Monday, August 24, 2009

Empty Nest

Filling the empty nest: Nurturing each other post-child rearing. (For 8/24/09)

The house even sounds empty, doesn’t it? You walk in and your footfall seems to echo; the sounds of the refrigerator clanking on startles you with its suddenness; imaginary kid sounds emanate from empty upstairs rooms. Pictures on the mantel stare back, and you remember when they were that age, and marvel at quickly time has passed. You miss your children: the laughter in the house; the hum of their constant presence; the palpable sensation that they are there, and that they need you. They were job one for as long as you can recall. Now they’re gone, and you miss them.
But there’s something else you miss. You miss each other; the easy interaction before the kids came along; the ability to throw a change of clothes and a toothbrush in a bag, jump in the car, tear away to New York, or San Francisco, or Kansas City for a long weekend, and never even think about the house, or pets, or kids. It was so easy, and you took for granted that it always would be. All you needed was a little cash, and a roadmap, and you were perfectly content.
But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it? Admit it; you miss each other. The years of looking after the kids, being there for them whenever they needed you 24/7, always, always aware of their needs, presence, attachment, and care really did get between the two of you. Admit it. It happens to all of us. For long years we live for our kids.
And then one day they’re gone, off to school, careers, wives and husbands of their own, and you’re left with each other, almost strangers. And it happens so fast, almost like a whirlwind, that it can take your breath away. The real fear is that it has taken you away. Away from the one person you’ve shared the burden of child rearing with, the one person whom you miss even more than the kids.

Well, those people are still around, just a bit older, wiser, and equally curious about what happened to those two lovers who used to jump in the car and drive five hundred miles on a whim, have friends over till 2 a.m. playing Trivial Pursuit, or make love in the middle of the afternoon, blissfully carefree and unconcerned that you’d be interrupted. That’s the good news, you see? You now have that back again, and more, once you reorganize around the two of you, and let the kids go, because they’re already gone.
Today’s empty nesters have an advantage our parents didn’t have: once we get our kids out the door, launched and successful, we can easily be looking at another thirty years child free. Years of introducing ourselves to each other all over again; years of getting to know our spouses in ways we never could have imagined. We’re different people now, to be sure, and that’s very good news. We are, as indicated above, older, wiser, and even more exciting, we’re more interesting people. When we first met the spark of romance, of curiosity about the other was powerful. Not to mention the physical attraction, which seemed to overshadow everything else at times. Now we’re a lot more knowledgeable about the world, steeped in perspective, sure of ourselves, and confident. Plus, for most people, we have a lot more disposable income with the kids gone. And, if we’re willing to look at it objectively, that’s a much sexier, more appealing package than when we first met and all we had between us was perhaps a backpack full of books and our ambition to change the world.
Once the world has changed us, and the kids go away, here are a few ways to regain the connection we once enjoyed. Here are a few suggestions to reconnecting with your mate.

1 Set up a date. Call each other up, meet at a fine restaurant, and instead of going home, spend the night together at a hotel. Take the time to map out a real plan, a strategy for the next year or so concerning your goals and ambitions. It’s possible that neither of you even remembered the dream of living in Shanghai, teaching English, the fantasy you laughed about in college. You could rent the house, sign up with an agency and truly do that. Why not? At least talk it out. Talk about your money goals: you really could acquire a rental property, especially in this economy, and have it for income and a tax break. Talk about your plan for keeping the kids from returning home. No kidding, the boomerangers can disrupt even the best laid plans. Talk about what you’ll do if one of them can’t find work, and asks to come home. It could happen. It does happen.

2 Find a charity you both support, and make it your shared passion. There are fine organizations out there that need your help*. Get online and research one or two, then make a goal of helping. You were filled with an altruistic impulse years ago; rediscover that, and make it a shared commitment. One charity we support is, a fine group that allows you to bankroll women in third world countries with microcredit so they can establish a business of their own. There are no middlemen, the system works wonderfully well to elevate women in their society, and they even pay you back! There are many charities you and your spouse can help, and they’ll help you in return.

3 If you’re able to, take off for a year and travel. Friends of ours did this with a camper they converted, stocked, and drove all over the United States. Then they wrote about it. Their book ‘Live Your Road Trip Dream: Travel for a Year for the Cost of Staying Home’, by Phil and Carol White** chronicles their journey, and is filled with useful information on how to make it happen for yourself. Don’t have a year? Take the summer. Take a month. The idea is to get to know each other again, and reconnect. Done right, it can be a revelation.

4 Radical ideas may be the best ones. After all, this ain’t a dress rehearsal, as they say. Do you need all that house? If you find yourself asking why you have all that room to bang around in, why not sell it and move in to something smaller? Sure, the market is lousy, but who knows when it’ll get better? Besides, a seller becomes a buyer, and there are a lot of bargains out there. If you buy right, you may be better off. The real plus in this idea is the opportunity to clean out closets, shed a few thousand knick-knacks you’ve been wanting to dump, and to consolidate the artifacts of your life into a meaningful collection. Do you really want to keep that lava lamp? The yard sale could finance the microcredit loan to Kiva.

5 Just talk to each other again. Turn off the TV, the computer, the iPhones. Ignore the doorbell. Let the answering machine get the calls. Disappear into a shell for days at a time.
6 Take dance lessons. Join a travel club. Take classes together, either on campus or on line. Start a collection of something--art, glassware, old train sets, artifacts from your wedding year, autographs of authors or movie stars. First editions. Signed first editions. Write a book together. Start an empty-nesters club for recipes, dinners, plays, movies, sports activities, or the charity you picked. Start an investment club. There are an unlimited number of ways for you to rediscover a shared passion: your marriage, and each other.
The nest is only empty of kids, and it suddenly has a whole lot more room. This is your chance to nurture each other, and to start enjoying that nest egg you’ve been building.

*Try to check on every aspect of an organization, and to find worthwhile causes.
**©Copyright 2004 Phil and carol White


cathy said...

I love how this article provides some 'how to' steps! Always useful. I offer one other suggestion that may also help 'rekindle' a flame for Empty Nest couples, the product and story can be found online at
Cathy Bowles

Hide a Heart said...

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