Planning For the Empty Nest
For those of you that missed the first part of this college send-off series, “College Bound, Part I: The Gender Expense Gap and 3 Other Tips for Sending Your Freshman to College”, I shared a personal story that absolutely tilted my world on its axis. Despite having planned to pay for my twins’ college educations for decades and spending months upon months logistically prepping for the send-off, I hadn’t fully prepared for the emotional impact of the actual moment we would say goodbye.
I had researched whether a minivan or Suburban had more cargo space, my wife and I had the proper legal documents drawn up (the state-specific HIPAA forms, the Financial Power of Attorney and the Durable Power of Attorney), and of course we had our checkbook at the ready to cover all the glorious expenses. But, there was one moment we hadn’t visualized in our heads—the moment we would turn around without them and say goodbye, heading home without the two individuals who had been the center of our universe for the past eighteen years. For the first time in forever, it would just be us.
But that moment has passed and we’ve come out on the other side. Now, we’re pros. Ok, that might be a stretch, but hear me out.
Personally, I have had friends and clients share how sad their transition was. I’ve even heard stories about both parent and child sobbing at the sendoff – with pictures to prove it! This may sound callous, but my wife and I didn’t shed a tear! Neither did my kids.
Part of this drama-free send-off could have been because we did a twin send-off. There was twice as much to do and half as much time to take it all in, perhaps. But really, I like to think it is because my kids were prepared to go and we, as parents, made plans for their departure and our daily lives, as well.
What Will The Empty Nest Look and Feel Like?
Once you accept that your children won’t be at home every day anymore, the realization that you’ll have an empty nest can be both exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. But either way you look at it, it’s bound to be life-changing.
As I mentioned, and I am sure every parent understands, your children are the center of your world for so long. It’s hard to imagine a life where they aren’t with you every day. This is interesting, of course, because as Elizabeth Stone once said, “Having a child is like having your heart go walking around outside your body.” Our children will always be a focus, but they won’t always be right in front of us.
Once they are tucked safely away in their dorm rooms (hey, a dad can dream), a vacuum moment will exist. Much like individuals entering into retirement, you and your spouse will suddenly have all this extra time on your hands. What will you do with it?
Now, I don’t want to scare you, but this transition period will be the key to the next phase of your life. Empty nest syndrome is a real thing and can have quite a negative effect on one’s marriage. Many divorces occur in the early years of an empty nest because spouses never discussed what their lives would look like once their children were gone.
If you’re still working, this will help to maintain a sense of normalcy during the week, but how will you spend your evenings as a couple? Your weekends? How will they look different than they did when the kids were home? Will you spend more time together, or less? What will that dynamic look and feel like?
Naturally, if you have a spouse who stayed home with the kids, having an empty nest will be even more of a shock to their daily routine than to your own. While my wife may be excited about having more flexibility, it can also be paralyzing. What will her new routine look like? How might her new routine affect our time together, our routines, and even our budget?
Plan for Your Life, Just Like You Plan for Theirs
The single best thing you can do to plan for the empty nest situation is to talk about it before it arrives. You and your spouse both need to be clear about what your new life will look like.
Now, some people make larger life choices, like buying a second home or that boat they’ve always wanted. But, planning doesn’t have to involve something so significant. Planning can simply mean talking about how you’ll spend your time, speaking about the personal goals each of you might have, and the things in life that make you feel rewarded and fulfilled outside of being parents.
This next phase of your life grants you more time to explore who you are or take on projects you otherwise didn’t have time for. Always wanted to start hosting wine tasting parties? Pick a date and start making a list of invitees. Interested in sharpening your tennis skills? Sign up for lessons a couple times a week. If you and your spouse have been talking about making it to Greece—or even just to that new diner down the road—put it on the calendar! Join or start a charity if you are philanthropically inclined. Now is the time in your life that you get to be more selfish and spend more time doing what you want, rather than always doing what had to be done.
Embracing This Next Stage of Life
My wife and I had these discussions before the kids left, and I cannot stress how glad I am that we did. This next phase of life will be great for everyone. As far as the kids are concerned, we are thrilled with their college selections, which is a huge relief. Making sure our kids are in a high probability of success in advance is critical. Because our kids’ college search was extensive and the decisions about where to attend were carefully considered, our kids were confident in their choices. This lessened the stress for all parties involved.
Being prepared for the “send-off” trip also significantly lessened the stress of the trips. There were a few odds and ends we had to pick up for each kid before we left, but the majority of the hard work had been done and we were able to spend a couple days enjoying the process rather than shopping in crowded stores for items in low supply and high demand.
Of course, the kids are a little anxious—and so are we—but, we are all truly excited for this next phase of life! My wife and I are particularly looking forward to the college visits, sports games, and dinners we will share with our kids and the new people that enter their lives in the coming years. We know the college years will go by quickly, and the kids will experience this firsthand. So, we intend to enjoy it—parents and children alike!