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After raising two kids of our own and six foster children over 20 years, my husband and I have had an empty nest since last fall, a situation that society portrays as a dreaded, lonely time in life.

It’s not. It is fantastic. Joyous. Wonderful.

The feelings we had when arriving back home after dropping off our youngest did not resemble dread. Rather, the feelings reminded me of my teenage years when I was given the keys to the car for the first time. Feelings of exuberance, freedom, independence and the world opening up come to mind.

Don’t get me wrong. We love our kids. We enjoyed raising them and their foster siblings. It is just that the empty nest allows us to focus on us for the first time in 20 years. It is the time to bask in the kids we raised while enjoying our own independence and freedom.At first, we felt we had to make up for lost time. We went on the Miss Buffalo, explored historic buildings, took Sunday drives to nowhere, explored wineries and traveled to outlying areas to try new restaurants. We blasted our music and danced along without criticism. We had whatever we wanted for dinner whenever we wanted it. At the end of every busy week, we ate lobster in Wegmans tins, enjoyed cocktails in front of the fire and engaged in lively conversation about our lives, politics and future dreams.

While blissfully enjoying our newfound freedom, we discovered through social interactions with others that we were outside the norms of society and were “different,” and not in a good way. We realized that society expects parents to go into spasms of sadness once their nest is empty. People looked at us with sad eyes, tilted heads and a hand on our backs and asked about our well being. Of course we were OK! We were FANTASTIC! We would smile and tell them about our adventures and our Friday Night Lobster Tin parties, but that seemed to confuse them more than comfort them. Some told us the sadness would “hit soon” while others looked at us as if we must be so sad that we lapsed into denial that the kids were gone. We were almost made to feel guilty about enjoying our newfound freedom. Then the “breaks” came and we realized our empty nest joy was real.

These “breaks” are appropriately named because this is when the kids come home from school and break stuff. Like the dishwasher. Dealing with complaints about the dishwasher being “broken ’cause it won’t close” only to find it crammed so awkwardly full of stuff that it would not close with a bulldozer’s help. Or the car. Muffler falls off, car hits a deer, car is sideswiped while parked in the street. All during only one “break.”

It is during these times that we relish the empty nest. We love to see our kids again, but we loathe finding the front door wide open in 30 degrees, tripping over scattered shoes left one foot from a closet, dirty dishes in the sink, searching for car keys that someone borrowed or even worse, walking into the garage to get in your car for the drive to work to find that someone else beat you to it and you have no way to get to work.

So, if it is your turn for the empty nest, do not conform to society’s expectation of sadness. Enjoy the time the nest is “empty” and cherish the limited time when it is again “full”. Use the empty nest to rediscover yourself and enjoy what you love while the kids are off discovering themselves for the first time and figuring out where their passions lie.