Soon “Empty Nest” Has Dad Sad

Our youngest child is a senior in high school and I am looking at a future empty nest with a heavy heart. My wife is the opposite and talking about our retirement years and being kid-free.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on December 12th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: Our youngest child is a senior in high school and I am looking at a future empty nest with a heavy heart. My wife is the opposite and talking about our retirement years and being kid-free. I know she will miss the kids too but seems almost gleeful about it being just us. I love my wife and look forward to those years but am also pretty sad about losing our kids. How do I address it best with her to maybe tone down the glee and recognize I may have some tough feelings around our empty nest?

Answer: I think like you. Having my children around, as little ones or adults, is one of the joys of my life. I have found that doesn’t change even though they no longer live under my roof. This time of having children transition to adulthood affects everyone differently. For some, the “Empty Nest Syndrome” is characterized by sadness and even depression, while others may view it as “Empty Nest Symphony” as one feels the lightening of responsibility and a newfound freedom. Most people experience both ways of feeling to some degree.  It is one of those life transitions that take time.

This would be a great time to have a conversation with your wife. Try to really understand what this means to her. After years of insisting that homework get done, teeth get brushed, or they get up and off to school, she may be looking forward to not being responsible for everyone. Enjoying being with you, and having time to herself, may have been put on the back burner.

I also urge you to talk with her about your feelings about having the kids gone, and that it is harder for you. If it is difficult for you to ask her to “tone down the glee,” it may point to a larger issue of needing to find each other again. All parents should work hard to not make their kids be the only focus in their relationship with each other. This is hard to do. It takes an effort to continue to have your personal interests, and those interests you share as a couple, once you have children. Setting aside time for each other without kids, through the years, will help when the empty nest comes around.

Try not to think of having your kids move out as a hard stop. Your relationships with them should continue. Enjoying your children as adults can be a new kind of fun. Your children will also need you for many reasons in their young adult lives. Try to view each stage of their lives as new beginnings, not endings. If your adult children plan to live close to you, make some family time together each week. Before long more children may come along to enrich your life. 

Right now, take on the new project of making the most of the marriage that produced those children you have enjoyed so much.  There is a richness there that needs to be rediscovered. The goal is to grow together in the empty nest. Through the child raising years, people grow and change. Many couples seek counseling to help them rekindle those connections which brought them together pre-kids, and to learn to enjoy each other again. Don’t hesitate to seek support in the process, and if you continue to struggle with this transition, seek help for yourself.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website and click on “Referrals.”

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