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When the Chicks Begin to Leave the Nest: Thoughts on Empty Nesting and Motherhood

“Motherhood inextricably weaves growth and loss together from the moment of physical separation at birth to every milestone passed”.- Madeline Levine


As his senior year began, I knew. I knew this would be the last year we’d have him under our roof. It was the beginning. And it was the ending. The beginning of the ending of the motherhood role I have known for almost 18 years. As the autumn drudged along, it started to hit me like a ton of bricks. My first born was closer than ever to flying the nest. Suddenly the flood gates opened, and I felt a huge wave of grief take over me. Life as I had known it for going on 18 years was suddenly in flux.

I had always known that my precious first born (and second born) belong to the Universe. That I am the lucky conduit to bring these special human gifts into the world. They have never belonged to me. They have always belonged to the world. And it broke my heart wide open when I first heard the words, “You are pregnant.”  We’d struggled with fertility challenges, so when my husband opened the door after  I arrived home from work one Sept. evening in 2000, and he smiled and said, ” Hi Mom,” my heart was elated. Our baby boy was on his way, and so was the beginning of my passage to motherhood. I knew then, as I know deeply now, that my active mothering time together with my son would be finite.

But it doesn’t make it easier. It hurts on a visceral level now. When I look back upon his baby days, toddler years, elementary school all the way through high school, I am absolutely amazed how quickly time has gone. Sure there were periods where we wish we could fast forward through (like poopy diapers or difficult homework), but really, as I reflect on his childhood, if I could just pause it forever and freeze certain moments in time, that would be my idea of heaven. Like camping in a tent as a family, all huddled up together, exploring and hiking.

I am so proud of my son. He is an amazingly brilliant, thoughtful, compassionate young man who is already doing incredible things in the world at his young age. I am so very excited for him for all the adventures ahead he will have as he flies the nest and goes on that vision quest post high school, including college and travel. I know the world is his oyster. And he will help the people on this planet in countless ways to evolve in a direction of peace, understanding, and balance. I will not clip his wings. For he has things to do and the world to change, and wisdom to share. I know I have done my job because he is one of the most compassionate, empathic and authentic people of integrity I am honored to know.

It has been the biggest privilege to raise my sons. The most meaningful, cherished, purposeful calling I could ever partake in.  And with that, baby boy, you fly. Fly free and fly high, soaring above the clouds, taking in life and adventure and new knowledge, sharing your wisdom and compassion with the world. The nest will always be a home to you, wherever you may be.

And now I go back to my tears, and this new identity of being a mom with an adult son. This is a new chapter for me. I still have one chick in the nest, and lots of work to do to help him acquire his wings. But there will be a tender spot in my heart in the days and weeks to come as I anticipate that final flight from home that my firstborn is about to embark upon.

This is probably the hardest part of motherhood yet. Letting go.  We let go when we give birth. We surrender to the arrival of the creation of a new human being. What a beautiful, glorious, exhausting, exhilarating, painful, joyful, miraculous passage, this thing called motherhood. I will be writing more about this experience as I live it myself.  Thanks for joining me with my thoughts today.


“We change with our children, we change despite our children and so much of this is unexamined and thus a true surprise.  Parenthood touches our identity, from that first startling moment when we utter the words, “my son” or “my daughter”, we are forever transformed.  And working or not working, strong marriage or not, as our children move on that identity is transformed.  It is folly to think that a career or title or anything else can replace the identity we feel as mothers.” – From website Flown and Grown : Motherhood and the Empty Nest


Photo by Kristine Paulus

When the Chicks Begin to Leave the Nest: Thoughts on Empty Nesting and Motherhood

Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW

Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently the Lead Counselor at Cal State Maritime Academy, where she counsels college students and leads Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the integrated Student Health Center. In her private practice, Andrea provides psychotherapy for individuals experiencing trauma and loss. She is also a writer, educator, and podcaster. Website:

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APA Reference
Schneider, A. (2019). When the Chicks Begin to Leave the Nest: Thoughts on Empty Nesting and Motherhood. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Feb 2019
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