The empty nest
Once your offspring leave home, your identity will be redefined and your relationship with your partner and all of your children will change.
Empty Bird's Nest Photo: Wikimedia Commons
After 33 years of marriage we had our first “bayit reik,” as our kids would
refer to an empty home. Not that we left them home alone, but rather they
all seemed to have left us. We didn’t know this would happen when we invited
several other couples for Shabbat dinner, but they kindly helped us deal with
our otherwise very quiet house. They also politely asked about our children and
sincerely appeared to miss them.
Truth be told, so did we – at least for
a short while. Imagine having no children’s heads to put our hands on and bless
before the meal. Shabbat lunch came around and it was just Hubby and me; How
weird that was. But quiet and the chance to reconnect and even relax over a
leisurely lunch are not so bad. “Sans kids” will soon become a new phase in our
While somewhat sad in that we can’t turn the clock back and relive
many of those happy years, it is indeed wonderful to see our children test out
their values, skills and independence as they head off to the army, National
Service, university or travel. We may not agree with all of their choices, and
giving them space to grow isn’t always easy as we struggle with no longer
feeling needed, but it is actually exciting to see how they arrive at their
decisions. When your kids leave the nest, both you and they have adjustments to
When children prepare to leave home, the parent-child relationship
changes. You may question whether they are ready to be on their own and whether
you are ready to let them go. Nevertheless, once your nest is empty, your
identity will be redefined and your relationship with your partner and all of
your children will change. This adjustment may take longer and be more stressful
than you anticipated. You may feel sad, lonely, scared, concerned or anxious as
you and your partner navigate an unknown future. If you’re dealing with other
losses at the same time, such as coping with aging parents or medical or
job-related issues, your child’s leaving may seem even more difficult. Men and
women experience a child’s departure differently, which in itself may exacerbate
issues. Sometimes a child has been a major help at home or served to keep a
couple together, and the dynamics between each parent and child and between the
two parents will now change as well.
SO HOW can you make the departure
easier? Here are a few thoughts.
• Recognize that your role is changing.
Be there to offer support – but as a consultant, not a manager. Stay in the
background. You have taught them to become more independent. Now they
need the opportunity to try out their independence. Remember, they need to find
out who they are and how they fit in. This takes time. As they grow, they will
• Stay connected but give them space and privacy. Don’t
call them all the time or be available 24/7. Your challenge will be to figure
out how to be helpful while not being overly intrusive. As they learn to solve
their own issues and make their own decisions, they will feel increasingly more
confident and this means that they will need you less. This is a good
thing, even though it may not feel like it!
• Let them know that they are always
welcome home. While it is tempting to redecorate their rooms as soon as they
have packed their last bags, perhaps you can instead sort through and get rid of
old stuff together. Kids need to know that their home is still their castle and
is warm, safe and there for them. Unless you have no choice, be gentle and don’t
rush. Your child shouldn’t have to deal with too many transitions at
• Be interested in their new lives. Talk less and listen more and
you will have a chance to see just how they are evolving and adjusting. Don’t be
critical when they do it differently than you would or if they don’t ask your
advice. Help them in a gentle way to explore their options. Give advice only
when they ask or when you feel it is absolutely necessary. You might be quite
surprised to hear how they think for themselves.
• Recognize that once a
child leaves, he never comes home again in quite the same way. As you begin to
relate to one another as respectful adults, you’ll benefit from open discussions
about the need to evolve new house rules that differ from before, as
expectations and responsibilities change with time.
• Develop your own
interests – especially if they have been put on hold. Get involved with
non-kid-focused tasks. Consider volunteering, getting into an exercise routine
or getting a subscription to the theater. Let your children know that while you
have appreciated having them around and will miss them and love them dearly,
their task is to create their own lives as confident and independent adults and
not to worry about you.
Being a twosome again will enable you to get back
in touch with all that you may have let slide or put on the back
burner. Having a child move out may give you the time, energy and
interest to enable you to reconnect to your spouse in ways you haven’t in years,
and this can feel like a second honeymoon. Leisurely walks, sharing an
interesting article or just making time for each other a priority can go a long
way toward remembering why you fell in love with your partner in the first place
and enable you to make a good marriage even better.
Dr. Batya L. Ludman
is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. Send
correspondence to email@example.com or visit her website at
www.drbatyaludman.com. Her book, Lifes Journey. Exploring Relationships –
Resolving Conflicts, was recently published by Devora Publishers.