Home Perspectives Advice Silverstein: Don’t begrudge an empty nest

Silverstein: Don’t begrudge an empty nest

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No doubt it’s a great apartment – as far as basement apartments go.

The place is on a quiet street near the subway. The kitchen has been updated with a granite counter and stainless steel appliances. There’s even a dishwasher. The perks include laundry and cleaning services. And the rent is unbeatable – it’s free.

Who could walk away from such a terrific deal? Well, my son just did. At age 25, he was ready to move out. He wanted to be on his own.

When I was his age, I did the same thing. But now that I’m on the Jewish mother side of the equation, I see things quite differently.

Granted, I was an empty nester before, albeit briefly, when my oldest son moved out of the house while my two other boys were away at school. But they came home and I happily cooked them meals and did their laundry again. But now it’s getting real: my middle son has been living downtown for a couple of years, and now son No. 3 is on his way out.

I have to admit I felt sorry for him when he first began looking for his own place. These days, finding something affordable in Toronto is a major challenge. He’d book an appointment to see an advertised apartment and, by the time he’d get there, it would already be rented to someone else. The only places available seemed to be in pretty undesirable neighbourhoods. I was afraid he’d end up in one of those areas and then, in typical overprotective Jewish mother fashion, I’d worry about him all the time. So I decided to help him find a decent place to live.

It was true helicopter mom logic: if my son was so determined to move out, I was going to make sure he’d be safe. One weekend, he managed to nab the first appointment of the day to view what looked like a good apartment in a safe area. I drove him downtown so he’d get there on time.

The unit was in a highrise. When we arrived, the fire alarm was sounding and we couldn’t use the elevator. I huffed and puffed up nine flights of stairs. Did I risk getting a heart attack? Of course. But isn’t self-sacrifice the ethos of Jewish motherhood?

It was first come, first served at the rental office, so my son got the place. We beat out two other people vying for the same apartment. They waited for the elevator.


At a recent family dinner, I was kvetching about my empty nester status. Maybe I was trying to induce a little guilt, but what Jewish mother doesn’t play that card now and then?

“Why don’t you look on the bright side?” my middle son mused. “If things don’t work out with me and Mer (his girlfriend), I’ll be back in the basement.”

And then I had a revelation: if your kids live independently, chances are their jobs are going well, or their personal relationships are working out, or both.

No mother, Jewish or otherwise, wants to see their child struggle to launch themselves into adulthood. We Jewish mothers can be overprotective, we may complain and nag incessantly, and sometimes we overplay the guilt card, but like all mothers, we want our children to be happy and fulfilled adults.

For many young people, leaving home is a step in that direction. In that respect, being an empty nester is actually a good thing – even if my inner Jewish mother is not about to celebrate.