The Empty Nest: Opportunity or Crisis? (Part 1)
Feelings of loss and anxiety about change when the last child leaves home are normal. But it often has been pathologized in popular culture as a disorder, disease or condition that needs treatment. Usually it’s not and it doesn’t.
In fact, the “empty nest syndrome” usually doesn’t exist at all. For most families, the last kid going off to college or to a first good job and apartment is a cause for celebration and relief, not a stage of loss at all.
On the other hand, it is a time of change. Parents who have been very involved with their kids’ lives — coaching the teams, endlessly carpooling, monitoring homework, sharing a hobby or activity and truly enjoying each other’s company — may find themselves with hours of time they haven’t had for years, as well as without the buddies with whom they shared those activities. Like most change, the empty nest can present an opportunity or a crisis.
It’s an opportunity:
- For more spontaneity.With no sports practices and games to get to after dinner or on weekends, with no homework to monitor and no need to find child care, you can do things like go to a movie on Wednesday night or take off for a weekend on short notice.
- To stop being a role model (at least once in awhile).With children in the house, it’s important to serve healthy meals on a regular basis, both to feed growing bodies and to establish good eating habits. These days, if you and your spouse want a martini and ice cream for dinner, you aren’t falling down on your job as a parent.
- For developing your own interests.You don’t resent the years you spent watching a sport you don’t especially like but that your children loved, participating in their education, or doing the thousand chores it takes to raise a family. But it left little time for your own hobbies, especially any interest that takes focused time. It’s wonderful to be able to read for a whole evening, to take up an instrument, to rehearse a play or to actually finish a project in a few weeks instead of a few years.
- For buying things for yourself.We do our best to give our kids what they need and a fair amount of what they want. Often that means sacrificing or putting off things we want or need ourselves. With no one needing new sneakers or field trip money or whatever, it’s wonderful to be able to buy ourselves treats now and then.
- To reconnect with your partner in a new way.Couple partnerships often suffer some neglect when they’re focused on raising children. Often communication is primarily around logistics (like who is driving which kid where) and problem-solving (like how to help Junior pass his history exam or how to discipline Sis who was out past curfew). With no children at home, partners can once again have longer and more meaningful conversations. They can rediscover each other and take their relationship to a new level.
- For more intimacy.With no risk of discovery by a child, it’s possible again to make love in the afternoon and in the living room. It’s possible to wear a naughty nightie instead of flannel pajamas. It’s okay to have a lingering kiss in the kitchen or to sexually tease. There’s no young person to shield from those personal intimacies and connections that are part of adult romance.
The Empty Nest: Opportunity or Crisis (Part 2) will be published on Friday, April 4, 2013.