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We’re halfway through May, and that means graduation season. Students are graduating from high school and college and starting a new chapter in their lives. New opportunities are on the horizon. But as the students begin a new chapter, so do many parents. A graduating student means the nest is emptying or possibly empty. 

It’s common for parents to struggle as kids leave. As parents, we often give most of our time, energy, and attention to our children. We believe we have limited time with our children, so they become our focus. But once they graduate and leave the house, your focus is gone, and it’s just you and your spouse. If you haven’t focused on each other, you may feel lost during this time. Empty nest syndrome kicks in.

What is empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is the wash of emotions that affects parents when their children have grown up and left home to attend college, military, or work in another state. The emotions range from sadness to extreme grief, anxiety, and identity issues.  

Each parent reacts differently, though. Some may experience joy and excitement for their child. Others may feel as if they have no purpose going forward. So, how can a parent address empty nest syndrome? And how can you come alongside your spouse to help them out if they’re struggling?

1. Plan for it.

Graduation is coming. After your child has solidified their next steps, plan for how you will handle the following season. If you need support, plan an outing with friends to talk about how you feel. Remember, the goal of parenting is for your child to grow up and successfully leave home.

2. Find ways to occupy your time.

Maybe it’s time for a new hobby. If you’ve put off starting something new because you didn’t have time, the time has arrived. Give gardening or carpentry a try, take up golf, or join a book club.

3. Reconnect with your spouse.

If your relationship hasn’t been in the center of your family, it’s time for it to take its place there. Our kids’ activities can take the attention away from our marriage. Now is the perfect time to schedule some weekly date nights or a weekend getaway. Be intentional about reconnecting with your partner.

4. Stay connected with your child.

Even though your child has moved off, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a great relationship. Send them care packages with their favorite snacks. Talk, text, or FaceTime. Set realistic expectations, though. Your child is starting a new chapter in their life, and they may not want to talk to Mom or Dad every day.

5. Support your spouse in trying new things.

Maybe even try it with them.

6. Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.

Just because you may not feel the same doesn’t mean their feelings aren’t valid.

7. Do something to make your spouse feel special.

8. If necessary, encourage your spouse to seek help. 

Every parent experiences an empty nest at some point, but you don’t have to do this new season in your life alone. Talk to your spouse about empty nest syndrome. Reach out to friends and family who have already experienced the empty nest. Connect with other parents whose kids are attending the same school. Surround yourself with a community that cares for you and will walk with you during this time. 

Other helpful blogs:

Keys to Avoiding Empty Nest Divorce

8 Ways to Celebrate the Empty Nest

Making the Empty-Nest Transition

A Practical Guide for Empty-Nesters

When children leave the nest, it can be a very traumatic time for parents. You may second-guess how well you have prepared them to be out on their own. You might even be thinking about how things will be different at home with all the new time you have on your hands. This is what you’ve been working toward all these years, but there’s just something about letting go. It’s going to be hard to adjust as your child leaves for college.

There is no question your role as parent shifts as your young adult grows even more independent. While your child is becoming his/her own person and pursuing their dreams, some parents really mourn this milestone – and there is nothing wrong with that. It is for sure a shift. Now, you get to watch them spread their wings while you take a background role of being supportive and encouraging as well as providing a safe place for them to come for rest. 

If you are just beginning this adventure, it might be helpful to know a few things. Not everybody deals with this transition the same way. One parent may be experiencing tremendous grief while the other is excited not just for their college student, but also for the transition at home. Be careful not to judge. Instead, check in with each other to see how each of you is navigating through the change.

Talk about ways you can encourage your student while also caring for your own needs. Since you won’t be seeing your son or daughter every day, it might be helpful to write them weekly letters. Students say there is nothing better than going to their mailbox and actually having real mail. Periodic phone calls are great for staying connected, but letters are something they can keep and read over and over again.

If you are in the midst of making this transition, here are some suggestions for getting through the initial shock and how to adjust as your child leaves for college: 

Plan ahead. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to think about how you will deal with the extra time on your hands. Have some projects planned that you can focus on. Be intentional about planning things you can do on the weekend.

Set limits for yourself. 

As your child settles into a new routine, there will be lots of demands on their time. Instead of calling every day, let your child make the first phone call and try to limit yourself to checking in once a week. Email is also a great way to stay in touch and be supportive without being intrusive.

Be there when your child needs you. 

The first few months may also be hard for your child. Encourage them to hang in there. Send care packages and cards. Make your home a refuge they will want to come back to. Avoid making major changes to your child’s room.

Consider the next thing. 

As your parenting role changes yet again, you will want to consider what’s next. Keep your eyes and heart open to where you need to go in life and what you want your life to be about. 

