Many parents look forward to the beginning of the school year, when their children’s routines are more in sync with their own work schedules. However, it’s a very different feeling when your youngest is getting ready to venture off to college. This change can throw off a couple’s homeostasis, which in turn can cause a lot of frustration, uneasiness, and separation. The key to preventing an empty nest from negatively affecting your marriage begins with knowing what to expect when the kids depart. Making sure to communicate effectively with your spouse regarding the changes ahead is also an essential factor. As is the importance in planning, with your spouse, how you will fill your time in ways that will bring you closer.
If parents know what to expect, they will be able to prepare themselves ahead of time therefore lessening the shock factor. Parents can expect that they will experience feelings of loss, sadness, and emptiness and yes, tears will be shed. Know that crying is healthy and not something to run from, be ashamed, or reason to hide. Sadness, loss, and emptiness all are feelings that fit the situation and should be expressed. Most parents will long for their children, whom they love dearly and will miss. Those feelings are natural. Parents should be open with their partner about their feelings, and will likely find understanding and support in the fact that they both very much miss having their children around. Both parents may miss being a part of their children’s daily lives. They might find themselves incessantly worrying about their child’s safety. They might find they’re literally worried sick that their children might be put in a vulnerable position. Partners should share these fears with each other and help calm each other’s nerves. Parents should help each other come to a place where they can trust their adult child’s abilities to care for themselves, problem solve, and navigate successfully through life’s obstacles. After parents have gone through the initial shock, after sadness and worries have started to subside, it is time to carry on.
At this juncture the couple can begin looking at the positive aspects of having the house to themselves. Notice how the house stays neat and tidy for weeks, where as when the kids were home the house was in shambles within a day after cleaning. Notice that there is food in the fridge; those leftovers you were looking forward to eating after work are actually still in the fridge when you get home. Grocery, water, heat and electricity bills decrease dramatically. The house is quieter and parental responsibilities have shifted, leaving more time to read, create, or play music. Parents should give themselves time to relax and enjoy this new lifestyle, and this does not mean that parents aren’t missing their children; it means they are accepting and embracing their child’s independence while rediscovering their own independence.
Look at this time as an opportunity to get closer to your spouse instead of a time to harp on all the distance that came between the two of you while raising kids. This is a time to do all the things you talked about doing before the kids came along. It’s a time to reminisce on when the two of you first met and all the adventures you both went on. It might take a few months to realize that the freedom that you both had before having kids is back and available for the taking. This newfound freedom opens endless doors of possibilities. Parents can start planning little weekend getaways; they will be less costly now that it’s just the two of you. Schedule a date night once a week together, go out to dinner or make dinner at home together, go out for an evening stroll or bike ride, or go out and listen to live music, theatre, or comedy. Enroll in a weekly evening class together, such as yoga, dance, or an educational workshop. Parents can now plan vacations tailor fit for themselves. They can go somewhere they both have never been, go outside their comfort zone do activities to make them happy. Some parents might feel like planning an adventurous, activity packed trip, for others a luxurious relaxing spa and massage retreat might be more fitting. Even just a simple night playing a game or watching a movie together can feel comforting. The possibilies are endless! Parents, see what you both can come up with and act on it.
Change is not always easy; the transition into a new lifestyle will likely take some time to getting accustomed to. Parents, be patient with each other and yourselves through this adjustment period and don’t be afraid to lean on your partner for support.
Enjoy the adventures ahead and take care.