I’ve never been a big fan of the term “empty nest.” I get the idea behind it: the kids have flown away and now it’s just the parents left at home. But the connotation is one of sadness. Let’s face it, “empty” doesn’t leave one feeling full.
During this time of year, lots of middle-aged parents are feeling empty. Their kids have gone off to college, or have finished college and have gone off to start new lives. In the past, families mostly stayed in the general area, but those days are gone. Now the next generation literally flies out of the nest, to another state and another life, one in which only another flight will bring them home.
That can leave parents looking around wondering what to do with themselves. What does this next stage of life look like, and how do you make it full, rather than empty?
- Focus on and rediscover your spouse. It’s been a long time since it was just the two of you. And while the annoyances will likely amplify for a while (did he always chew like that???) it’s important to try to settle into a comfortable vibe with your spouse again. For the first time in a long time, you can eat dinner and focus only on each other. You can establish your own routines and be on your own schedule. Finding your rhythm as a couple may come with some frustration, but it will also bring great rewards. You will rediscover what you loved about your partner in the first place, what you had forgotten about, and what you can do again.
2. Have an adventure. This is also the time when you can pretty much do whatever you want without being on anyone else’s schedule. How liberating! So make the most of it! Get dressed up, go into the city, and have a nice dinner. Spend a day on the water deep-sea fishing and then cooking up the fresh fish. Make plans with other couples and talk about something other than your kids. The point is that the sky is the limit, so walk away from Netflix and do something fun. One of the greatest predictors of a long relationship is having fun together.
3. Find new hobbies or resurrect old ones. When we have kids, our own interests can take a back seat to theirs. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do what everyone wants to, and parents are notorious for being the biggest sacrificers in the world. But now it’s your time! If your Saturdays were spent at your daughter’s soccer games, trade that out for a round of golf. If you’ve always loved to read but could never find the quiet time, now you can nestle in a cozy nook and read for hours. A couple’s hobby takes that one step further. Research shows that enjoying a hobby together increases dopamine levels, raises intimacy and builds a strong bond.
4. Travel during shoulder and off-peak seasons. You no longer need to schedule vacations when your kids are off of school, allowing you to choose times when rates are low and deals are everywhere. The travel industry raises and sometimes doubles rates during the holidays and over summer when families are able to travel. Now, you can travel to the same places for half the cost. Better, you can travel to destinations that may not have interested your kids or resorts and locales that are meant for adults. Did you know that statistically speaking, couples who travel together stay together? It’s yet another reason to make this a priority, even if it’s just a road trip a few hours away.
5. Experiment with food. Those days of having to cook for multiple tastes and preferences, or denying your own to sacrifice for your kids, are over. Now you can cook whatever you like or dine at restaurants that suit your palate. My husband and I have branched out into all types of cooking I wouldn’t have attempted when my kids were home. We’ve discovered savory vegetarian dishes, great cuts of meat we couldn’t have afforded when our kids were home, and the marriage of specific wines paired with wonderful counterpart foods. Dinner has gone from being a rushed affair, squeezed in between kid activities, to a relaxing time to just sit and enjoy. And let’s just say that our palate is way more sophisticated now that it has expanded beyond grilled cheese and spaghetti dishes.
What you’ll notice in all of the above is that empty nesting gives you a chance to relax and let loose. This is YOUR time! Have fun with your spouse and enjoy creating a life of “just two” again. You can be closer than ever, and all it takes is a little effort and creativity, along with a willingness to make this next stage of life an adventure. Your nest isn’t empty. It’s just perfect for two.