What is empty nest envy?

An empty nest can be lonely, but what if the nest ever empties at all?
An empty nest can be lonely, but what if the nest ever empties at all?

Though a person is a parent until the day he or she dies, we've come to identify a parental finish line of sorts: the empty nest. The term has come to denote a home in which the last child has moved out (even though they may still be right at home in your wallet when it comes to college tuition). Some parents can't wait to cross that finish line, anticipating years of travel, new hobbies and the opportunity to socialize with people whose diapers they haven't changed. But not everyone looks forward to the time, and those who have a harder time adjusting to the loneliness after the last child departs are said to suffer from empty nest syndrome.

There's another outcome in the great parental race to the finish, however, and that's what occurs when a child never leaves. In 2008, writer Amy Baskin wrote an article for More Magazine entitled "Empty nest envy." Baskin, 49, wrote about her 16-year-old daughter, but she didn't envision a footloose and fancy-free lifestyle for herself in the coming years. Instead, Baskin foresaw a complicated future because her daughter has autism.

­In the article, Baskin acknowledged that special needs children and their parents have quite a bit of support and options when children are young. However, once these children come of age, they're often too old to participate in some programs and classes. She writes of parents who can't afford to retire because they must continue paying for caregivers and residential programs, and she explores housing options for twentysomethings who can't take care of themselves. Throughout the article, Baskin writes of how parenting will be a full-time job for parents until they die, and how empty nest free time that other parents take for granted will never be theirs. She struggles with how to do the best thing for her child while not denying herself the life she would like to live.

Baskin's not alone in wishing her nest could be a little emptier someday. On the next page, we'll consider some other circumstances that may have you envying those empty nesters.