Many couples with children will at some point experience an empty nest. Most people understand this as a time when children have grown up and left home. The empty nest can come with a myriad of emotions for any parent, especially in the beginning. Questions often accompany emotions; some common emotionally charged questions are:
- Sadness: “How do I handle that my children are not living at home anymore?”
- Anxiety: “What will I do with my life now?”
- Uncertainty: “What does our marriage or partnership look like without our children in the home?”
- Confusion: “Who is this person (partner) I am living with?”
- Loneliness: “My children filled a lot of space in our home. How do I deal with the quiet?”
Clearly, the empty nest season is an expected one for parents. However, many couples are not prepared for the onslaught of emotional upheaval they experience, especially mothers who have been investing in the lives of their children up until they leave home. I often find this to be the case with stay-at-home moms who may not have been working or who did not have careers during the child-rearing years.
You may want to talk about what it has been like raising children with your spouse or partner, friends, family member, or a trusted mental health professional.
Here are a few things to consider when your adult children are packing their bags for college or heading out the front door, ready to begin their lives out from under your roof.
Take time to reflect on the season you have had with your children at home. It takes time to process the reality you have been preparing them for since they were born. Whether you realize it or not, this day was going to come. Take it in. You may want to talk about what it has been like raising children with your spouse or partner, friends, family member, or a trusted mental health professional. Take in the good, the challenging, and even the difficult times. Parenting, no doubt, is the hardest job many of us will ever do. It can also be the most rewarding.
Make Time for Gratitude
Make some space to be grateful for the time you have had with your children. Individuals who are religious might thank God for the gift and privilege of raising children, for example. Our children our entrusted to our care for a short period. As my mother always told me, enjoy your time raising them; it goes fast. If you are looking at your empty nest, chances are you are agreeing with me. Time flies!
Embrace Your Partner
Depending on how you have spent time with your spouse or partner over the years, this can be a pivotal time in your relationship. If you have been nurturing, communicating well, and taking time to emotionally connect over the years, chances are you have a good healthy relationship. If you feel like your spouse or partner is your best friend or your soulmate, this is good. Now you can move into the empty nest season on good healthy relationship ground.
Handle Your Relationship Challenges with Care
On the other hand, I often have couples showing up in therapy for the first time because they have been putting off challenges or difficulties in their relationship because they didn’t have the time or energy to deal with things when raising children.
Sometimes when this happens and children are “leaving the nest,” couples look at one another with questions like:
- “Who are you?”
- “Who have you become?”
- “How did I miss you?”
- “How did you miss me all of these years?”
- ”Do I even love you anymore?”
If you can relate to any of these questions, know you are not alone. Many couples face challenging moments when they realize there are no distractions and now, they need to focus on one another in a new way.
If this speaks to you about the nature of your marriage or partnership, the following tips may help.
- Talk to your partner or spouse about what you are feeling.
- Be intentional about connecting on a deeper level.
- Let your partner know your needs.
- Renew your friendship.
- Focus on making your partner feel loved, adored, and valued.
- Dream together about the future.
Keep in mind, the empty nest season can be a time of renewal and refreshment for you and your partner. Tending to your marital garden can be both a wonderful and challenging experience. Sure, you may have some weeds to pull or pruning that needs to be done. However, with an optimistic vision for your garden, planting the right seeds and flowers, and remembering the need for fertilization, your garden can be stunning.
Remember, when your children are launched: it doesn’t mean that you need to launch your spouse or partner. You can choose to hold your family history dear and cherish the memories, and still go on and be hopeful about a renewed relationship and future with your partner.
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