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When I was pregnant with my first child, 25 years ago, I spent countless hours poring over parenting books in preparation. From the old-fashioned to the new-fangled, I turned to every source I could find. A friend of mine recently had a baby, and it brought me back to those books, long ago left in a stack in the basement.

I’m Cynthia Young, head of audience at The Globe and Mail. A big part of my job is watching reader trends and behaviours, and this puts me in a unique position to understand how we portray the many stages of women’s lives in the media.

In my own life, I’ve moved far past that baby-book stage. I’m now at the unparenting stage. My 21- and 25-year-old sons have departed the family house – and now have their own rents to pay, jobs to show up for and other adulting to do. But they’re not the only ones who have to transition to a new way of life. I do, too. It’s true that reaching this point has been a natural progression, as my children have slowly become more independent over the years. But ask any mother in my position and she’ll tell you, sometimes it actually doesn’t feel all that “natural.” We have some 20-odd years of hard-wired mothering behind us – basically a lifelong master’s degree in around-the-clock nursing, nutritional sciences, on-demand tutoring, interpersonal relations coaching and emotional therapy, among other things – and no idea how to stop. (For those still in the thick of things, this recent piece from the New York Times is a lovely read on balancing a parent’s need to protect their child with that child’s need to experience the world – and the inevitable suffering that can come with that.)

On the topic of suffering, when I Google, “how to empty nest,” I’m confronted with a list of depressing articles on, essentially, how to cope with loss. But that isn’t exactly my state of mind, even if letting go of my kids doesn’t always come easily. Mostly, I’m proud of and excited for my boys and their futures, and happy about what that signifies for me and their dad. And I’m not alone. As Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Breheny Wallace point out in this New York Times piece, 60 per cent of empty nesters are actually looking forward to this time (and 85 per cent say they miss their kids – duh!).

Eventually, that Google search led me to this great piece, titled “Ten ways for parents to survive an empty nest," from The Guardian. I’ve enjoyed a few points on the writer’s must-do list since my kids moved out – including dancing like no one is watching (my dog doesn’t count), taking long and luxurious naps and enjoying a Netflix recommendation engine that actually includes things I want to watch (so long, Adam Sandler, I am free!).

Another liberating element of all this has been the dinner hour. I spent years believing the end-of-day meal was the glue that kept families together. How many nights did my husband and I do an almost comical race home to get food on the table in time? As the kids got older, and they could handle dinner prep, the pressure lifted a little. And now that they’ve left home, that pressure is all but gone.

These days, there are other freedoms, too: Sunday afternoons are no longer relegated to bulk lasagna prep or endless loads of laundry. My to-do list is shorter on tactical and longer on strategic. Buy milk is replaced with book vacation for next spring. Sparkling water and expensive guacamole sit idly in the fridge, the latter sometimes left uneaten so long it goes bad on its expiry date, instead of mysteriously disappearing in the middle of the night. And, yes, my kids were right: My blueberry pancakes are the best. After 25 years I finally sat down and ate my own hot pancakes, with Janis blaring on the stereo and the newspaper spread as far as I wanted to take up space.

The truth is that although there are times my husband and I don’t know what to do our ourselves in our empty house, more than anything, these changes have made me feel liberated and provided me with more personal growth than perhaps any other stage of my life. It brings to mind that old postwar poem by Jenny Joseph titled Warning!. 'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me/And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves/And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter," she starts off. Her words make so much more sense now that I am free to make decisions for me and me alone.

What else we’re reading

I recently read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and cleared three garbage bags out of my closet. Now that I’m enjoying the more relaxed state of empty nesting, I’m digging into Beth Kempton’s recently released book, Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life. It truly is a joyful read that is pushing me to address not just the clutter in my house but also the clutter in my mind. As she writes, the information we store in our heads and the time it takes to process those thoughts can become clutter if we don’t make a conscious effort to manage them. Like all great books, it’s one I want to read quickly but also find a way to savour.

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