Empty Cart Syndrome: Adjusting to Kids Starting School


empty cart

I mindlessly grabbed a cart while I scanned my grocery list. Then I stood in line for my twice-weekly Starbucks fix. I made small talk with the barista. Thanked him for the Americano and set my drink in the cupholder.

There was no one to buckle.

There was no one vying for a cake pop (and settling for a whip cream cup).

There was no one to warn about mom’s hot coffee.

I was shopping alone. And it felt SO weird! Is this what empty-nesters feel like when their kids go to college? I think I officially have Empty-Cart Syndrome (a completely made-up thing I created to deal with my kids growing up).

School Days

My youngest just started preschool. Over the summer, I daydreamed about grocery shopping alone. What a luxury! A little “me time.”

For five years, I’ve narrated our ventures through the store.

“This is an A-VA-CA-DO. What color is this pepper? How many bananas do we have? No, you can’t pick any more snacks!”

There were days when I BEGGED for the brain space just to figure out what was the better deal on items, only to give up and grab whatever was easy and familiar.

Marching through the aisles in silence, I held back tears. I had to admit to myself that I was sad. And I was missing my son.

Game Changer

Of course, I’m happy that he’s thriving at school, and he loves his friends and teachers. He needs this interaction and preparation for Kindergarten. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also miss having my little buddy with me. We’ve been through a lot together.

With my oldest two kids, I worked full-time and they went to daycare. I worked through my separation anxiety when they were infants, and milestones like preschool and kindergarten marked moments of pride and growth. We were used to being apart all day, so things didn’t feel that different.

My little guy changed our whole world. I went from a corporate job to staying home with my kids and picking up freelance work on the side. Now I work part-time from my home for a variety of clients. But since he was born, we’ve always been together. Errands, appointments, lunch dates, he was my partner in crime when the big kids were at school.

Then when he was 2 years old he was diagnosed with a rare kidney condition, and I went through a roller coaster of emotions during his treatment and multiple relapses. He required around the clock care that drained the deepest pools of my patience and empathy.

Now that he’s well, I can’t help but flinch at every sneeze or unscheduled nap wondering if it’s the start of another issue with his health. For better or worse, his illness only brought us closer together. He is definitely the most snuggly of all of my kids. And the best hugger in the world… if you don’t mind a bear hug/headlock combo.

New Routines

As we settle into new routines with the school year, I realize the solo trips to the store during the first week of school were exciting because they were so rare. But now that it is my norm, and not the exception, it makes me sad. It marks the end of an era.

The chapter of my life with little ones at home is coming to a close. But with fewer snuggles and more independence also comes the start of a new chapter: vacations without diaper bags and strollers, eating out without temper tantrums, and big hugs at after school pick-up. And I can’t wait to watch the next chapter unfold.

Has anyone else experienced Empty Cart Syndrome?

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Content Coordinator Megan doesn’t really fall into any one mom category. With three kids from ages 5 to 12, she’s been a working mom and a stay-at-home mom. She’s breastfed and bottle-fed. She’s kept kids on strict sleeping schedules in their own beds and also embraced the benefits of co-sleeping. She’s a big believer in finding what works for you and your kiddo (and it’s often different for each kid). Megan is an Iowa native and lives in Ankeny with her husband Darren. They love to travel and are often planning their next road trip (even it’s a year away). They also enjoy entertaining and are famous among their friends for throwing big bashes to celebrate the Olympic Games. But her everyday life is mostly comprised of playdates, trips to the park, and trying to stay ahead of the never-ending laundry pile.    


    • Thanks Val! I think this preK year is good preparation for next year when he’s in Kindergarten all day. At least I still have Wednesdays at home with him for now.


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