growing up

What It’s Like With Half an Empty Nest

White Kitchen Interior with Island, Sink, Cabinets, and Hardwood Floors in New Luxury Home

“It won’t be the same,” our son said as we planned a vacation over the President’s Day break.

Very little in life stays the same, I want to tell him. As soon as I get comfortable, with a project, a friendship, a stage of my children’s development, something shifts. I am left to grapple with not knowing how I fit in. But I don’t say anything; this falls into the category of lessons he needs to learn himself.

Despite his concerns, we take the plunge–a family vacation without one of the four members of family. Our older daughter is studying in Israel for the year. When she telephones, she expresses good-natured shock that we are going without her, and I remind her that she has been treated to what amounts to a year-long vacation. But my son’s reaction goes to the heart of the matter. “The dynamic just won’t be right,” he laments. I can’t argue with him.

My children don’t enjoy some fantasy-like harmonious sibling relationship. Two years apart, they are highly interactive with each other—both when things gel, and when they irritate each other. But it has always been “us and them, the parents and the kids.” Not in an antagonistic way, but we have been successful in presenting a united front in our parenting most of the time, and they have been equally successful in staying on the same page in response. We have been evenly matched, even when, as parents, we had the inherent upper hand. And now, as his comrade in arms doing her own thing elsewhere, our son is unsure about the week ahead.

On the second day of our trip, we are plunged into the midst of a jungle, following our guide on a hike that takes us only a mile up and a mile back, but, according to the tracker on my phone, has us climbing 40 flights. It is beyond taxing for me, but I pull myself up using the tree roots in the ground, and grab onto the trunks for support as we climb the mountain. Several times, my son waits to help me get my footing. He is no longer a small boy, but a fit and strong man, pushing his way forward into life. After we’re safely back, he tells me he is amazed that I made it. And I think, “What choice did I have? You just have to keep going.” But I don’t say that. I just thank him for recognizing my achievement.

That night we each have a beer—refreshing for our strained bodies, with just that edge of a thrill because my son, tall and handsome, is still a little underage. We sit at the bar and we talk about how we miss his sister. But a new phase of life has taken root here, with my son as the “only child,” and a dynamic of its own is taking shape. It won’t be long until we transition to the next stage, when we vacation alone as a couple.

But for now, we are finding our footing, learning to embrace the changing configuration of our family.

This post is part of the Here.Now series, which seeks to destigmatize mental health,

and is made possible by UJA-Federation of New York and The Jewish Board.

You can find other educational mental health resources here.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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