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4 Great New Books for Empty Nesters

Find advice, comfort and humor for this major life transition

As teens enter the final stages of high school and prepare for coming independence, it’s the perfect time for parents to dive into a good book, especially one that offers illumination, solace or at least a good laugh to ring out in houses that will soon be much, much quieter.

These four recent books will appeal to different types of empty nesters.

For the Parent Whose Dog Has Taken Center Stage 

The Dog Stays in the Picture: How My Rescued Greyhound Helped Me Cope with My Empty Nest
By Susan Morse

Author Susan Morse credits her rescued greyhound, Lilly, with providing canine company when she needed it most. With an actor husband (David Morse) whose career keeps him traveling for long stretches and three children departing for college in rapid succession, Lilly became the one constant in her life.

(MORE: 4 Fun Pets for Your Empty Nest)

Morse’s memoir places a sweet, yet needy, Lilly in the center of the action, staying by her side while the house spins with change. Morse’s twin boys, high school seniors, apply to college. They graduate, leave for school, one transfers. Meanwhile, her eldest child, a daughter, begins her career.

As her children grow increasingly independent, Morse laments: “At least Lilly needs me, even if her constant shadowing has been a bit tiresome. More and more, I’m coming to understand the use of pets as a subconscious substitute for children.”

The title, The Dog Stays in the Picture, alludes to the family profession — Susan, too, was an actress before staying home to raise children. Raising Lilly brings new challenges: “For a Greyhound rescued off the track, everything is a first, and it’s overwhelming. Lilly has no reference point for the simplest things.”

With her tender description of Lilly’s transformation from skittish to settled, Morse offers readers a chance to learn both about rescuing Greyhounds (The Greyhound Project) and about the breed’s wonderful qualities as companions perfect for inhabitants of empty nests.

For the Parent Laughing Through Her Tears

TEXT ME, Love Mom: Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest
By Candace Allan

For most parents, facing the empty nest is a major life milestone replete with reflection, nostalgia and joy, but rarely levity. Candace Allan’s book is different in that she never loses her sense of humor as she writes about the transition, even as she reveals the pains and conflicted emotion she experienced.

(MORE: What Empty Nests Really Look Like)

Allan takes the reader through her family’s journey from the high school and college years, right up to the pregnancy of her daughter, the eldest of four children. She writes beautifully, with perfect pitch, using maternal love and longing as a major theme. She touches the rawest nerve of parenthood — saying goodbye — as children leave for college and study overseas. Her family comes apart geographically but stays close emotionally. Through it all, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

But don’t let her wit and humor fool you: This is a serious book about one mom reluctantly coming to grips with the arrival of adulthood, four times over. Any parent dreading the empty nest, or simply finding themselves with mixed emotions about the transition, will relate to Allan’s tale.

One beautiful moment from TEXT ME, Love Mom comes when Allan’s eldest daughter shares her thoughts about going away, thoughts that would warm any parent’s heart. Zoe is ready and will thrive in her new surroundings, yet when her mother leaves after helping her move, she feels it deeply: “Before she got into the cab she told me, ‘Be good,’ like she always does. We hugged again and I felt her start to cry, something I hadn’t seen much of — yet. Caught off guard, I said right away, ‘Don’t cry, Mom.’ She tried to say, ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,’ but she stumbled over the words.

“I went back inside, pressed the button for the elevator but changed my mind and took the stairs…wondering why it always hurts in the same spot, right behind your throat, when you’re sad but you can’t cry….I pushed open the door to the stairway to the roof and just kept ascending. How could I go home and cry, when home just got into a cab and left?”

For the Parent Who Fears Her Daughter Will Be Vanquished by the College Sock Monster

Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone
By Becky Blades

Becky Blades’ beautiful volume, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone, is the perfect gift of wit and wisdom for any empty (or nearly empty) nest mom to share with the high school, college or young adult women in her life. The message inside is one of empowerment, understanding and optimism which, in sum, make it an endearing little manual for life, and who doesn’t need that?

Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone is the product of Blades’ anxiety about sending two daughters off into the world, perfectly equipped with academic capabilities, but without practical knowledge, such as how to separate whites from colors. As she recounts in an interview with us on our blog, Grown and Flown, regarding her eldest, “The morning she started her senior year, I looked into her room — which looked like a promo shot for TV’s Hoarders — and it hit me. “Someone will have to share a room with her.” Does she realize this is not OK? Who will want to live with her? Who will hire her? Who will marry her? I raised a smart woman who does not wear matching socks.”

As the years unfolded, Blades kept a journal of all she longed to impart to both her daughters, eventually numbering 270 straight-from-the-heart life lessons. What takes this book from merely clever to uniquely charming is her originality and talent in creating illustrations that perfectly compliment the writing.

(MORE: When the Kids Leave Home, What’s Next?)

You will be in awe of her singular talent and will want to buy multiple copies. First, read your own and soak up the sentiments. Next, give a copy to your daughter, and every other high school and college coed you care about.

For the Parent Who Can’t Wait to Leave Days of Carpooling Behind

Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All
By David and Veronica James

When we are deep in the parenting trenches, our time filled with carpool, the grocery store and kids’ homework, who among us hasn’t fantasized about escaping somewhere, anywhere? Yet, once our youngest child departs, few of us abandon our houses, possessions and day-to-day routines for the great unknown on the road. If you are tempted by the awakening of your own long-dormant wanderlust, Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All can serve as a primer.

Meet David and Veronica James, who winnowed 25 years of family possessions down to 16 storage boxes, sold the house and drove off to their nomadic adventure in an RV they found on eBay.

As soon as they settled their third, and youngest, kid onto campus to begin his freshman year of college, they hit the road, recording their adventures on their website, GypsyNester.com, which became the foundation of their book. Most of the travel posts read like a guidebook for sampling both the familiar (eg. Yellowstone) and the offbeat. In fact, the James deliberately seek out “roadside weirdness” as they criss-cross America.

David and Veronica alternate narrating chapters, bringing two different voices and sensibilities to their view of their grand empty nest tour. David, a musician and former DJ, spent years of his professional life on the road and, in some ways, is returning to his roots. He delivers his observations from behind the wheel in folksy terms, using nicknames for people, places and things, giving the reader a sense that he hasn’t a care in the world.

Veronica, on the other hand, has been deeply involved in her children’s lives, working at their school in St. Croix, the island they moved to from Nashville where she had created a successful web design business. Her anguish at seeing her brood depart and the questions she poses about “what next” are relatable ones for all empty nesters.

She writes of facing: “the hard truth; I had lost a huge part of my identity in the process of growing into adulthood, raising kids and trying to fit the mold that society had carved out for me. I honestly didn’t know who I was anymore. Even scarier, I honestly didn’t know who David and I were as a couple.”

Hitting the road is one way to find out.

Mary Dell Harrington, formerly with NBC and Lifetime Television, cofounded the blog Grown and Flown with Lisa Endlich Heffernan. Follow Grown and Flown on Twitter.

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