Letting go can be especially hard, but it would be a shame to be so wrapped up in your loss that you miss what your child needs from you in this season of their life. You can adjust as your child leaves for college! Different seasons call for changes, and although this particular season is new to you, remember that you’ve dealt with changes and challenges since you brought them home. All those moments have led you to this place.

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

It’s coming and you know it’s coming, and you’re doing everything in your power NOT to think about it. But when your youngest child leaves and you’re alone with a deafeningly silent house, you’ll want to be ready for the transition.

Thousands of young people head off to college each year, leaving their parents with a lot of time on their hands. Although they understand their role has changed, they are not quite sure what that means. Everything is different. No more school sports. No need to buy so many groceries. The mess throughout the house? Gone. It’s officially an empty-nest.

Some parents are excited about this newfound freedom while others find this time rather depressing.

“Making this transition can be tough,” says Pam Johnson, licensed clinical social worker and mother of two adults who have flown the nest. “You have to stay focused on the idea that your child is becoming his own person and pursuing dreams, which was the goal all along. Instead of lamenting the fact they don’t need you anymore, think about what they do need and the opportunity you have before you. As parents, we often put off our own interests to focus our attention on the needs of our children. This is a new season filled with opportunities.”

Johnson recalls that when her daughter went off to college, she and her husband dealt with the transition differently. Her world was turned upside down, but her husband seemed to take everything in stride. When she asked him about it, he explained that their daughter was happy. And he felt confident they had given her a great foundation to stand on her own two feet.

Johnson offers these strategies for making the transition to the empty-nest:

  • Plan ahead. Don’t wait until your child leaves to think about how you will deal with your extra time. Plan some projects to occupy your time. Be intentional about scheduling weekend activities you can do as a couple.
  • Set limits for yourself. As your child settles into a new routine, there will be lots of demands on their time. Let your child make the first phone call and try to limit yourself to checking in once a week. E-mailing or texting are great ways to check in and be supportive without being intrusive.
  • Be there when your child needs you. The first few months may be hard for your child. Encourage perseverance. Send care packages and cards. Make your home a refuge to which they will want to return.
  • Consider the next thing. You have been given the gift of being a parent for a season of life. As that role changes into the empty-nest, you will want to consider what’s next. Keep your eyes and heart open to where you need to go in life and what you want your life to be about.

“Letting go is hard,” Johnson says. “You want to let go of them gracefully.

“Here’s a little secret. When they come home, you will be happy to see them come home AND you will be happy to see them go because you will have transitioned into new routines and rituals that aren’t all about them.”

Image from Unsplash.com

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

You walk through the door after dropping your baby off at college. The silence is deafening. Who knew that one more person could add so much noise to the house?

Trying to hold back the tears, you wonder what they’re up to. Will they miss you? How long will it take them to call? Will they pay attention to a thing you taught them?

Even if the past few months have been challenging, there is something about an empty nest that jolts you into a new reality. Life will never be the same. Ready or not, the next season of life has arrived.

Experts say that couples who find themselves “alone again” often find it hard to adjust. For years—schedules, meals, activities, everything—revolved around the kids. This moment in time can feel like an identity crisis, but you never really stop being a parent. You just parent in a different way when they head off to college. Instead of directing, you now move into a supporting role.

Right now, you may feel like you will never be the parents on television who sadly said goodbye to their college-bound child and then joyfully headed to Disney World.

Take a deep breath and try some of these suggestions as a practical guide for empty-nesters.

They may guide you to make the transition a bit easier:

  • Acknowledge the change. This time offers you a great opportunity to redefine yourselves and your marriage.
  • Get some rest. Since you aren’t coordinating meals, after-school activities and other things, you can actually go to bed at 8PM if you want. Allow yourself to slow down, settle in and rejuvenate!
  • Allow yourself to grieve. It’s common to feel a sense of loss or regret during this time. And, FYI: The empty nest hits men just as hard as women.
  • Resist the temptation to fill up your schedule. While you may feel a huge void in your life, instead of filling up the time and space with new commitments, enjoy your newfound freedom.
  • Ask for help if you need it. If your empty nest marriage is showing signs of withdrawal, alienation or negativity, seek professional counseling. It can help you process all that is going on.
  • Keep your sense of humor. It will definitely help you get through the tough times.
  • Stay connected. Care packages, real cards in the mail, emails and the occasional phone call are great ways to stay connected to your teen without coming across as overbearing, miserable or desperate.
  • Enjoy the silence. Remember the times you would have killed for just five minutes of complete quiet? Instead of fearing the silence, embrace it.
  • Reconnect with your spouse. You can now plan romantic dates, schedule gatherings with friends, take up something new like skydiving; AND, you can even walk around the house naked if you want!
  • Finally, CELEBRATE!

