You have been married for over twenty years. And while your marriage has had its ups and downs, you have always been able to rally as a couple around your children. In some respects, raising your children has been the foundation of your life together as a couple. You can’t even remember how it was before you were parents.
Now the time has come. Your last child has officially left the nest. You’ve done it! You have successfully launched your children and the house that was once filled with activity and chaos is quiet. The time spent driving, advising, correcting, monitoring, and teaching your children is now free. The space in your identity that was filled with parenting responsibilities has shifted. And while you feel like you should be celebrating, you instead feel lost.
Many parents, who have devoted their time, energy, and identity on parenting, hit a crisis when the children are gone. Many couples, who have devoted their time, energy, and identity on parenting, will also find themselves in crisis when their last child leaves the home. This is not only common but a natural milestone that couples hit as they move through their lives.
This time of year is the time that many young adults leave the nest for college or for good. It is important to address all the issues that surface during this important milestone, both on an individual as well as relational level. Here is my 4 step process for dealing with an empty nest.
- Acknowledge how much of your and your relationship’s identity has been allocated to the role of parenting. You may be surprised to discover that you have come to depend on this role in order to feel needed, useful, important, visible, or loved.
- Inquire into all that is lost as a result of this shifting role. While you will always be a parent and will always be needed by your children, the role and quality of that relationship is different. What losses exist? What are your fears in regards to how you see yourself and your relationship with your spouse or partner?
- Begin to define a new identity and vision for your life and your relationship. What passion and activities do you want to introduce into your life and relationship? Create a vision for how you see your new focus and purpose. Create your relationship vision together with your spouse or partner.
- Create and implement a plan. Have concrete goals and steps you will take to reach those goals. Check in with yourself and your spouse or partner on a regular basis and see how things are progressing. Creating a new purpose and meaning necessitates creating a new mindset and taking action that supports it.
Remember, transitions are a process. Shifts in identify and purpose take time to take shape and form. Don’t get discourage if you feel moments of discomfort along the way. There are losses to move through, emptiness to contend with, and new behaviors to try on. Inevitably, you will have moments of confusion, disorientation, and anxiety. But as you move through the transition, you will find that a new chapter awaits you—one filled with opportunities and rewards you never imagined possible. Enjoy!
If you find yourself or someone you love struggling in dealing with an empty nest, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m here to help. This is a normal part of life but can be a challenging one nevertheless. As always, I’m here to support you in creating strong and powerful relationships.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
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