Will you be a happy empty nester or will you struggle with empty nest depression? Leanne Le Cras shares tips for preparing for and enjoying your empty nest.
Leanne successfully launched her two fledglings several years ago and has written extensively about being an empty nester.
[This is a guest post by Leanne Le Cras who blogs at Cresting the Hill. You can read more about Leanne at the end of this post. Subsequently the post has been updated and added to by Jan Wild]
DEFINING THE EMPTY NEST
For starters, I don’t see a nest as “empty” until all the adult children have left and settled themselves elsewhere. I don’t even consider it truly empty if your “kids” are living a few minutes’ drive away – because they’re going to be popping in and out of your life every few hours/days, and that’s not really the same as being alone in your home with your spouse and maybe a pet or two, for lengthy periods of time. There’s not a lot of adjusting to do if your family is in constant physical contact with you – a nest is truly empty when they are living several hours away and visits are a novelty, not the norm.
PREPARING FOR THE EMPTY NEST
The secret to successful empty nesting is to be prepared. There is nothing worse than being a parent who is overly involved in their children’s lives and then finding yourself alone while they start living somewhere else.
I work with a woman who home-schooled her four children and after they left, she had done nothing to ready herself for all the spare time she would have on her hands. She spends her days missing them, bombarding them with texts, complaining that her husband isn’t filling the empty hours for her, and generally being a sad sack that nobody wants to be around.
Our children can’t stay home forever (thank goodness!) and it’s rarely a surprise when the time comes for them to spread their wings. We knew ours would head off to the city for university somewhere around 18 years old, so we loosened the apron strings gradually leading up to that point.
We made sure they had the skills to look after themselves and began spending time doing things that we enjoyed without them. It’s not difficult because most teenagers don’t want to socialize with their parents – so they’re happy to wave you off on your coffee or movie date.
Take the time to re-discover yourself, your relationships, your friendships, your interests – and then start doing things for yourself in anticipation of being childless in the near future. Make sure you have something to look forward to .
LAUNCHING THE FLEDGLINGS AND AVOIDING EMPTY NEST SYNDROME
I joined an Empty Nest Facebook group a few years ago and my eyes were opened to the number of women who had created their lives completely around their children and had no idea how to live without their constant presence. The multitude of comments about how “lost” they were and how “sad” they were just amazed me.
How could they not know that this launching would be inevitable? How could they have become so lost and so rudderless? And how much guilt must those poor children feel when their mother is weeping on the phone every time they call? Needless to say, I left the group after a short time because I just couldn’t relate to such desperation and despair.
It’s our job as parents to prepare our children to be independent and confident and able to take on the world. To produce young adults who are fully capable of living away from home, pursuing their studies or their careers, is such a joy for a parent. There is a little bit of heartache involved, but the alternative is having an adult child tied to your side and unable to leave home (“failure to launch” as my children describe it) and that’s not healthy for anyone.
As our teenagers grow we need to loosen the ties, encourage them to stretch and spread their wings, put support into place if it’s needed, and then wave goodbye with a smile on our faces. Letting go is hard, but if it’s done well, they know they can return for visits, for comfort, for the memories, for holidays, or whatever reason suits them – then they can go again and know that all is well with their folks.
THE POSITIVES OF THE EMPTY NEST
A lot is written about the loneliness of a home without the kids in it, but we’ve found there is a whole new world to be discovered when there’s only the two of us to take into consideration.
- We travel more – there’s only two of us to pay for and two lots of travel preferences to consider.
- We eat out more – once again, only two meals to pay for and more flexible timeframes to do it in.
- We don’t need as much income because we’re only feeding two people and paying power and water bills for two adults (no long, leisurely teenage showers!)
- We’re not lying awake in bed waiting for a teenager to come home, or worrying if we hear a siren somewhere nearby (our son was a bit of a rev-head in his teens).
- There’s no taxi-ing teenagers around to various sporting or social events.
- There’s a lot less noise and drama – no boyfriends to be concerned about, no arguments to referee, no bickering over the television or whose turn it is to do a chore.
- There’s a lot less worry – the old “out of sight, out of mind” does play a part once they’re living a few hours away.
A possible negative of the empty Nest – Grey Divorce
Sadly it is sometimes the case that the empty nest can highlight relationship issues that were subsumed in child rearing. For some couples, finding themselves thrown together without the buffer of other household members, can be difficult and may be the trigger for a ‘grey divorce‘. In other cases those relationship issues are well known to the couple but they have decided to ‘stay together until the kids leave home’.
It’s a fact that there are increasing numbers of later life divorces, and a divorce at this time of life can be more complex than earlier in a marriage. There may be more assets, lower debt, superannuation assets perhaps mostly generated by one partner at the expense of the other, to name a few complexities to be addressed. On that basis it is imperative that you seek legal advice from a firm that is experienced in dealing with complex family law issues.; a team that can also help you navigate child support, financial planning and mortgage broking.
The importance of good advice, particularly for women who may have earned less due to child caring responsibilities, can not be overstated. One only has to read about the continually increasing number of homeless older women to realise the necessity of strong and experienced representation.
LIVING THE REALITY OF THE EMPTY NEST
Life is certainly different without kids around – we do miss them at times, and it takes a bit of adjustment to find your feet again. The house is quiet, there aren’t young people popping in and out, you don’t get to voice your opinion on their life choices any more.
I found it particularly hard to step back when our daughter was married because we’d been so close and then she had someone else in that area of her life. But, that being said, a new normal takes root, you can fight it and be upset and lonely, or you can accept it and find the joys that change can bring with it.
Knowing that you built a solid foundation for your adult children and that they’re living productive, vibrant lives is exciting. Seeing them succeed in their careers, find a life partner, establish their homes, become wonderful parents, it’s all such a blessing – and so much more satisfying than if they’d stayed tucked safely away in the family home for life.
Letting go is tough, but choosing to see the positives and making the effort to re-create your own life in anticipation of them leaving, means that it can be a smooth transition and one I highly recommend. If you do it well, the nest will always be somewhere they’re happy to visit – and that makes it all worthwhile.
MORE ON THE EMPTY NEST
If you’re interested in reading more about the empty nest, I’ve written several posts on my blog – if you start with this one, there are links to other posts at the end : Loving the Empty Nest
About Leanne Le Cras
Leanne lives in the beautiful SW of Western Australia and works part-time as a surgeon’s receptionist. Her two children have grown and flown, so she now spends way too much of her spare time blogging about the highlights of Midlife at Cresting the Hill and shares the rest of her leisure time with her husband and two cats.
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