What Happens When Your Kids Leave Home?


What happens when your kids leave home? Ever heard of the ’empty nest syndrome?’ It goes something like this, you fall in love, have a few kids, they leave home, and now it’s ‘just the two of you.’

The problem is in the phrase ‘just the two of you.’ The feeling is emptiness or so it seems.

What happens to your marital relationship now that the kids are gone? You may have had your kids early. You may have even made them an emotional priority over your marriage. What that means is, you didn’t really make much time for the relationship with your spouse while the demands of raising your kids were going on.

You got used to being the Mom or the Dad or both. This is understandable. It’s also one of the most frequent ‘sacrifices’ people make in their love-lives.

While the kids are around they got the lions share of the energy and focus. If you and your spouse had some marital problems that were hard to work on or figure out, they may have been shelved in favor of being parents. A noble job to be sure.

OK, so the problem now is, without the kids to distract the two of you away from your relationship issues, the original difficulty comes to the surface, spiced a bit by the fact that it has been ignored for so long. A related difficulty for some people is, you might not be as comfortable being the Wife or the Husband, as you were being the Mom or the Dad. In fact, the latter roles can be a bit more comfortable for some people because they are in more control and less vulnerable to being hurt. Or at least it might feel that way.

In reality, being a parent does put a person in a bit of a power position in relation to children (maybe even to the family in general). Of course this naturally deteriorates over time and should be substituted by other preoccupations including putting a bit more life back into the original marriage.

If this is difficult for whatever reason, staying a full-time parent even when it really isn’t needed anymore can be an additional complication involving your relationship with older children. Let’s face it, kids do grow up and they need less parenting as they do so. The trouble for the full-time parent is to accept the fact that both you and your spouse will have to re-invent your marital relationship as the kids leave.

I say re-invent because the old marital relationship probably won’t cut it any longer. It was for the old version of you and your spouse. You need to update it. Bring it into the present.

The real cure for the empty nest syndrome is to fill in the ’empty nest’ with your marriage. Now you’ll have a ‘marital nest,’ meaning a home for your growing marital relationship.

If you find that this is complicated by anxieties or fears that make it impossible to tolerate the change, get some help. A short couples counseling experience focused exclusively on re-establishing your marriage now that the kids are leaving just might save your marriage.

Try not to be ashamed of the difficulty you’re having. Remind yourself that you devoted your time and energy to the noble cause of ‘parenting.’ You didn’t do anything wrong. You simply have to accept the fact that you did one thing at a time.

We all have a little experience with this limitation. To do some things well, some people focus everything on one thing at a time.

You’ll surly get the fruits of your labors as a devoted full-time parent if you remember two simple rules: 1. let the kids go when it’s their time, and; 2. when they are gone (or going) make the care and feeding of your marital relationship your next growth project.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan

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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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