Parenting takes a tremendous amount of time and energy, but you’re an empty-nester now! Launching your child into the next phase of life is quite an accomplishment. It’s important to acknowledge where you have come from and where you want your relationship to go in the future. This is your time…enjoy!

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

The top 10 resolutions for each new year are often to: lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, enjoy life to the fullest, stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others in their dreams, fall in love, and spend more time with family. These are great goals, but studies show that without accountability, your goals will be out the window in a month. But what if you and your spouse made some fun resolutions to build a healthy marriage?

Here are some examples of resolutions for a healthy marriage to help you out:

  • Don’t come in and want to “talk” during the Super Bowl unless you want to pick a fight. Instead, schedule time for uninterrupted conversation on a regular basis. Just five minutes a day can make a huge difference in your relationship.
  • If you want to know what’s going on in his head, don’t ask your man to share his feelings. Simply ask, “What do you think?” Chances are good you will actually end up knowing how he feels.
  • Eat dinner together. Seriously, taking time away from the television and other technology to eat together enhances communication and connectedness, and that’s crucial to a healthy marriage. If you have children, feed them early and plan a late dinner for yourselves.
  • Help your spouse with organization, but remember it’s OK to be spontaneous.
  • Help your spouse be spontaneous, but remember it’s OK to plan. The key to both of these goals is clearly balance. Too much planning or spontaneity can make marriage miserable.
  • If your goal is good health, pay attention to what you eat, get enough rest and exercise regularly. Moderation in eating is important. Take walks together holding hands. Studies show that holding your mate’s hand can decrease your blood pressure. Who knows? This exercise could lead to more “fun exercise.”
  • Set goals together no matter what. Decide on one thing you want to accomplish together this year and make plans to see it happen. Doing things as a team throughout the years will help you prepare for becoming empty-nesters.
  • Find ways to encourage your spouse. The truth is, most people know deep down what their weaknesses are, but often have trouble knowing and acknowledging their strengths.
  • Figure out how to live within your means. At the end of life, relationships trump material things.
  • Don’t forget, if you want to have a little fun, you can still embarrass your teenagers by just showing up.
  • Compete with your spouse by learning to out-serve each other. Selfishness comes naturally, but selflessness takes intentional effort.

If you do the above, you’ll probably lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, enjoy life to the fullest, get healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others fulfill dreams, fall more in love with your spouse, and spend more time with family. Who knew?

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Why do some couples embrace the empty nest while others end up in divorce court?

“There are lots of sides to the empty nest that are complicated,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, psychologist. “Many experience depression, feelings of sadness, anxiety, identity crisis and significant grief. I remember when our daughter loaded up the van and headed to Oregon. I sat on the curb and sobbed—I was inconsolable for several days.”

There are various responses to the empty nest varies from couple to couple. Women and couples with an only child, however, seem to experience the loss more intensely.

“A huge part of dealing with the transition to the empty nest comes down to how strongly a person identifies with their parenting role to the exclusion of their own self-identity,” Hickman shares. “When things come to an abrupt end, if all you have done for 18 years is focus on your child’s needs, many parents struggle to remember the kinds of things they enjoyed before children came into the picture.”

Additionally, it’s normal for each person to experience the empty nest with differing emotions within the couple relationship. One person may openly grieve the loss. Others may throw themselves more into work or a project as a distraction. This has created significant conflict in many marriages, and can lead to an empty nest divorce.

So what is the key to transitioning to the empty nest with your marriage strong and ready for the next phase of life?

“First and foremost, avoid focusing on your children’s needs to the exclusion of your own needs and the needs of your marriage,” Hickman says. “Having children does not mean you give up your friends and the best interests of your marriage. When parents put children at the center of their world, they send the message that their children’s needs trump everybody else’s needs in this community.”

When your children are older, you may want to prepare for launching a new career when they launch. There’s nothing wrong with taking a class or two, which in turn requires the kids to step up and help with chores and dinner preparation.

Remember, you are modeling how to do marriage well. If it is always about the children and never about the relationship, what message are you sending your children?

Anything you don’t cultivate will die. Children demand a lot, but you don’t want to ignore your marriage relationship. It is the foundation for a stable home which research shows children need to thrive. Many parents complain they can’t go anywhere because their children just keep calling them and driving them crazy. Hickman contends that parents train their children how to treat them. Setting clear boundaries and expectations is essential.

Preparing for the empty nest starts when your child is born,” Hickman asserts. “Your well-being and the well-being of your marriage are as important as the well-being of your child. Recognizing from the moment you find out you are pregnant that you have 18 years with this child, but you have the rest of your life with your spouse can help you cast a vision for keeping your marriage a priority.”

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Young Adults Living with Their Parents

You can prepare them now to thrive after they leave.

