After years of responsibility and frantic activity, your house will feel empty and very quiet when the last child leaves home. The empty nest is a rite of passage that every parent either dreads or looks forward to. What happens now?
Your children finally reach maturity and for all practical purposes they don’t need you any more. Oh, they will still need you in the broad sense of the word, but learning how to get along without you is their particular rite of passage. Modern parents (that’s you) find that they now have twenty, thirty, forty or more years of good life ahead of them. It’s kind of exciting but scary too. People are living longer than ever and this whole new “second chance” idea falls into uncharted territory. You will be facing challenges that did not exist a few generations ago. Taking stock of your own life has suddenly become a priority.
Virginia Curran Hoffman (U.S. Catholic 72.6: June 2007) isolated a few questions that are going to loom large:
- How well do you know your spouse and how will you get along without the children in the middle? This sounds like a strange question but when you think about it, you are not the same person that you were forty years ago and neither is your spouse.
- What will you do with your life both as an individual and as a couple?
- How do you adjust your parenting views to meet the needs but not interfere in the lives of your adult children?
People with dream marriages will scoff at the idea that you need to get to know your spouse all over again. Most of us could count on one hand the number of hours a day, or even a week, spent together during those child rearing years. Even then most conversations were about and through the children. You will have to learn all over again how to give your full attention to your “other half.” You may find that you have forgotten how to talk to, or how to listen to the most important person in your life. Your mind has been elsewhere for a very long time. Granted, women are pretty good at carrying on two conversations at once but I think that you know what I was saying. Remember the days when you hung on each others words? You talked on the phone or lingered over coffee for hours on end. It was grand. You had found your soul mate and you thought the magic would last forever. Learn how to communicate again and you may find that it is still there.
Couples who share the same hobbies or indeed practiced the idea of date night throughout the years have an easier time reestablishing this bond. Couples who focused all of their time, energy and conversation on their children may struggle a bit. The time has come to rekindle that initial enthusiasm by learning how to listen and talk again. Counseling may not be a bad idea. For some reason, even people who will seek professional help to work out problems are often reluctant to work on personal relationships. Why are people reluctant to seek help with the most important relationship of their life?
There are as many questions as there are opportunities for growth in the years ahead. Twenty, thirty, forty years is a lot of time…time to continue growing as an individual. We are so lucky to have that time.