Well, this past weekend my wife and I officially became empty nesters. We have launched both of our daughters into the world. I feel my role as a parent is to deliver a well-functioning, educated human being to the world so they can make a positive contribution. My wife and I were not the best parents. We made some mistakes. The most important job is being a parent and neither one of us took any coursework in how to be one. We learned from our parents…who were not perfect people. As parents we either 1) learn from what our parents did 2) learned what our parents didn’t do or 3) we parented using an amalgamation of both 1 and 2 with a side entrée of luck and seat-of-the-pants-parenting.
Frankly, if you knew about my wife and me, it is a miracle we survived and that our kids survived. We both had a whole lot of things working against us. However, we triumphed.
Having become empty nesters, I wondered how men feel about it. I know my wife was sad and glad. Her primary role as a mother just ended. So there are some feelings of loss for her. Not so much for me. Maybe my feelings would be different if I had raised sons instead of daughters.
Well according to some reports, men are not immune to empty nest syndrome. Most frequently reported feelings are having lost a friend(s). I can echo that sentiment to some extent. I feel like both my daughters are friends. Lord knows, we have traveled many years and long roads together teaching each other along the way…sometimes willingly sometimes not so much. They have been great supporters of me as my friends have been.
My feelings differ in that I don’t feel a profound sadness in my kids moving into adulthood. I feel confident with a touch of apprehension. I’m confident that my kids have not repeated my mistakes and confident that I did not repeat my parents’ mistakes. At least I think so.
Components of Empty Nesters
What seems to be the most prevalent components of empty nest syndrome for men are 2 things: 1) reflection back on our life as a father and uncertain what our future holds, and, 2) reflecting back on relationships wondering how to move forward. I’m going to guess that most men are ages 45-55 when kids start leaving home. How we respond to these two reflections usually determines if our empty nest experience is positive or negative.
According to life development models, these are the times when we break from life pursuits and responsibilities to reflect upon the larger meaning of ourselves. As mature adults, we have raised families, created careers, and made contributions to society. But before, we look forward, we look back.
As fathers, were we good or bad? As fathers, did we do best we could? As fathers, were we there for our kids?
Self-reflection is healthy to do. But it is important that your ‘balance sheet’ is just that balanced. If you find your self-reflection indicates you are negative then it may be time for a new perspective and some self-forgiveness. If there are things that can and should be corrected, then take action on those. (It’s not politically correct to say ‘Man up’…but) Put your psyche back in balance. You are responsible for yourself. The world doesn’t need another out-of-balance man. For anything, you cannot put right by action or thought, then consider some brief counseling to help you put forth a new perspective. You have a second chance if your kids make you a grandparent. It’s not too late.
Reflection on relationships is another perspective. My frame of reference is that of being married for 27 years. I hope I get comments from folks that may be divorced or otherwise in a different relationship status as to how empty nesting affects them. I look forward to the next season in my marital relationship. Frankly, I’m excited about it. Without my kids, I can still see bunches of things I hope to add to our marriage. Frankly, I’m kicking myself for not doing some of them earlier.
In the last few years, my wife and I have traveled and crossed a couple of things off our bucket lists. I expect to do more. As I reflect back on my relationship, I have no regrets. (FYI..regrets are negative thinking) I have things I could I had done differently but I was no more prepared to be in a marriage than I was a parent. Luckily, I had some good friends, faith and a desire to be better to guide me. I also learned 12 Steps that taught me how to live to become a better man.
I once read somewhere that becoming an empty nester is having to relearn to be married. I can see that to some extent but I can’t help but think what happened along the way to have to re-learn? If that’s what you feel you need to do then do it! You have a partner that is experiencing some form of empty nester feelings, too. Talk about it. Together you make a marriage work. Seems some men are still averse to talking about feelings so it’s great time to ask what is it you really want to do before you are too old to do it? Make a list. By intention, put things on the list that can be done now, together and don’t require tons of money. Start working towards it. Together.
My wife and I never wrote down a list but we kept one in our heads. Unshared. It wasn’t until we were faced with an opportunity to go to Israel that we both confessed a Holy Land trip was on both our bucket lists. Money was an issue but we made it work. We had to recently pass up a trip to Tuscan Italy but is still a hope for the future.
I cannot write this without acknowledging that one of the aspects of empty nester feelings in men. Specifically, the midlife crisis. It is a real thing. Some men experience it deeply and some don’t. To the extent that it is a positive aspect for a man and his relationships (and finances), I think exploring a midlife crisis makes sense. Life is about transitions; empty nester syndrome is a life transition.
At the same time, I hate hearing of couples cashing-out on their marriage after the kids leave home. I get that some marriages stay together as long as there are kids dependent upon them. But if your marriage is one of those, counseling should have been sought much earlier. Not sure, I am happy to do Marriage Tune-Up sessions with you both. We’ll do an assessment and then discuss the results where you are both on the same page and where you may not be. It’s a good way to find any marriage imbalances and start plans to correct them. The time is now to find togetherness….together.
My apologies if this is more personal than other articles I have authored. But our path to empty nester was quick and slow. One child left almost 3 years ago, another child left just days ago. Our life as parents will never end but our life as a couple has blossomed. As a man, I don’t feel any real sadness but hope. Hope for my kids, hope for society to whom I bless and release them into. And hope for a beautiful life with my wife.