Five Important Things to Address Now – Before Your Nest Empties

Maybe you’re dreaming of an empty nest. The peace, the quiet. Or maybe you’re dreading the mere thought of it. The sadness, the quiet.

Or, like many in the same boat, you haven’t really even given it a thought yet, because you’re still wading through the final year or two of your kid’s high school experience and all of the craziness that goes along with that. 

But as Ferris Bueller warned us all those years ago,

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around, you might miss it.

Ferris Bueller

And in the case of becoming an empty nester, if you don’t stop and address what’s coming, you might get blindsided.

Pay attention to your marriage and 4 other things to think about before your nest empties. (Photo credit: Marybeth Bock)

How does the empty nest sneak up on us so darn quickly?

For starters, we’re busy. Like, never-enough-hours-in-the-day busy. Who doesn’t get caught up in all the minutia of raising children, managing their schedules, and juggling endless responsibilities? And it sure as heck doesn’t get any easier as they become teenagers, with a mental load that is downright dizzying at times. As a result, we don’t realize how quickly time is passing until we suddenly find ourselves staring at a list of recommended dorm items with tears welling up in our eyes.

And, oh yeah – we all get distracted. We invest significant amounts of time and energy (some might argue too much) into nurturing and supporting our children. Our daily attention is primarily focused on their next hurdle – making the cut for their team, getting a driver’s license, passing that darn AP class, prepping for the SAT, completing all those college applications – which can make it much too easy to overlook our impending empty nest.

Also, if we’re being honest, we tend to push aside the complex emotions surrounding an empty nest to “deal with that later.” The thought of any child leaving home is tough, whether it’s your first one to go, your only child, or your baby who you will always think of as too young to leave the house. It’s easy to live in denial rather than face such complicated emotions and dwell on the seismic shift in your family dynamics. 

So, before you and your spouse are staring at each other in disbelief that you are alone at the dinner table and it’s way too quiet, here are some big considerations to start thinking about as soon as possible.

Five things to address NOW before your nest is empty.

1. Your marriage

One of the biggest realities of a newly empty nest is that the absence of our kids can sometimes exacerbate underlying tensions or conflicts in our marriages. Without the enormous distraction of day-to-day parenting responsibilities, many couples are left to confront issues that have been previously overlooked or neglected.

Whether you’ve consciously thought about it or not, you may be staying in an unhealthy relationship “for the kids,” and I can tell you that a lot of people wake up one day after their nest is empty and look at their spouse and think, “Who is this person?” Are you still attracted to them? Do you make each other happy? Are you feeling more like roommates than true partners? Now may be the best time to consider starting couples’ therapy.

2. Jobs and finances

Are you and your partner on the same page when it comes to work and money once your kids are out of your house? Some people quietly anticipate retiring early, some want to go back to school, or work more hours, or even change their career altogether.

Perhaps your spouse wants to start splurging on travel but you’re thinking about socking away more savings. Maybe you feel like you want to upgrade your car or renovate your kitchen, and your partner wants to sell a car and start working from home. Now is the time to start sharing your expectations and talking about long term goals and compromises.

3. Your house

Yay, empty nesting means downsizing right? And moving to the coast like you talked about years ago! Wait, what? Your sister has two adult kids living back at home because they can’t afford to rent. Your neighbor’s son is going to grad school and saving money by living in their basement. And your mother-in-law keeps hinting about how nice it would be to live with one of her children.

Are you staying or going or buying an RV to live on the road? Check in with your spouse and start strategizing your options.

4. Your health (and your parents’ health)

Yes, Ferris, life does indeed move fast, and we may not want to admit it, but we’re all middle aged now – even though 50 is the new 35, right? And many of us have neglected ourselves while we’ve been so busy focusing on our kids, our jobs, and everyone else but us. When was the last time you had a comprehensive health exam?

Are you current on all of your screenings? Have you been tending to your mental health? And, what about your and your spouse’s parents? Sadly, now is the season of life when we all are dealing with similar parental situations – complex health issues, decisions surrounding moving into assisted living and memory care facilities, and the financial and emotional strains that often come along with aging parents. Do you have concrete plans for these common sandwich generation concerns?

5. Leisure time

It’s a tale as old as time – one empty nester spouse wants to take over the world of pickleball/golf/ballroom dancing/speed-walking and the other wants to sit at home in a comfy chair and paint miniatures/sew quilts/do crossword puzzles/stream classic movies all day. How are you both going to spend your newfound leisure time now that you’re not at soccer tournaments all weekend or chairing the theater students’ fundraising committee all year long?

Will you feel socially isolated when you don’t have fellow team or club parents to hang out with? Do you and your spouse have anything enjoyable or meaningful to talk about or connect over that’s not kid-related? Start looking into joint hobbies, charity work and healthy activities that you can engage in together. 

The empty nest can be the beginning of a wonderful “new” life, but it can also be a rough transition to arriving at the realization that something (or things) important in your life need to change. 

It’s crucial to recognize and address the potential challenges proactively. Don’t wait to get to a state of desperation or misery. Seeking support from friends, family members, or mental health professionals can be so beneficial in navigating a newly empty nest and embracing a new chapter of life with resilience and optimism. 

More Great Reading:

21 Things You’ll Love About The Empty Nest

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

Read more posts by Marybeth

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