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The Not-So-Empty Nest

By Bill Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #89, 2009.

High school is over and all the kids move out . . . or not

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Bill Pride

A few weeks ago, I took two long car trips. The first one took me to Ohio, where I dropped off my youngest daughter, Lillian, at college for freshman orientation. The next week I headed to western Missouri, where I left my next youngest daughter, Madeleine, at her freshman orientation. Their two older sibs, Frank and Magda, had already bussed and driven themselves back to college by the time I returned.

Like most parents, I had been thinking about this moment for many years. However, I was not actually prepared for how it is turning out. Yes, once again I experienced the terrible sinking feeling of driving away and leaving my dearly beloved children to find their own way in a new environment. Yes, the home seems quieter since they left. Yes, it is neater, too. Yes, our food bill has dropped drastically. But still, our “nest” does not feel quite as empty as I expected.

For one thing, my “empty nest” still contains two college-age children, Mercy and Gregory, plus my oldest son, Theodore. The reason is that these two “middle children” are each taking community-college programs, at different local colleges. Though Greg and Mercy both were offered attractive scholarships at four-year schools, our local community colleges turned out to have options unavailable at large universities. So before they eventually transfer to four-year colleges, Mercy has enrolled in a two-year LPN/RN program and Gregory, who eventually wants to become a lawyer, is finding out more about the world of law in what I was amazed to discover is the oldest paralegal certificate program in the country.

Theodore, who is physically handicapped, so far has needed to stay at home. He earned his college degree mostly online, and serves as our webmaster, as well as consulting and doing outside design projects.

Meanwhile, the children who supposedly have “left” keep popping back for visits and college vacations, and even when they are gone, the phone keeps ringing and the emails keep coming.

For example, during Labor Day weekend, our daughter, Magda, who had just left two weeks ago for her last year at Columbia College, surprised us with a visit. She picked up her sister, Mercy, and together they traveled to Ohio to visit Lillian, our homesick youngest daughter. While they were gone, my wife and I talked each day with her slightly older sister, Madeleine, sharing such wisdom as we have about how to deal with common college problems she was encountering for the first time.

This has prompted me to revise the way I have been thinking about the stages of motherhood and fatherhood.

In my old, naive days, I used to think of it like this:

  • Babyhood
  • Homeschool through age 18 or so
  • Off to college and gone

Now I think of it like this:

  • Babyhood-just plain fun, plus diapers, sleepless nights, and cleaning up unmentionable messes
  • Time when Mom and Dad are child’s only teachers-this passes more quickly than you would believe
  • Time for outside activities and gradually adding in outside training (e.g., clubs, online courses, and finally dual-credit college courses)
  • Away to college (except when living at home and attending college locally to save vitally needed $$), but still needing lots of love and attention, not to mention care packages, fatherly wisdom, and occasional rescue missions when cars break down, etc.
  • Married and finally on their own-ish, but actually calling now for advice about career, entrepreneurship, parenting, homeschooling, etc.

I’ve been sitting here examining my feelings about all this, and have come to this conclusion:

I am just fine with “being here” for my children, whatever their ages. In fact, I feel honored that they still consider our house their home. Some day, I hope our nest will be even less empty, when we are able to come to the door and hear happy shouts of, “Hi, Grandma and Grandpa!”

Bill Pride is the father of nine totally homeschooled children, six of whom are now in college. The remaining three have already graduated from college.

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