The Empty Nest . . . And Other Myths of Rightsizing

“Rightsizing”—it used to be a sinister term, a euphemism rolled out by tycoons laying plans to throw hundreds of employees out of work. To us at Women’s Voices, though, “rightsizing” signifies making appropriate change—looking positively at the transitions we need to make as we head into the second half of life. This article is part of a series by writers who have made those transitions—both the easy ones, mentally or physically, and the hard ones. —Ed

I refuse to be called an Empty Nester. While it is true that my youngest graduates from Georgetown this spring, my house and my life are far from empty. I work full time and enjoy seeing friends. My husband and I visit our kids when they ask (and I’m thrilled they still ask). Together we successfully taught both our children how to become independent adults, but for us, keeping a meaningful and interesting life meant keeping a life that’s full. Rightsizing our life didn’t equate to moving into a smaller place or simplifying. For us, filling our home with three cats and three dogs was the next step.

Sharing a life with my animals assures me that my nest is full. We’ve replaced driving our offspring to debate tournaments and band performances with daily jaunts to the dog park, hikes, vet appointments and vacations that allow dogs. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

After the kids moved out, I felt I had more love and teaching to offer — where was I needed? The answer was adopting a few needy animals and being entrusted with their ability to thrive.

Growing up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, I wasn’t able to adopt a cat or dog and I settled for the occasional turtle or parakeet. In my 20s, my first boss took us on a Christmas party booze cruise. There, a fortune teller foretold that she saw a dog in my future. She didn’t predict that one day I’d marry a dog behaviorist and get what I’d wished for in spades.

My husband’s family had owned dogs since he was a baby in the suburbs of Westchester. Where I’d had the constant companionship of dozens of playmates that lived in a three-building apartment complex, his first friends were his furry companions. Eventually he made pet/owner relationships his profession.

We eventually moved in together and the presence of cats and dogs permeated our household, long before we married and children were born. As a family we enjoyed fall festivals and art fairs; great opportunities to take our St. Bernards out for an adventure. We couldn’t walk more than a few hundred feet before someone stopped us to admire our striking dogs. We reveled in the attention and a chance to connect with fellow dog lovers, although at times it felt like we were part of Taylor Swift’s entourage.

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  • Hildy Morgan April 16, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Great article by Phyllis Cohen. I loved her attitude and I loved the fact that she rejected the term empty nester” in all it’s bizarre ramifications. To me it’s always been a term belittling women – after all, if they don’t have children to raise, the term implies, then they go a little crazy-headed and are very unhappy and do sad and crazy things. Phyllis is not substituting her pets for her kids. She just likes her pets and is plenty busy. And she did not fall apart when her kids went to college and then on their lives. She still had a life she loves. Good article. Good writing!

  • Marcia Mishaan April 14, 2017 at 7:28 am

    I really like the format and direction of this blog. The layouts are pleasing and the articles are relevant, intelligent and interesting to me as a woman. It’s grown a lot since it started, congratulations!