Good morning. The armchair psychologist with you today, and since I have had several chats with new blog friends on the good and bad of being empty nesters, I thought I might share a few reasons why I think it works.
I remember panicking the year my youngest was a senior in high school, realizing my only defining job was “mom.” I jumped into classes at the junior college and was embarking on an ambitious career as a psychologist when I realized about halfway through the semester there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do in that department with the degree that I wasn’t doing already. I also realized I would have to work about ten years with the hours I wanted just to pay for the degree. Over the years, I have counseled many women (never being short on opinion) and worked with battered women as an abuse counselor with nothing but reading a lot of professional material on the subject and on-the-job training. Downright scary, isn’t it! Except that I believe that God gave me a ministry to women so He equips me for every good work. It takes different forms at times, but my favorite part is connecting with women and in so doing, pointing to God as Light and Wisdom. So, that said, here’s my little bit of advice for living happily together as empty nesters.
Mike and I have spent the better part of our twenty-seven years raising children—almost twenty-six of those years have been either anticipating or in the throes of full childhood bedlam. Mike is an excellent dad and so he went through almost the same identity crisis as I did when they all moved out. We both were a little lost as to what was next. What we’ve learned after four years of having grown children is this:
- Your kids still need you, only in different ways.
- A good night’s sleep is an actual possibility again. This goes back to the theory “Out of sight. Out of mind.” You don’t know what time they got in, so you don’t worry (as much.)
- Your husband becomes someone you enjoy spending time with again, instead of just someone to help share the load. This is the best part and one we still don’t take full advantage of.
- There are plenty of good things that define each day and give it meaning besides the chaos of carpools, calendars, cars, colleges, and crazy moods of teenagers.
- To grow, the marriage needs redefining and refining at certain life stage changes, whether it is having a baby, a move, a child leaving home, or retirement.
Back to point # 3, though. Mike and I were just discussing how we had defined most of our lives around what all we did with the kids, including most of our friendships and time spent together having fun. The worst thing that can happen is you both drift apart, and loneliness sets in, not having shared experience. Michael Rierra, in his book, Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, speaks of shared experiences as the number one risk for teenagers acting out. Rierra states,
“ To understand why certain risky behaviors are worthwhile for adolescents takes a little digging on the part of parents. The main consequence of saying ‘no’ to negative peer pressure is not just withstanding the ‘heat of the moment’ as most adults think. Rather, it is coping with a sense of exclusion as others engage in the behavior and leave the adolescent increasingly alone. It is the loss of shared experience. Further, the sense of exclusion remains whenever the group later recounts what happened. This loneliness then becomes pervasive…”
Though Rierra is talking about risky behavior in teens, I think it applies to marriages. The value of shared experience should not be underestimated. We need time together having fun. It rarely happens automatically. Mike and I have decided to do two new things together this year—small steps, but ones, we hope, with big payoff. We are going to learn how to play bridge with another couple that we don’t know very well yet, and we are going to go to a Bible study together. Just two little things, but with our busy and ever-increasingly distant lives, we need to orchestrate some “together” time, and enjoy a little shared experience again.