Grit Blogs > Adventures in Rural Living

A Flock of Chickens: RX for the Empty Nest Syndrome

Marie James head shotWhen my kids were young, I was one of those moms that just loved doing all sorts of domestic and creative things. I have been called “June Cleaver,” though I am not fond of wearing high heels or pearls or even dresses for that matter. (In one episode, the dedicated June wore pearls even with her bathrobe! I saw it on a rerun!)

I always made a point of taking time for friends, church, and community. I had other pursuits, hobbies, and interests. But there’s no doubt that my family was my first focus. Caring for my kids and participating in their lives was a major part of my life.


 empty nest 

When my oldest kids started leaving home, I knew I was in for a tumble down the empty nest syndrome spiral. I could see the writing on the wall: one day all of my children would be out on their own. So I took the bull by the horns and started preparing for that day far in the future when I really would be an empty nester.

I thought about things I’d like to do when all the kids were grown. I knew I’d relish more time to write and follow other creative pursuits. I could get a job in publishing. I could go back to school and finish my degree. And I expected to someday have grandkids to coddle, spoil, and enjoy.

My hubby, Jim, and I could do more traveling, take longer vacations, and make more weekend getaways. We’d continue to visit art galleries and enjoy community theater and music. I even told Jim I would learn to golf, but was secretly glad when he said he prefers to golf with “the guys.”

Jim and I sat down and wrote individual and combined 5-year and 10-year goals—what we’d like to do by then and where we’d like to see ourselves. I guess we were writing bucket lists before we knew what a bucket list was. As the years went by, we checked some things off, crossed out some that no longer seemed interesting, and repeatedly highlighted some that just hadn’t happened yet.

 hen party 

One thing on my list was to have chickens. I finally got my chickens shortly after Jim and I moved to the farm (checking one more thing off our lists). Guess what? It was just after our youngest child got married and began her own life outside my nest. And yes, I already had symptoms of the dreaded empty nest syndrome.

A week after we moved to the farm, our wonderful Maremma livestock guardian dogs came to live with us. But for a smooth transition, they needed some livestock to guard. So we got some chickens. Yay! At last!

I started with layer breed chicks…17 of them! A month later, I got meat chicks…26 of them! We had 43 chicks! And I thought, why not try raising turkeys for Thanksgiving? So I bought some turkey babies! We had…chicks and turkey poults galore.

I have to say I am surprised at how chickens have satisfied my maternal nurturing instincts. They don’t need a lot of care, but from the start, twice or more a day I was checking on them, feeding and watering them. Oh yes, and sometimes just watching them. And, okay--sometimes I even held and cuddled them.

mixed bag of chicks 

I could tell you many wonderful things about chickens, but today I’m thinking about how they hopped into my empty nest and filled it pretty full.

I still miss my family when they’re not here. I enjoy doing little-kid things with my grandkids, and grownup stuff (okay, some childish stuff too) with my eight adult kids. I have been known to pamper Jim just a little eensy bit.

But those chickens, they let me lavish on them all the nurturing I have to spare. I’ve never once heard them complain!

Marie and her husband, Jim, are developing a farm in the Pacific Northwest with their adult children and grandchildren. At The Homesteader Kitchen Marie and her daughter review kitchen equipment and talk about preparing and preserving delicious food. Along with other family members, Marie shares glimpses of country life at Rural Living Today and teaches practical skills at The Homesteader School.

marie james
3/4/2012 5:27:30 PM

Dave--Most of ours came back for brief or extended stays as well. It's certainly a different dynamic when they're adults. You are providing a wonderful environment for your grandson! You'll all be richer for it. Carolyn--I love your thoughts about chicken therapy! I may just quote you in my other blog. Christine--I hear the same thing but I think my kids are secretly glad that I have another outlet for my doting. :) Have a lovely week, all!

christine byrne
3/2/2012 2:33:27 AM

This is so true! Although my children now complain that all my farm animals get more attention than they do. LOL

carolyn evans-dean
3/1/2012 5:52:21 PM

Chicken soup may be good for the soul but chicken therapy is good for the sanity. There is nothing like having something to care for and nothing wrong with cuddling a chicken from time to time. They can be awfully sweet!

nebraska dave
2/29/2012 11:09:04 PM

Marie, my first two kids flew the coop and never looked back. The youngest is having just little trouble flying on her own. Some bad life events and bad life decisions landed her back at home with five year old Bradley. That was two years ago. The safe home environment has allowed her to continue to work, go to school, and get life back together. Hopefully in another couple years she will be able to start flying on her own again. My empty nest didn't stay empty very long. I'm glad to hear that you have found a positive way to calm your empty nest syndrome. I guess mom's are just meant to nurture. There should be more June Cleavers in this world. Have a great day with your birds.