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To make peace with becoming an empty-nester, I had to be at peace with myself

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Parenting News

This column is the latest in a series on parenting children in the final years of high school, "Emptying the Nest."


Over Presidents' Day weekend, my eldest daughter took her 17-year-old sister to tour a few colleges in Northern and Central California. A part of me desperately wanted to go with them — my youngest's first real college tour! But it was clear that they viewed this as a sisters getaway, and since I am known to proselytize about the primacy of sibling relationships — "God willing, they will be the longest of your lives," I say regularly, to a chorus of rolling eyes — I bit back my regret and made the hotel reservations.

Then I learned that my in-laws were having a gathering near Death Valley that same weekend. My husband wanted to attend, but I could not because of work. Suddenly it dawned on me that I would be spending three days all alone in my house.

Three days! All alone! In my house!

I have been apart from my entire immediate family for work trips and, occasionally, for travel with friends. But I have not been alone in my place of residence for three whole days since I got married almost 27 years ago. My husband too has traveled in those intervening years, but there was always a kid, or two, or three rattling around the house in his absence, needing food and cuddles and to be driven to some birthday party, youth sporting event or other.


Now I would be completely and unbelievably alone. What on earth would I do with myself?

Well, the first thing I would do was get a phone call from my daughters informing me that their car had broken down on Interstate 5 north of Bakersfield. After that car was towed to a nearby garage and pronounced unfixable, I would then drive 2½ hours north to give them my car and ride back home with the busted one and a very nice AAA tow truck driver from Buttonwillow. (Shout out to G-dog of Castro Towing!)

Even so, most of the long weekend lay before me, silent, empty and absolutely extraordinary, especially after the project I had expected to be working on was delayed. The only items on my to-do list were "walk the dog" and "bring in the trash bins"; everything else was completely up to me.

If you are not a parent, especially of multiple children, it may be difficult to understand how surreal this felt. For more than a quarter of a century, my days have been structured around the needs of others. Not exclusively, of course — I have professional deadlines and dental appointments, social engagements and personal errands, including those conjured to deliver much-needed time on my own.


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