Moving the last child out of the house is a difficult day, for some one of the most difficult days in all of parenthood. Your child is embarking on the first day of their life as a fully-independent adult, embarking towards a horizon of possibilities, the first day of their own life. Their excitement is mirrored by your feelings. Not despair, but a peculiar mix of happiness and sadness, fullness and emptiness. This moment represents the beginning of so much, the ramping-up of life for your children, but feels like an end to much of life for you and your partner, appears to be the beginning of a ramping-down. Appearances can be deceiving however, and though in this moment it may feel like much of life is over, it’s important to recognize that much of life is just beginning.
Having spent decades organizing your collective effort around a single focus, your children, all marriages experience an awkward period of ‘lateral drift’ as they are forced to find a new reason for being. Your relationship has abruptly lost its primary objective, and this can feel like a quiet crisis. Your children have been your life, and now that they’re gone, it’s like they’ve taken your life with you. While this feels terrible, it is supposed to. Like the moment of childbirth that started this whole thing off, what feels painful in the immediate moment is an investment in opening up a whole world of possibilities that, handled properly, can lead to incredible fulfillment.
Recognizing and Dealing With Common Problems
Handling this opportunity properly is what differentiates fulfilling post-children marriages from the unfulfilling ones, and knowing how to do so starts by recognizing when you or your partner are acting improperly. While every individual is going to act, think, and feel differently in response to an empty nest, there are a few common problems an empty-nest is typically known to bring to a marriage that, recognized and dealt with, can pave the way for the fulfilling future you and your partner can share.
Dealing with Distance
A life spent pouring your energy every day into raising your children can lead to a strange distance between you and your partner. You may be have questions like ‘without the kids, what will hold us together?’ ‘What will my marriage look like now?’
After 20+ years managing the chaotic storm that is family life, the focus of your relationship has been your children first, not your significant other, and all this time and experience has changed them into an entirely different person; it’s changed you as well. When your kids move out, the focus is suddenly back on your partner, and you might feel like you don’t know what to do. You feel like you should be engaging once more in a romantic relationship, but the person in front of you is not the same as the person he/she once was, so you’re not sure how or even if you can.
Starting over romantically can be difficult, because while you two are different people, the experiences that make you who you are now are shared, and old resentments carry over and can be hard to let go of. Actionable advice on how to address this is one of the primary benefits of Marriage Counselling for empty nesters. This is something that most marriages post-children have to deal with, so we have experience guiding hundreds of couples through this exact problem. Access to this knowledge is only a single call or email away, so if you feel that it could benefit you, please feel free to get in touch.
Exposed Marital Problems
Every marriage has its issues, and the constant management of children can provide a convenient ‘screen’ that allows you and your partner to ignore them. It might seem like an empty nest is the cause of issues between you and your partner, but more likely, you’re being forced to deal with problems you’ve always had, but haven’t always had to focus on. Problems get put on hold for so long that couples forget they were even there, and when they come back into view, you find that they run deep, sometimes so deep that dealing with them can seem impossible. Often, instead of dealing with these problems, partners tend towards finding new screens, different ways to focus on anything but the problems at the core of a relationship.
When it comes to unhealthy responses to the anxiety caused by these marital issues, men and women are known to typically stick to certain behavioral patterns. Women, typically seeking an outlet for the pent-up desire to nurture, will often cope with their anxiety by immersing themselves in opportunities to care for others. This can manifest in investing attention in the care of parents, pets, friends, and sometimes plants. Men on the other hand are generally known to invest their energies in work and hobbies. Long hours at the office or workshop can be a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety. In both of these cases, these actions in-and-of-themselves are not harmful, but can be if performed for the purpose of ignoring a problem that is causing them stress.
If you come to the conclusion that you or your partner are grappling with problems that you are investing energy in not dealing with, we would urge you to get in touch with Capital Choice Marriage Counselling. These problems can be so ingrained in the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of you and your partner that it’s nearly impossible to look at them without bias. After the decades you’ve spent practicing them, the perspective and help of an independent professional can go a long way to addressing them. If the possibility of Marriage Counselling is something that you might be interested in, get in touch with Capital Choice and we can connect you to a counsellor that suits your needs.
Trying Out New Roles, Holding Onto Old Ones
So much of a person’s identity gets attached to parenting, that when parenting is over, it feels like much of who we are is over as well. The self-concept that we build throughout the decades of parenting becomes ingrained at the core of our being and then, one day, is simply no longer called for. This can be a weird experience, as the opportunity to try new things is exciting, but the fact that we can’t control this change can be daunting. It leads us to simultaneously reach out for new things, but desperately hold on to old ones.
Fathers have little son’s and daughter’s that once looked up to them as a fountain of wise advice, but now find their children to suddenly be fully competent adults. Mothers crave to be the source of love and warmth for their children, a safe place to run to when scared or hurt, but now find their children are independent. On one hand, not having these roles allows us to be something new to and for our children, but on the other hand, we’re not so ready to abandon the roles we consider so central to who we are.
In this case, you can have your cake and eat it too by simply changing your perspective with respect to an aspect of your role as guide for your children. You can maintain the parental identity you hold so close and establish a new identity that fits the circumstances of your current life by realizing that you now have an opportunity to raise parents, not children. You’ve been through the gauntlet that is parenting. You’ve learned the lessons, made the mistakes, and now have a fantastic opportunity to pass that experience onto your children.
How to Not Go Crazy
You’ve gone through decades with the interests of others above your own, it has become a fundamental part of who you are, and it has defined your relationship with your significant other. It’s understandable that this abrupt change would cause discomfort for you and your relationship, but, with work this discomfort can lead you to a new era of fulfillment. You have invested decades in your children, and have now earned the opportunity to invest in yourself, but taking advantage of this opportunity can bring forth a whole host of thoughts and feelings that you don’t know how to deal with. For this, we recommend the assistance of Capital Choice Counselling.
Your future is ahead of you, whether you feel that way or not. Get there faster by getting in touch with Capital Choice Counselling.