

    And don't fret too much, DMCOB, this empty period won't last either.  Like you, by the time our youngest leaves the "nest," we will surely have grandchildren running around the "nest."

  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

    Well, hello Dad (jzkgalxe)! Thanks for commenting and giving us your perspective. Hang onto this senior year with your son as much as you can. It's a busy time for him though, I'm sure with his activities, possibly work and such. You are so right that these emptly feelings we parents experience can only be overcome with prayer and acceptance. It's part of life – as difficult as it is, we have to let them spread their wings!

  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle


    Thank you for your kind words.  I agree that staying in contact with our college kids is important. We do that regularly. And I also agree that the house will be bustling in time and by God's grace with more little ones (grandchildren)! 

  • Guest

    And while you are saying a prayer for your child who has gone off to college or a job, say an extra prayer for the child (and his parents) who has gone off to serve his country under arms.  My older son left for the service right after high school, just in time for the first Gulf War.  The glaring emptiness was made more difficult by the daily realization that it might be permanent. 

    And say a prayer for those who, by reason of health or disability, will have a much harder time in forging an independent adult life.  That is possibly more difficult, since they are with us longer and sometimes need distance in order to make that step into an adult life, even if it is supervised by others. My younger son became symptomatic of a severe and persistent mental illness at the age of 22, and eventually had to go through a halfway house type of program to get past an "extended adolescence" (all of the problems, none of the growth…)
  • Guest

    I think this continual process of detachment from our children is an important part of growing in holiness for mothers, in particular.

    I feel it the moment my child emerges from my womb.  I become keenly aware that "you" are not "me".

    Next comes the cessation of breastfeeding.  I try to remember each last nursing episode.  If I cling to the last suckle I become depressed.  Eventually I forget the exact last time or confuse this baby with that baby.  Sadness creeps in again.

    Out of the cradle into the crib; big boy pants; senior pictures; college visits; graduations: kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, college, each a stab to the heart.

    "You, my child, are becoming the person God wants you to be", I remind myself.  A Sorrowful Mother, I rejoice non-the-less.  "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not have life." 

    God spoke a truth into my heart one night while tears seeped into my eyes upon putting the baby to bed and knowing that exact smile would fade into eternity–forgotten.  He taught me that he holds every memory in His Sacred Heart, and returns them to us perfected in love.  Throughout eternity we bless Him and praise Him for the opportunity He gave us to serve and be served, to love and be loved, and most of all to experience Heaven on Earth through our families. 

    "To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven."  When my heart rips inside me, as I peer into an empty room, Jesus stands at my shoulder drawing me close.  How else could a mother's heart bear the loss?

    PS my oldest is a college sophomore and her sister is due in a few months….I guess I'm not quite detached from "feathering the nest" yet!


  • Guest

    Wow.  Outstanding post, elkabrikir. God bless you and thanks for putting so much in true perspective.

    As I said, our oldest is a junior in college and we're expecting a baby in March! This will be our ninth child, and we're all just as excited as ever!

  • Guest

    Congratulations Protect the Rock….and it sounds like you're a firm rock on which to build a large and Holy Family.

    ps this is my 11th child…and I can hardly wait to see the face of a new soul!

  • Guest

    Elkabrikir and Protect the Rock – Congratulations on your new babies.  I hope their arrivals will be safe and sound ones!


    I just had our 10th baby, we hope for more, and our eldest is a sophomore in college.  I miss her everyday, and we talk daily.  I have a hole in my dining room, in the girls' room, in the driveway, you name it, while she is away.  I cannot wait til she is home for fall break!  I can't say how I'll be in the future when the last one leaves, but at this point I think I will still be sad.  I think grandbabies will balance my sadness with joy then as the young ones balance out my sadness today.

  • Guest


    I feel the same balancing out of sadness and joy in various ways, including your example.

    I also love having the little ones around because they keep me lighthearted!  Having children across the developmental age span, like we both do, seems to give me perspective of, appreciation and respect for, and joy in where each child needs to be at that particular moment in time.

    My child leaving home for college is one of those developmental milestones that has helped me grow up too.  Sometimes I have even pouted, like a scorned lover, when she doesn't call one night.  Now I'm almost relieved if I don't receive several calls a day:  it means she's happy!  She's becoming a young woman, not remaining a speciman held in captivity by her mother.  I know that our love for our children is greater than our pain, which is probably driven by fear of loss and selfishness.  Truly saints are born of and raised by holy parents.

    I think you might enjoy a Tan book called

    The Mother of the Little Flower.  It's written by St Therese's sister.  I was truly inspired by it.  (She wrote one called The Father of the LIttle Flower too).  Both show how Therese became a saint through the grace of God, of course, but under the influence of her parents.

    Congratualtions on the birth of your child!  Double Digits!  Now you have your American League baseball team.  (heard that one yet?)

  • Guest

    Empty nest…I look forward to it at times (quiet peaceful household in the evening , less laundry and lots less chaotic schedule), but I miss my children who have already left home.  Having little ones still at home helps.  Most women my age (49) that I know have no kids left at home…I currently have 7 living at home, 1 lives just 1/2 hour away at college, 1 is married lives `1500 miles away with her husband and 3 sons(my grandsons), another is married, his wife is expecting and he is in basic training for the Navy. Our oldest sone is on his own and lives locally, but we don't see him often.  Since our youngest is only 4 years old, the nest won't be empty for some time yet.  I'm hoping we'll have grandchilren in the area by then (#3 son is engaged to a wonderful girl and wants to stay close to both. families)Momof11

  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

    Dear "Mallys"

    Thank you for your note. It was very good of you to bring up the ones who are in harm's way and the ones who are handicapped in some way. I will pray for them. And I certainly do count my blessings for my own situation that I wrote about. You are right that there are worse situations, I was merely expressing my own feelings.

    God bless you and your family!


  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

    Dear "Elkabrikir,"

    Thank you very much for such a beautiful reflection on being a Mom! I agree that the detachment is a continual process.


    May God bless you deeply in your vocation of motherhood!


  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

    Dear "Protect the Rock,"


    God bless you and congratulations for expecting your ninth child! God is so good! Not to be pushy by any means, but just to let you know, if you go to my website (above address) you'll see that I wrote an expectant mother's prayer journal called, Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine Month Novena for Mothers-To-Be! Blessed Mother Teresa wrote the foreword and Pope John Paul II blessed it. Smile


    God bless you and your unborn baby!


  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle


    Dear "MichelleGA,"


    Thanks for writing. I feel your pain! We have to offer up all of those "holes," don't we? It's a process and part of life, but tough, nonetheless.  Thankfully we have other mothers to discuss it with. I agree that grandchildren will be such a blessing!


    God bless,


  • Guest

    Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle

    Dear "Momof11,"


    Thanks for writing.  Wow!  Eleven children!  God is so good to you. What blessings! May God continue to bless your family with abundant grace and LOVE!


    God bless,


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