Giving Fledglings Space


When my boys were about nine and 10 years old, I began to experience what I can only describe as a “pre empty nest syndrome”.  I realized suddenly that their childhood was halfway over.  Where had the time gone?  I developed anxiety about all that I had yet to do with them in the relatively short time that was left.


I had always loved reading to my children before they went to bed.  From “Guess How Much I Love You” to the Narnia series, I had been on a continuous literary adventure with my boys.  One evening when Isaiah and Caleb were 12 and 13 years old they sat on the edge of Isaiah’s bed as I read to them.  I remember that we were half way through “The Diary of Anne Frank” and mid-turn of the page when Caleb interrupted me, “You know you don’t need to keep doing this Mom”.

“Keep doing what?”  I asked.

“You know… reading to us.  I mean, we know how to read.”

“Of course you do.  I like reading to you.  I thought you liked it when I read to you?

“Um… okay, if you want to.”

“I do.”

I finished the rest of the chapter, but without the enthusiasm and character voice inflections that I so prided myself on.


This bedtime routine had been our special time since they were babies.  Now it wasn’t special for them anymore.  In fact, it had seemingly become a nuisance.  This realization was even more difficult because recently the boys had mutually agreed that hugging and kissing them (especially in public) was inappropriate and embarrassing.  I felt like we were growing apart, and I was losing them.  As a result, in the years that they naturally began orbiting away from me and around their new evolving universe of friends and interests- I began to invade their space in an effort to regain the epicenter of their lives.

I routinely burst into their bedrooms unannounced to ask about their day, to see if they had started their homework and sometimes just because ‘I thought I heard them call to me’.  Sometimes I wouldn’t let them go to a friend’s house because it was “movie night” and they needed to stay and watch a movie with mom.  I would prod them to tell me who they had crushes on at school.  Sometimes I would eavesdrop on the phone when they were talking to their friends.

I just wanted a glimpse into their increasingly secretive lives.  Perhaps I could find out what made them tick and find an in again.

Although I was doing these things in order to connect with them, it only seemed to push them further away.  Subconsciously, I was creating space between us as well.  When they were little, we would sit together and I would pull them close to cuddle, smell their hair and nibble their toes.  Now we would sit together and I would find myself moving over to give them room, sometimes even putting a pillow between us as a barrier.  They were no longer the sweet smelling munchkins that I loved to cuddle.  Now when they were around, an odor of potato chips and dirty socks hung in the air.  Their feet were sprouting hair and their toes were far from nibble-able.

When they were little, I was incredibly patient with the boys.  If they made a mistake or a mess, it was always okay.  After all, they were children.  I showered them with praise.  “You’re so strong”, “You’re so handsome”, “You’re so smart”, and “you’re such a big helper!”  But now I had become far less patient and the praise was limited to when they came home with good grades or had done something exceptional.  Once in a while, on my commute to work, life would slow down for just a moment and I would be conscious of all of this.  And it would all make me very sad.

I felt like I was failing as a mother.


Now, Caleb and Isaiah are a junior and sophomore in high school.  It’s the home stretch.  In two years (if they still intend to move out when they’re 18) my fledglings will leave our nest.  In the years since my empty nest anxiety first began, I have come to understand and accept that the process of maternal distance is natural and healthy.  It didn’t happen because I’m a bad mother or because I made mistakes.  It happened because it is what is supposed to happen.   When a parent and child allow the natural space, it leaves room for new friends and ideas and (hopefully positive) influences to move in to the child’s life.  It allows children to develop their own opinions and unique perspective on the world.  I understand this, but it doesn’t make it easy or keep me from feeling a little sad.

This of course, isn’t an “all or nothing” situation.  A mother bird doesn’t nudge the fledging out of the nest simply because it peers over the edge with curiosity.  Sometimes I struggle with when to give the boys space and when I should close in.  Regardless, they need to know that I will be there for them always.  They are at an age where I can’t control all the decisions that they make.  This is an unsettling thing for a parent.  Our number one job is to keep our children safe.  The majority of stress in our household is ultimately the conflict between my husband and I trying to keep our boys safe and the boys need to be free to make their own choices.  I know that they will make mistakes. They need to, just like we needed to when we were their age.  I encourage them not to make the same mistakes that I did, but I think they’re convinced that they can make the same mistakes-better.


My daughter Ayla is three.  Yes, I have postponed a completely empty nest by fifteen years or so.  When I come home from work, she comes running with open arms ready for hugs and kisses.  She tells me that she loves me and that she missed me “so much!”  She is my nestling and a constant reminder of how fleeting this period of childhood is.  As exhausting as it is to be her #1 focus, I know that in a few short years she will be a sullen teenager, squirreled away in her bedroom listening to music too loud and ignoring me in favor of the friends that truly understand her.  When that time comes I will be a veteran mom, but I know that it will be just as hard as the first time around.  So I eat up every moment (and chase it with a glass of wine).

I am so proud of the young men that the boys have become.  I don’t feel like a failure as a mother anymore.  Although I still get sad when long spaces of time elapse between hugs, we still have special moments of closeness.  The other night I was chauffeuring the boys from their various activities.  My car stereo hasn’t been working since Ayla filled the CD player with corn nuts, so I sang to fill the quiet spaces between the tings of Caleb and Isaiah’s dueling text messages.  Caleb interrupted me as I sang an off key version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”.  “Jeez Mom!  If you’re going to sing, can you at least sing “Puff the Magic Dragon?”  I knew that he was being sarcastic, but as I began to sing the song that I had sung so many times to them when they were little boys, they both joined in and we sang loudly, off key together all the way home.

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Brandi Parker
Despite the fact that I’ve lived my entire life in Central Vermont and have rarely traveled outside of the state, I have a wealth of life experience. I am the mother of three children including two of the most artistic, compassionate and intelligent teenage boys. They both started driving this year and consequently, there is white hair sprouting out of the top of my head. My daughter Ayla is three and runs the house. She has a ton of energy like me and looks just like my wonderful husband-with the exception of her eyebrows and her pinky toe. She definitely got those from me. When I was young, I dreamed of being a lion tamer in the circus. By the time I got to high school, I had decided that I wanted to be a writer. Although I have a B.A in writing and literature, I have found that the passions in both my home and work life are much more in line with being a lion tamer in the circus.


  1. Beautifully written… Cyrus is 6, and my one and only! I have already started my pre-empty nest panic. I see it as a huge success that you have made them feel so secure and confident to not hesitate going out there in life. Can’t wait to read more.

  2. What a lovely piece, I love it and I am fortunate to watch you grow and your children grow from my front row seat. Keep on doing what your doing, because you do it well. I’m proud of you all and the love you have with Josh , plays a big part. With your love, support and talents along with good humor you will sail through life, escaping shadows.
    I’m loving you all

  3. this is incredible. what a wonderful post. and something that is literally on my mind almost every day…no wait……and my children are only 6 and 2. with my 6 year old i am beginning to feel this distance. and i never know when to give him space or when not too. it’s been a struggle for me…and likely him. thanks for sharing this well written and thoughtful post.

  4. What a wonderfully written blog, with a lot of insight, compassion and motherly wisdom. Can’t wait for your next blog entry!


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