he transition to an empty nest is a time of mixed emotions and seemingly endless questions. After decades of centering on your children and orbiting around their schedules, the abruptness of having a newly child-free home can be discomfiting.
“For some, children leaving home highlights the distance that grew during the parenting years and culminates in both spouses starting a new journey, separately,” says Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart, a University of Iowa associate professor of communication studies and senior research fellow at the UI Public Policy Center. “Yet for others, it’s a time of renewal and reprioritization of themselves and their relationship.”
Here are six tips from Mikucki-Enyart that can help you navigate this phase of life:
When your partner shares their feelings, ask if they want support (just listen) or solutions (give advice). Although tempting, don’t immediately jump in and try to make sad feelings go away or douse them with toxic positivity. Listening helps validate their emotional experience.
The transition to empty nest is exhilarating and saddening. It creates freedom and a sense of loss. This inflection point is full of both/and-ness, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
Your identity may center on being a parent, and that’s OK, but now is the time to learn about you the person, not the parent. Take time to explore local classes and determine what types of activities ignite your passion, provide comfort, or challenge you intellectually.
Just like you’ve evolved, your spouse has too. What are their interests and hobbies? What are their thoughts on current events? Take time to listen.
While you are reacquainting, it’s a great time to redesign the future. Maybe you both dreamed of a lake house in retirement; is that still true, or would you rather travel more? Take time to create and nurture the marriage you want for the people you are now, not who you were 20- plus years ago.