By Kathy Gaillard
Most parents are happy that, after having children under their roof for 18 years—with the blink of an eye— they move out and on their own. However, for some older adults, having a child move out comes with mixed feelings of sentiment and adjustment, particularly for married couples.
There is a sense of loss, anxiety and concern for the child and, at the same time, parents must become accustomed to being alone with each other again.
With a growing number of Baby Boomers, come a greater number of empty nesters. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36 percent of boomers say they will downsize or move once they become Empty Nesters.
In addition, more than 55 percent of Empty Nesters plan to move when they retire, with 36 percent of those planning to move more than three hours away upon retirement.
There is also a growing trend in American households where parents may actually find themselves longing for an empty nest. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that the number of young men—age 25 to 34—living at home with their parents has increased by five percent over the past six years, and the rate for women in that age group has risen by two percent.
This trend has labeled these 20- and 30-somethings as the Boomerang Generation for their inclination to bounce back to mom and dad’s house after college graduation.
In some cases, the children ‘fail to launch,’ or never even leave home. Experts point to the economy as the primary reason for the trend. Statistics reveal that there are about two million college-educated people older than 25 without jobs in the United States.
When couples have children who do ‘launch’ many of them view the “empty nest” as a second honeymoon. However, the reality is that once the ‘honeymoon’ phase of being empty nesters is over, many couples face challenges as they attempt to become reacquainted.
Most Empty Nesters agree that the secret to rediscovering or rebuilding marital relationships once the children are gone is to develop common interests, find something to share and make the relationship a priority.
When children are being raised in the home, the chasm between married couples may widen because the focus of activity is on the children—parenting, being involved in their lives and activities, and all things that come with parental responsibilities.
Once the children are gone, one parent needs to take steps to participate in an activity that the other may already be involved with, or a couple may jointly decide to take up an interest or hobby that appeals to both of them such as cooking, golfing, bowling or volunteering. Without a common foundation, growing old together joyfully and gracefully can signal the death years of a marriage.
Empty Nesters may confront challenges as they try to reinvent their marriages. For example, at this point in life, many couples are exhausted.
They may be emotionally drained and feel disconnected from their spouse, and there is a tendency to jump in and “get busy” doing all those things they had been postponing to avoid facing the challenges of this new stage of marriage.
Here are some tips to help Empty Nesters smooth the transition from married with children to become happy and satisfied Empty Nesters:
Slow down and rest. Pause, take naps or go to bed at early.
You will be better able to refocus on your marriage when your life comes back into focus and you are well rested.
Recognize that this is a time of transition. Transitional times can be stressful but they also provide an opportunity to redefine your relationship and to find new fulfillment, intimacy and closeness.
Celebrate! You graduated from the active parenting years. Although it is normal to experience some sense of loss at this time of life, you can counter those feelings by celebrating where you have come from and enjoying the future. Have some fun.
Do not feel pressure to make immediate decisions about your future until you have some perspective. Take it slow. Unfortunately, some spouses who are disappointed with their marriage bolt right out of the relationship as soon as the last kid leaves home.
This is a time when the divorce rate soars. Get to know each other again and re-energize your relationship.
Once you have made it through the initial transition into the empty nest, try to focus on some of the long term challenges of the ‘second act’ of your marriage.
The empty nest years of your marriage can be a time of incredible fulfillment, no matter what challenges you previously faced.
This is the perfect time to reinvent your relationship, renew your friendship, and create a vision for the rest of your marriage.
Instead of looking backward at what was missed along the way, look forward to what can be accomplished with the years that lie ahead. These can be the best years of your life!
By Kathy Gaillard