One of the things I see again and again in my work with couples is…
It’s early evening, daylight is slowly fading out. My hubby and I are standing in the driveway and watching our youngest daughter driving away for her very first solo trip in the car to the local Taco Bell. I steal a quick glance at my husband and notice a suspicious glistening in his eye. Our last little bird is about to spread her wings and leave the nest.
This moment marked the beginning of the period in our family life commonly known as an “empty nest.”
Family, like any living organism, undergoes several growth stages which are kicked in gear by major changes or events in family life. A wedding, the birth of the first child, kids staring school, the first child starting college… And then – the last child leaving home.
For many people this transition is not a very easy one. For 18-25 (or more) years you and your spouse had a very special identity: parents. Many people (more often women than men) get used to seeing their lives through the lens of parenting. Vacations with kids, kids’ activities, school events, birthday parties, choosing college…all those things become tightly woven into the fabric of family life. Can you even imagine your life without kids at this stage?
Some of the most profound questions for a couple to face arise when kids leave home. Do you have a unique identity as a couple outside of being parents? How’s your “couple-hood” doing? What about your personal interests and meaning of life? Who are you as a person, as an individual who is no longer a parent? Have you invested so heavily into being a parent that you forgot yourself as a person? What happens to you as a couple when you discover that nothing connects you and your spouse together after kids have left? These are very important questions to ask before your kids leave home. Even better, start asking them way before kids are preparing to leave.
Here’s a few suggestions that might help you to deal with the transition to an empty nester, easier:
- Maintain the health of your “couple-hood.” Don’t lose the connection with your spouse. If you need to work on your relationship with your spouse, do it my all means! Couple comes first. And the better you do as a couple, the easier it is for the kids to separate – they don’t have to worry about you.
- Don’t forget that you are a person first and a parent second. Women are especially guilty of this. They allow their motherhood to fill all their lives. It’s a mistake! Have your own interests, be it your job, hobbies, volunteering or social life. Otherwise, when the children leave you won’t be left “with nothing.”
- This one is like the second one but goes a little deeper. Try to avoid making your children into ‘the meaning of your life.” Find something that is bigger than just raising children – your faith, an idea, or some cause you feel passionate about.
- While kids are still with you, remind yourself that this is temporary, that one day they will leave. This way it won’t come as a surprise (I’ve seen people who acted as if they expected kids to be with them forever!)
If you keep in mind these ideas and implement them before “that day comes,” your transition to the empty nest will be much smoother and less painful.