Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Nest is Empty, Now What Do We Talk About?

Many couples find it strange to suddenly be living alone, cooking alone, free to come and go as they please and not worry what time their offspring get in at night. Habits and worries that occupied so much of their lives outside of work are no longer present. Finding ways to occupy time and topics to talk about may provide a challenge. This can be especially hard when there has been a close connection between a parent and child.

One woman recently complained that she often felt depressed because she really missed her Wednesday night shopping and Sunday night movie dates with her daughter. She was worried that, now that her “playmate” was gone, her husband could not or would not fill that role in her life.

The transition is often easier when parents and children have had good relationships and can negotiate the changes in adult-like ways as relationships move from parent-child to more of a peer-like relationship. When there has been hostility or anger a painful move out of a parents’ home, it is much more difficult to feel positive and good about these changes.

When children have been a worry, it is not easy to let go of the worry. One dad recently said that he had a good relationship with his son but lots of his behavior concerned him. Moving out was good for both of them because now the worrisome behavior was not “right under his nose” so when they met for lunch or played golf together, they could chat about family news, politics or sports and not what was “wrong” with his son.

Many people are very excited and well-prepared for the change. These are usually those who have other interests, hobbies and activities alone and together; however, that may be something hard to cultivate during child-rearing years.

One thing that couples must do is to recognize that this life transition brings about many different feelings: sadness, disappointment, loneliness, excitement, confusion, boredom; along with concerns about aging or getting old. It is good to talk about it with each other … about the changes for each as an individual and as a couple, and look for ways to fill those gaps without causing distance in the marriage.

Spend your talking time by looking for and dreaming about the positives of this transition. Talk with each other about what you DO like about this different time in your life. Brainstorm activities, classes, hobbies, trips and new experiences that you can have with each other. Develop new rituals of connecting like sharing coffee and the paper on the living room couch together every morning or taking a long walk after dinner every night.

Celebrate the transition to a new relationship with your adult children and plan regular opportunities to gather such as family vacations, monthly dinners, Wednesday night phone conversations and other regular connections that you all can plan for and count on together.

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