The term “empty nest” conjures up images of the once typical nuclear family in which both Mom and Dad find themselves alone after their two or three children have left home for college, career, and families of their own. However, in many families today, by the time the nest empties, Mom and Dad no longer live together. They may be alone, remarried, perhaps newlywed, widowed, raising step-children, raising grandchildren or their nest may be re-inhabited with grown-up children from time to time. Alternatively, many family nests never had children of their own, and some nests were previously filled with aging parents for whom you cared in their later years. To keep up with the many changes in family life during recent decades, I think it’s time to discuss life in different kinds of empty nests. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
Things to do in an empty
nest. Regardless of the circumstances, an empty nest will find you
wondering what to do with your new found time and energy. Ideally, this is a
time when we can sit back and applaud our children as they graduate from the
security of their childhood nest. Ideally, as children move away, parents will
remember how they used to play! Ideally, it becomes possible to engage in new
or previous favorite activities and interests. And ideally, couples who are
still together can rekindle the spirit of their relationship prior to having
children and return to a lifestyle which is more intimate, private and fun.
What to do if you find
yourself alone in your empty nest. For those who are widowed, divorced, or
never married, an empty nest in mid-life provides an opportunity to re-direct
the focus of your social life and career activities. As children move away
from home, it is not healthy for either of you if they remain the central
focus of your life. Adult children need to separate from their parents. They
need room to grow and change and establish their own nests, even if this means
leaving a parent who is alone at home. They need to learn how to fly
independently and stand on their own. Otherwise, the launch into their adult
lives may be hampered by feelings of guilt and resentment. Ideally, even
parents who are left alone will adopt the role of cheerleader, cheering their
children on toward a life and career in which they can be successful. Most of
all, our children need to know that we are proud of them and confident in
their ability to fly skillfully on their own.
What to do when you’re a
newlywed in an empty nest. Sometimes the launching of children coincides
with the time when you, yourself are in a new marriage. As your children leave
home, your new spouse may be cheering and celebrating at a time when you are
feeling vulnerable and sentimental about your empty nest. Rather than suffer
in silence, start talking out loud to your mate and let your feelings
be known. Your spouse needs to know your thoughts and feelings so that
together, you can adapt to this change in your family. Couples grow closer
when they navigate personal changes together. If your marriage started with
children, you may not yet have developed the closeness that is possible when
the two of you are alone. Embrace this opportunity to focus on each other.
Step-children and grandchildren may be waiting to re-inhabit your nest sooner
than you think.
What to do when your children are not human. For many of us, our nest has been filled with our pets, who are our children. In this case, our nests become empty due to the death of our loved ones. Because of their shorter life-spans, it is important to plan your family carefully. For those of us who don’t ever want to find ourselves in a completely empty nest, the trick is to always have more than one “animal” child. Further, I recommend adding a young animal to the family herd every few years to avoid the trap of having all of your pets enter their elder years at the same time. This is also important because family pets serve as mentors for each other; they pass along learned behaviors and teach each other the family rules.
As we learned in the game of musical chairs, it is important to consider your strategy for support in the future. The one thing we can predict is that the census of our family nest will change over time. With this in mind, a little family planning is necessary in order to avoid being left completely alone. Those who are a little short on relatives must work hard to develop a family network among their friends. In addition to your longtime friends, continue to expand your circle of close relationships by making new friends whenever possible. Especially, strive to make friends with people younger than yourself. They are more likely to keep your thoughts fresh and your life active, and they are more likely to outlive you!
Like the actual nest of a bird, we can build a strong foundation of support that will last for many years if we are willing to make regular repairs and “re-feather” our nest from time to time. However, if we fail to upgrade our nests, they will deteriorate over time and leave us feeling “emotionally homeless.” In all cases, with a little planning, you can insure that your empty nest will not become an empty life.
©Copyright, 2005, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
Return to Love and Marriage
Return to Table of Contents