An empty nest is a good thing

By Bruce Stambaugh

We humans can learn a lot from bird behavior.

A pair of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks had frequented a backyard hanging feeder filled with sunflower seeds for much of the summer. Time and again they ferried nourishment to their young somewhere deep in the woods. When they were ready, the young fledged and flew the coop. The nest was empty.

Rose Brested Grosbeak by Bruce Stambaugh

A male Rose Breasted Grosbeak at the oil sunflower feeder.


My wife and I knew early on in our child rearing that the day would come when our daughter and our son would both be gone. They would grow up and begin lives of their own. That’s as it should be.

The main role of parents is to raise your children the best you know how, imperfectly to be sure, and then let them go. They are adults. They can use their own wings to fly through this crazy world of ours.

Still, I have encountered parents who long for the days when their children were younger. They just can’t give them up, even though they are adults. The comments have not only come from newbie nesters, also known as helicopter parents, who hover over their college freshmen. Veteran parents whose “children” left long before our own also seem melancholy.

Empty nest by Bruce Stambaugh

No post about the empty nest would be complete without a picture of an empty nest, in this case a House Wren's nest in an Eastern Bluebird box.


Ideally, the child/parent relationship should go something like this. As infants, the children are totally dependent on the parents. As they grow and mature, they change from children to young adults, responsible for their own actions.

By their late teens, the kids may go off to college, like our children did, or simply leave home to begin life on their own. It is at this critical point in the family relationship cycle that parents need to freely release their offspring.

Unfortunately, given the current extended downturn in the global economy, jobs are harder to come by. The reality for some is that out of financial necessity adult children and sometimes grandchildren have had to move back in with parents and grandparents.

In the 16 years since our nest has been empty, my wife and I have had opportunities to travel without the constraints of busy teenagers’ schedules. More often, we have simply enjoyed our quiet times together. Of course we continue to interact with our grown children and the grandchildren as frequently as we can. But we have also learned to give them their own space.

Flower garden by Bruce Stambaugh

My wife gets many compliments on her beautiful flower gardens.


The empty nest has had another unexpected benefit. My wife and I have also rediscovered one another, and learned to enjoy our own hobbies and interests. Some we do as a couple. Others, like gardening for Neva and birding for me, we enjoy separately. We have gained individually and as partners.

I know humans have a higher calling than birds. Birds at least instinctively know that their role as parents is to sit on those eggs until they hatch, feed the chicks until they fly, teach them how to forage for food and to fear predators. After that, they are generally on their own.

For me, that’s where the comparison tilts to our advantage. We should strive for interdependence with our adult children, keeping in contact with them, always loving and communicating with them, without controlling or smothering them. Achieving that optimum goal can help combat the emptiness of the empty nest.

A healthy, nurtured interdependence between parents and adult children can result in the empty nest being a good thing for all involved, birds included.
Family by Bruce Stambaugh

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Filed under birding, column, family, photography, weather

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