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Readying the Nest and Empty-Nesters: Parents at the Opposite Ends of Childhood

Dona B. Schwartz

Despite the physical reminder of my growing belly when I was pregnant with my first son, it was only when I started to assemble his nursery that the reality of his impending birth hit me. Kneeling in front of his still-boxed crib, screwdriver in hand, or up on a stepladder, wall graphics sticking to themselves as I swore under my breath … in those moments it struck me that I was preparing for another person’s arrival; a far more momentous act than merely changing the sheets for a relative’s stay – this relative would never be leaving (well, at least not for 18 years).  

As most expectant parents come to learn, nursery prep can become an all-consuming experience, as the physical act of painting the nursery walls or assembling a crib can suddenly, magically tie into everything that a woman wants for her birth, for her baby. And yet, it’s just paint and furniture, right? Or is it?

While thinking about this recently (due to an outbreak of pregnancies among friends), I was excited to find the work of Dona Schwartz, a professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, in a recent article in the New York Times about the process of leaving one’s childhood bedroom behind, and the fate of that room in the hands of one’s parents.

Professor Schwartz has been photographing parents at the opposite ends of their children’s childhoods in her project On the Nest (click through for the full range of photos), which explores both expectant parents’ preparations of nurseries and empty-nesters’ treatment of their children’s old bedrooms. The series offers a glimpse into the range of emotions inspired by those transitions: everything from anxiety to bliss to terror to pride to uncertainty to relief and beyond.

Parents, what did you feel as you put together your baby’s nursery? Excitement? Anxiety? Readiness for the next chapter of your life?