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.

Nest 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Nest 521
(photo credit: 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 lives.
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 make.
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 make mistakes.
• 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 once.
• 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 protected] or visit her website at www.drbatyaludman.com. Her book, Lifes Journey. Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts, was recently published by Devora Publishers.