The Empty Nester
It’s August, and the last kid at home has their car crammed full of everything they own. Their gas tank is full. The fluids, tires, and brakes are in working order. You all exchange tearful hugs and kisses. However, you aren’t quite sure why. It isn’t the first time you have done this. Plus, you will see them at Thanksgiving, right? But, the tears still flow. Your last baby is off to college. You are an empty nester.
Whether you are a parent who has dreaded this day or one who has been gleefully anticipating it, many parents underestimate the onslaught of emotions when it happens. They are not prepared to deal with the emptiness or sense of loss. Even more surprising to some, is their lack of preparedness to adjust to their new life.
When children are born, married couples learn to adapt to their new life with kids. Then, when they leave home, it has to be readjusted again. Couples do not notice how much they have changed over the years until their nest is empty. Many couples discover the pitfalls they have read about have infiltrated their relationship.
For 18 years (or more depending on the number of kids), you have devoted your lives to raising children. All the soccer games, dance classes, and band practices have abruptly come to an end. You were their chauffeur, cheerleader, and shoulder to lean on.
They gave you purpose. Now what?
It is common for parents to feel this sense of loss when they become an empty nester. Many parents feel insecure once their little darlings have struck out on their own. They feel like they are floundering about without purpose. They need to find a new purpose in life. Parents of child-focused homes experience these insecurities more often, as well as the parents who stay at home during the raising years.
The pitfalls of the empty nester begin years before the little birdies fly the coup. Many parents fail to prepare for the day their children leave. It seems like so far away, until it is not.
The Child-Centered Pitfall
Becoming caught up in our children is easy. After All, they are adorable little angels that need our love and attention. That, and they are just fun.
The empty nester whose fun revolved around their children struggle when they leave. They suddenly realize that they have no idea how to have fun together. The couple was so focused on the kids or family unit; they forgot how to have fun as husband and wife. Parents who are child focused, instead of partner-focused, set their marriage on the road to falling into the child-centered pitfall.
What child-focused parents forget is that their children will leave one day. If they pour all their energy into their children, they can create a gaping hole in their relationship before and after the kids are gone. The good news is, though, you can fill that hole again.
Who are you?
So much of a parent’s life is wrapped up in the children, or family as a whole. During the years spent raising them, many couples find that they lost themselves along the way. Couples sometimes realize that they do not even know the person lying next to them in bed. So much has changed that they wind up asking “Who are you?”
When the children are gone, empty nesters are forced to acknowledge how much they have changed over the years. They don’t know who they are apart from the kids, much less know who their spouse is.
Their identity has been wrapped up in being mom or dad for so long they forgot what it meant to be husband, wife, and friend to each other. Parents who do not continue to date in marriage often find themselves falling into this pitfall. The great new is, you can find each other again.
The Critical Spirit
Most parents spend their years of raising kids managing the details of their children’s lives. They make sure they do their chores, homework, and practice proper hygiene, and correct when they do not. When the kids leave, there is a void.
Some empty nester parents fill the void by managing and criticizing one another after the kids leave. With the kids out on their own, our focus shifts to our spouse. Sometimes, husbands and wives revisit old hurts. They complain about what was done or left undone. They can focus on how things “should be.”
Mothers tend to experience this shift more often. It is not easy for a mom to suddenly switch off the “mom” in her. After all, she spent years mothering the kids. Unconsciously she shifts that energy to her husband. However, men are not immune to falling into this pitfall either. The fantastic news is that when we recognize the behavior, we can ask God to help change our spirit to build each other up while adjusting to the new norm
Adjusting to the new norm
Hopefully, couples begin preparing themselves for the adjustment of becoming an empty nester throughout their marriage. Partner-focused families more easily combat the empty nest syndrome.
Sadly, many do not even begin to try to figure it out until the kids move out. This is a huge mistake. Do not wait until all the kids are gone before discussing this life change.
Prepping for the day is the best solution to ease the pain of an empty nest. Couples should begin discussing the transition way before the kids fly the coup.
Rekindle the Fire
An empty nest is an excellent opportunity to rekindle the romance in marriage. Empty nester couples find that they have more time and money than when they were raising their kids.
More time and money mean more resources to pursue interests, personal and as a couple. They can afford to take overdue romantic vacations and go on new adventures. The empty nest opens new doors for intimacy in marriage. Here are 3 ways to rekindle empty nester romance:
Invest in yourselves
You have spent time investing in your children, now invest in yourselves. Try new things individually and as a couple. Pursuing new interests injects some thrill into your life and your relationship. Make a list of old and new dreams to pursue and things you like to do. Here are some ideas to get the juices flowing:
- Participate in social activities or ministry project
- Connect with other empty nesters regularly.
- Mentor a couple together. Plenty of parents could use your wisdom.
- Start a new hobby or recreational activity together
- Attend a fun couples retreat together
When the list is complete, discuss them with your spouse. Then, make a master list of the things you want to do together. Then DO THEM. An exciting life outside of the bedroom will stimulate life inside it.
Need help coming up with more ideas to put on your list? Here are 50 Fun, cheap dates for couples.
Use Your Words
During the days of children, many couples spend more time discussing kid or family matters. They communicate less like lovers.
Before you were married, you were love interests. The dating phase conversations were much different than ones had during the years of kids. Get back to the time where you spent hours diving into one another.
Discuss your hopes, dreams, and fears. Get to know your spouse on a deeper level. Remember, much has changed since the day you fell in love. Communication opens the doors to intimacy. Intimacy opens the floodgates to becoming lovers again.
Create a Second Honeymoon
Remember the time before the kids when you snuggled and kissed all the time? Why not take advantage of the free time you have to create a second honeymoon?
Some couples report decreased libido with age. However, an empty nest may give you a boost in that department. As husband and wife spend more quality time together and improve intimacy, it stokes the fire. Take advantage of having the house all to yourselves again. Have romantic dinners, and make love.
The Best and Worst Day
Becoming an empty nester is the worst day for many parents. However, it is also the best day for marriage. Your kids are striking our on their own, which means you prepared them for the journey well.
Although you will experience sadness at missing them, you will also discover your marriage again. God never intended our children to stay with us forever. He bound husband and wife together in one flesh, not the children.
We only have kids for a little while, but we have our spouses for a lifetime. Rekindling the romance in an empty nest can be the best side of marriage yet if we let it.
If you are an unprepared parent or one who underestimated the impact of an empty nest, there is hope.
Our great staff of coaches have experience as empty nesters. Seeking counsel with a relationship coach can help marriages rekindle the romance.