Do you remember your young adult years? You know, the times when you ate Ramen noodles and searched for spare change beneath the couch cushions and between the car seats because you were a starving student or just starting a new job.

There is nothing like knowing you are just barely making it – but still surviving – on your own. Looking back, you may realize those hard years helped you appreciate what you now have.

The landscape looks vastly different than it did twenty years ago.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center report, more 18- to 34-year-olds are living with their parents.

Researchers speculate this is fueled in large part by the number of people choosing to put off marriage.

If you think back to your teenage years, most teens couldn’t wait to be out on their own. Even if they didn’t have a job, they were determined to prove they could make it independently. So why are so many young adults choosing to live at home these days?

In The Many Reasons More Young Adults Are Living with their Parents, Naomi Schaefer Riley, a weekly columnist for the New York Post whose writing leans toward higher education, religion, philanthropy and culture, raises this question: Are parents doing enough to equip their children to leave the nest?

She surmises that young Americans may be living in their parent’s basement in part because they don’t have the economic or social tools to set out on their own. In a desire to protect and love their children and to shield them from experiencing potential problems in the world, parents may be unintentionally creating more obstacles for them.

This raises some important questions for parents to consider as they prepare their children to leave the nest.

  • Are you teaching your teens how to develop networks or do you encourage them to rely solely on your networks? Guiding them through the process of building their own network is a powerful step toward independence.

  • Do you allow your child to fail and learn from their mistakes?  Or, do you take care of the consequences so they don’t have to experience the pain? Figuring out how to move forward in spite of failure builds confidence.

  • Does your teen understand the definition of and the value of a good work ethic?  Employers constantly lament many young people’s understanding of punctuality or being respectful and motivated to do a good job.

  • Have you encouraged your teen to find a job without doing it for them?  It’s important to teach your teen how to look someone in the eye and put their cellphone away. Help them learn how to dress appropriately and what questions an interviewer may ask. These things are far more helpful for your teen in the long run than if you pick up the phone and make a call for them.

Except for special circumstances such as disability, emergencies or providing care to parents, is allowing adult children to live at home really the best thing for them? 

Part of launching into adulthood is learning how to navigate challenges and celebrate accomplishments. As hard as it may be, encourage them to learn the meaning of perseverance, relentless pursuit and independence.

The Second Half of Marriage

Staying together through life's ups and downs is possible.

When the kids leave the nest and are almost off the payroll, that second half of marriage is within sight. You finally have time to breathe. But suddenly you have questions…

  • What in the heck will we do with the second half of our marriage?
  • How will we handle the challenges of aging parents? Crises with the children or unexpected medical issues?
  • What about retirement, finances and the like?

While some couples look forward to the years ahead, others feel trapped. They’re unhappy in a marriage that is less than fulfilling… they wonder if this is all there is. For them, the idea of the second half is quite scary.

So… what does a thriving marriage look like in the later years? 

Gary Chapman and Harold Myra interviewed “second half” couples for their book, Married and Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. They found few couples who had escaped the unexpected challenges of life. However, some traits appeared to be significant between marriages that flourish in the second half and those that don’t. Laughter and acceptance, resilience and faith seemed to make the difference.

Whether the second half is just around the corner or you find yourself dreaming about it, you can prepare for it now. Chapman and Myra quote Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier’s book, The Adventure of Living:

“To make a success of one’s marriage, one must treat it as an adventure, with all the riches and difficulties that are involved in an adventure shared with another person.”

Even if your marriage is stuck in a rut, you can turn it into an adventure.

After years of marriage, it’s easy to focus on the differences between you and your spouse. But these differences aren’t necessarily bad things. The key is to figure out how to make your differences assets instead of liabilities.

Thriving couples learned to accept their spouse and were even able to laugh about their differences. This goes a long way in finding fulfillment in your marriage. Chapman writes, “While differences can be deadly, they can also be delightful.” 

What about the kids?

While many couples have terrific relationships with their adult children, others encounter one crisis after another. Chapman and Myra encourage these parents to maintain a balance between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Many marriages suffer when they become so focused on helping the children that they lose themselves. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help to overcome these challenges together.

Despite encountering unexpected job loss, illness, family crises and difficulty adjusting to retirement, thriving second-half couples kept putting one foot in front of the other. Their commitment to marriage enabled them to stand together through life’s ups and downs.

And finally, these thriving couples said their faith was central to it all. That includes working through personality differences and all of the other challenges they have faced.

Although you might be anxious about what the future holds in the second half of marriage, Chapman and Myra encourage couples to embrace the challenge and to enter this season with great anticipation.

Other blogs:

How to Find a Counselor Who Will Fight for Your Marriage

7 Ways to Deal With Adult Children Who Make Poor Decisions

Marriage Course: Understand Your Spouse & Deepen Your Relationship

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***