People’s reactions to becoming empty nesters vary. Some parents mope around for months, not sure who they are anymore or what to do with all their time. Others are rejoicing in their newfound freedom before their last child is even out of the driveway.
By the time our youngest graduates from high school, my husband and I will have been raising children for 28 years. I think our reaction will fluctuate somewhere between despair and euphoria.
The fact is that after spending the vast majority of our life together as a couple with children, we are both excited and daunted about facing a future with just the two of us. One thing we do know is that now, before our last child leaves home, is the time to prepare for a life without kids. That is why we are spending these last few years, while we still have a child or two in the house, developing our Empty Nester Starter Kit.
Empty Nester Starter Kit
A Dog We are dog people. Our family has always had dogs that we love and pamper. But now that all of our children are older and leaving the nest, we have King Louie. Sure the kids love him. With his soft brown eyes and comical expressions, who wouldn’t? But make no mistake. Louie is not the family dog–he’s ours–mine and my husband’s.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a replacement child. But we do tend to delight (okay bore) family and friends with stories of Louie’s cleverness and hilarious antics. And I have a carseat for him in my SUV and enough photos of him on my phone to keep me scrapbooking for hours. I may or may not be knitting him a sweater. Of course, Louie can’t fill the void we will inevitably feel when all of our children are gone. He is, after all, just a dog. On the other hand, he never takes our phone chargers, drinks the last of the coffee, or argues with us about curfew, so maybe dog parenting will have its perks.
A cookbook for two. My favorite and most effective way of getting all of my children home at the same time and all of us hanging out together has always been with a home-cooked meal. For years I have been making giant pots of pasta, huge casseroles, and double batches of cookies and brownies. Even now, when all the kids are home, cooking and eating together is one of our favorite ways to spend time as a family.
When the day comes that it’s just my husband and me, I’m counting on time in the kitchen and lingering meals together to keep the two of us close. However, I don’t think enormous casseroles will produce the romantic-candle-lit-dinner effect that I’m going for. Time to find ways to feed our relationship rather than a small army of teenagers.
Our third thing. I once read that every successful married couple has three things going for them: their romantic relationship–specifically as it pertains to the bedroom, their family relationship–how they work together to raise and enjoy their family, and a third thing–something they do together that has little or nothing to do with sex or their children. The third thing could be traveling, following a sports team, gardening, or taking pottery classes.
The important thing is that a couple has something they enjoy and that they can plan for and look forward to. When it comes to the first two things, my husband and I have been pretty successful. We love raising our kids and spending time with them, and we love our time alone together. However, as our children have gotten older and busier, we are beginning to realize that, while we very much still enjoy each other’s company, we aren’t quite sure what to do with hour after hour of it.
He likes to work around the farm. I like to knit. His idea of a fun Saturday is a 10 mile hike. I like to hike too–short, scenic hikes followed by brunch and nap. He loves to ride bikes. I am into books. He’s an introvert. I’m an extrovert. In short, we don’t really have a third thing–yet! But we’re working on it. In the meantime, we are learning a lot about we do and definitely do not enjoy doing together.
Frequent flyer miles and/or a fun car. Being empty nesters with a dog and a fabulous couple’s hobby is going to be awesome! But we are still going to want to visit our children and (please God) our future grandchildren as often as possible. For this we will need to start racking up frequent flyer miles. Or maybe we will get a fun, midlife-crisis-style sports car and hit the road. In college, we loved long road trips together–junk food, mix tapes, and freedom! It will be just like that–only with XM talk radio and more frequent restroom stops.
Good friends. The truth is that when it comes to life without kids, it’s going to take more than my husband to see me through. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s going to get on my nerves–and I’m going to drive him nuts. Having good friends around who give us each a break from all our empty nesting fun, will be crucial.
The truth is, I don’t know what it will be like to be empty nesters–or even how to prepare for a life without children at home. But I do know that it will happen and that it’s supposed to happen. Our love brought our children into this world, and our love has prepared them to go out into the world. No doubt that same love will keep us together, and from time to time bring them back home to us.
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