The Never Quite Empty Nest
By Wendy Lyman
Leaving the Nest
Depending on where neurodiverse children fall on the spectrum of their neurodiversity, parents encourage the highest level of independence but are often aware that their little bird may never fully leave the nest. At some point in these children’s development comes the parents’ acceptance and perhaps, with it, the silver lining thought that they will not have to suffer the empty nest pains that many of their friends will go through. Even if there are neurotypical children in the family, the sweet little bird in question will always be there to validate our necessity and parental support and keep the nest useful.
But ha-ha, the joke is on us.
My 22-year-old son lives in a semi-independent environment, meaning he is not in my home but rather in a nearby shared living situation that requires constant monitoring and intervention. It offers him the opportunity for growth and a taste of what full independence could be for him when he is ready.
Then there is my daughter. I expected the traditional college path for her, which would have allowed me the gradual adjustment to daily life without her around, but that is not how her story played out. In June, she left for boot camp with the US Navy. Any military parent out there knows what that means: no communication for the first month and then only occasional letters and one brief phone call. My first month without her rocked my world beyond expectation.
Dealing with Changes
Sure, I told myself. I’ve got this whole watching-my-kid-grow-up thing under control. But I did not. I spent the first two weeks crying randomly and searching my inner voice for explanations. Was this the empty nest syndrome that I arrogantly thought I would be spared? Why was I suffering so much when my son was still out there needing me every day?
I circled back to the imaginary college scenario. There, I would have had time to prepare for the full separation from my daughter. The string attaching us would have been slowly tugged at, fraying gradually over four years until, one day, it would understandably snap, and we would no longer be attached. With the military, however, the government dropped a hatchet over that still strongly bound string, and she was gone. I am working towards making my peace with that.
Never Actually Empty
And my son? Because he is who he is, we do not talk about his sister. He never asks how she is doing or even what she could be doing. When I bring her up, he does not comment or ask follow-up questions but instead shifts the conversation to his own concerns. I accept this about him, but it adds to my inability to share with my son a piece of myself. Our conversations center on his issues and needs of me. This forces me out of my head and into real time, where my son seeks and values my input, not nearly ready to wield the scissors anywhere near our connective string.
Which, of course, reinforces my place in this world as a mother who will never quite have an empty nest. And that is a good thing. I know that my daughter will always need her mother and that our connection is never completely severed, even though it feels that way for now. And I know that my son will gain more independence with time and patience. With that in mind, I count my blessings for having the chance to watch my daughter bloom without smothering her, all the while continuing to be the coach and cheerleader that my son needs to continue his journey. How lucky are we who get to experience different sides of the parenting spectrum!
Wendy Lyman is the mother of two children: an adult son with a slew of acronym diagnoses, including ASD, OCD, GAD, and UC (ulcerative colitis), as well as a neurotypical adult daughter who grew up in the shadow of her older brother. Wendy is also an ESL professor and writer of six published novels (as Wendy Ramer). A Floridian by birth and upbringing, Wendy now lives in Virginia. You can find more out more about her on LinkedIn and Amazon.