Living in the Empty Nest

Living in the Empty Nest
by Susan B. McConnell
Author and Counselor

Failure to Launch, a popular movie that featured Matthew McConaughey, Terry Bradshaw, Sara Jessica Parker, and Kathy Bates, portrayed parents whose thirty something year old son still lived at home. The comedy's plot involved parents hiring a young girl to "lure" him out of the comfortable nest of his parents' home.
Most parents do not deal with a failure to launch their children from the nest. Instead, parents are reluctantly letting go of their adult kids who are ready to take off on their own into the world of work, apartment living, marriage, college education or military service.
For twenty plus years, parents have focused on raising children. From pregnancy to proms, life has centered on the needs of kids: preparing meals, shopping for clothes, toys and school supplies, trips to the dentist, doctor and orthodontist, cleaning house, feeding pets, watching kids play sports, sitting through dance recitals and concerts, packing up outgrown clothes and toys, teaching kids to drive everything from tricycles to automobiles, and numerous other tasks.
Suddenly, the house is quiet. The phone rarely rings. No popular music blares. The computer keyboard is silent. The laundry bin is empty. The refrigerator stays full. Hot water abounds. The organizer/calendar has clean white pages. The gas tank is full. What are parents supposed to do now that daily parenting tasks have ended?
First, understand that you are in a transition period. It takes time to adjust to change. Moms and dads react differently to an empty nest. Some may celebrate the accomplishment of launching children and look forward to focusing attention on other goals. Other parents may feel guilty about being "absent" when a child needed them or feel regret over ineffective parenting. Others may feel lonely and abandoned, not needed by children anymore. Studies show that many couples divorce after kids are raised because they don't feel a common bond or do not take the initiative to improve their marriage relationship.
Focus on other relationships when children are launched. Recall the reasons you fell in love with your mate and re-kindle those feelings. Establish a date night so that time is set aside for each other. Find other "empty nesters" with whom to socialize. Single parents might consider getting together with other single parents through organizations, church or dating. Spend time with friends and other family members. Remember sisters and brothers you grew up with but have been neglected during the busy parenting years? Plan a family get-together. Chances are that if your parents are still alive, they are getting older and require more attention. Spend time with them. If loneliness persists, consider getting involved with other teens and children through mentoring programs, church, student exchange programs, or by volunteering at schools.
Coming home to an empty house can lead to feelings of sadness. Change your daily routine. Exercise or walk after work instead of coming home. Dinner does not have to be prepared for hungry kids. Laundry and homework are not waiting. Eat light during the weeknights or meet an old friend for dinner.
Do something for yourself. Do you remember wanting to take a class, participate in a Bible study group, pursue an old hobby, learn a foreign language, join a philanthropic organization, start a book club? But those desires took a back seat during the busy years of raising children. Perhaps you would like to lose weight, get a massage, read a book just for fun, or take a weekend trip. Do something to encourage yourself and enjoy life.
With the launching of children, parents have another 25 to 30 years on average to live and enjoy life. What goals do you have the next thirty years? Think about short and long term goals. In the near future, you may consider cleaning out a closet, re-arranging the furniture in your child's room (without throwing away their stuff!), buying a new bedspread, painting the house, or hanging new pictures. Long term goals could include a new career path, continuing your education, travel, downsizing your home or planning for retirement.
Stay in touch with your grown kids. Cell phones and e-mail make it easy to talk to adult kids who live away. Make sure they have an economical plan for phones and internet use that will encourage them to stay in touch. Look forward to their coming home by preparing their favorite meal and asking what they would like to do when they visit. Consider meeting them in a new place such as a weekend trip to a destination between your home and theirs. Plan to visit on parents' weekend at college. When communicating with adult children, be encouraging and talk to them as adults. No nagging. No guilt trips. Let them ask for advice. Chances are adult kids will be resistant to lectures (just as they were during adolescence). With time, they will appreciate you as parents and seek your advice. Encourage them with positive communication.
Celebrate the successful raising of kids. That is the goal of having children-to raise them to be responsible adults. If you have accomplished that goal, congratulate yourself and reward yourself with the freedom of making new choices in life that focus on something other than raising kids.
Don't fret about the empty nest too long. The 2000 census reports that almost four million young adults between the ages of 25-34 live at home with parents. That empty nest may not last forever!