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One Mom's Effort to Dampen Down the Media's Empty Nest Hysteria

My three sons are happy to leave home -- and I'm fine with that.

In mid-August I will be driving home to Chicago east on Interstate 80 in a van emptied of clothes, pillows, mini-fridge and plastic bins after dropping my youngest son, Colin, at his dorm at the University of Iowa. It will be my ninth, solo-parent college drop-off: four times for my oldest son, Weldon, to University of Wisconsin; four times for my middle son, Brendan, at the Ohio State University; Colin’s first.

Most people would say I have an empty nest. But I say for the first time in 25 years it will be full of me. And for the record, my three sons are happy and ready to leave home. My oldest at 23 is already self-sufficient living, working and earning a masters degree in Madrid, Spain. So for me, wishing to keep your children forever frozen in dependence, thwarting their separation from you — in essence assuring their failure to launch — feels just plain wrong. It is like keeping an orchid in the closet or a goldfish in my pocket.

The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics states that 19.7 million Americans are headed to college this August and September, so supposedly millions of American parents will succumb to the woes of empty nest syndrome. While I love my sons, I find it selfish and unnatural to suspend, delay or impede their forward momentum. Whose life is it anyway?

You wouldn’t arrive easily at this conclusion from the 168,000 sites that emerge on a Google search for empty nest syndrome. The onset of depression due to the departure of grown children is strategically reinforced from to the May 2012 Educational Gerontology claim by University of Wyoming researchers that empty nest syndrome “may threaten the life quality of older adults and stability of society as a whole.”

And it isn’t just college that is a reason for leaving home. Many are beginning new lives working, moving in with a partner or friends. According to the American Community Survey of the 2010 U.S. Census, 10 percent of the total population of 309 million Americans are young men and women 18-24 years old, or roughly 31 million Americans. There are 114.5 million households in this country with children, or about one-third of all American households. Millions of those households will be “empty nests” for the first time.  

And parents and adult children are brainwashed to think this is a bad thing. Consider the Verizon Droid commercial of the mother crying so hysterically over the fact that her daughter is moving “4.2 miles away,” that her blubbering requires subtitles.

In the United States, our declared empty nest plight is another divisive tactic to wage yet one more war on women and mothers, and women against each other. If we survived the breastfeeding battles, working vs. stay at home wars, then moved on to the have it all or have some of it conflict, we qualify for the Empty Nest vs. Full of Yourself fight. It is Mommy War IV. No matter what stage you are in motherhood, there’s another, even worse stage awaiting you.

And yes, it is mostly about mothers. Fathers appear as an asterisk in the magazines, commercials and online commentary. And the economic health and emotional well-being of the adult children? Their input is completely absent in the propaganda. So while you as a self-sufficient 20-30 year old may be celebrating your independence, prepare to feel guilty that your parents are having near-death experiences because of it. And this is what you have to look forward to with your own kids.