Empty Nest Help - Rekindling The Marriage After The Kids Are Gone
I love your articles and I am hoping you can give me the kind of help you've given to so many others. Last weekend my husband and I moved our youngest off to college. Now my husband and I are alone again for the first time in 25 years. We've always had a big house with 4 kids and all their friends in and out all the time. All their activities and all their goings on have been our whole life for all this time. I think I was worrying about this before it happened but last weekend my youngest said to me that I could change her room now that she's gone. Was I in denial? I don't know. But I said oh no it'll be there for you when you come home. She said when she comes for visits she can sleep anywhere and we should change the room to something we could use. I started crying. Then she pointed out how the other kid's rooms are like shrines to them and she thinks its creepy and she doesn't want her room to be wasted like that. She wants us to enjoy it. It may sound cold but she meant well. But it really knocked me for a loop. Our oldest has been out of the house for years and I haven't changed her room at all. Was I thinking one day she'd come home to it? (...)
I started to think about the relationship I have with my husband. I am afraid about the future. He's a good man and hard worker and wonderful provider. I don't know how to say this. I was once very much in love with him. Then I became very committed to being a mother. Our children are now grown and out of the house for the most part. I love my husband but I don't think we know each other anymore. I don't know what to talk about if it's not the children. This is all hitting me very hard. I feel like I'm 50 years old and I'm starting all over again with him. Do you have any advice for me? I think this was a long email so please feel free to cut out whatever isn't necessary.
Linda in DE
Dear Linda in DE,
The only part of your email I left out was where you spoke of your finances. I felt you were a little too personal and I didn't want to share that. Suffice to say you're OK financially, but would do well to downsize and cut back at this point to start saving for your future. Also, that you do not work, you've spent years as a full time mother and housewife, and that your husband has worked very hard but would like to seriously cut his hours at this point, which means cutting his salary.
If you feel more needs to be added, please add it in the comments but I think that gets everything you wrote to me clearly across without getting too personal.
Well Linda, I think your youngest turning to you and saying go ahead and do something with my bedroom so you can enjoy it, was anything but cold. It was selfless and insightful, and very sweet.
I have written about this and encouraged couples to make time for date night, to really work to keep their friendship and romance alive, to talk about things other than the kids. I can understand your nervousness. There's really been a gap that has grown between the two of you. But you have the unique opportunity now to embrace this new part of your journey together, and fall in love all over again.
Linda, if I were you I would start by considering selling your house. The market for real estate isn't the greatest right now, but even if you took a loss, you'd probably still be coming out ahead buying a much smaller house that would be much cheaper to maintain. With your husband telling you he's tired and wants to cut his hours back after carrying the financial load of the household for 2 and a half decades, this is your chance to show him you love him and you can be a partner, not just a mom. At least suggest it. Explore some options. Downsizing so that you two can live on less would be a very wise move.
If selling the house isn't a possibility in this economic climate, or while it's on the market and you're waiting it out, go ahead and start dismantling those kids' rooms. 4 kids? God bless you. If they each have their own room, that's 4 rooms. Even if it's 3, that's a lot of wasted space. And I think your youngest is right, that's a little creepy.
Clearly you were a committed mother and worked hard at that job. If you raised unselfish, generous, good hearted kids that are now adults, I can promise you none of them is going to be upset that you are taking back their rooms. You could make one of the new rooms a really nice guest room. You could keep the biggest bed, and put in a daybed as well. You could put something you've collected from all their old rooms in it, in theme. Like a trophy shelf, or a chair full of teddy bears and stuffed animals. Of course hang some photos of the kids. And that's it. let the rest go. Box it up, tell them they can have their stuff or you can donate it to charity. I recommend not attempting a yard sale, it might be too difficult to haggle over your kids stuff at this point in your Empty Nest Syndrome. But if you have a second hand or consignment shop in your town maybe you could drop off the sellable items there so you can make a few bucks but you don't have to actually watch the sales.
If any of the kids come home for a visit they can stay in the guest room. Just like they will in your new smaller house, someday. Don't get yourself knotted up about what if everyone comes home to visit at once. Really, how often has that happened? Do they all live so far away that they can only visit if they sleep over? And there's nowhere else for them stay? Let that go, and think about your husband and your effort to rekindle your marriage instead of prolonging your commitment to being a mom instead.
I strongly suggest you play and enjoy the other rooms. Empty them out. Put some fresh paint up. Clean new canvas. Ask your husband what he'd like to do with a spare room and tell him anything goes. A game room? A quiet reading room or home office? Maybe he'd like a little home gym or maybe he's always wanted fancy fish or a lizard. Or a place to paint or do art. Or a place where he can just decorate with stuff he likes. Like an all Boston Red Sox room, or an All New Jersey Devils room, with a TV with the sports channels. Maybe a music room where he can set up his old turn table and listen to those records that have been sitting in storage. Or maybe a little of everything! Maybe he'd like a place where he can put his cardio vascular work out machine, and a desk, and he'd like a stereo in there, and maybe a fish tank, and that Kiss Pin Ball machine he always wanted. Encourage him to think about this, and then enjoy helping him make it happen.
This is a chance to rediscover each other. Talk about what interests him. What he used to like, and which of those interests has survived all this time. Ask him about some of the things he shares. If you aren't into hockey, ask him to teach the game to you, or to share with you some stories of his old hockey days. It doesn't matter if he told them 30 years ago, you would like a refresher, right?
I'm not saying pretend to be interested. I'm saying you may be surprised at how interesting these things are, because you're sharing them with the man you love.
Allow this self re-discovery to rub off on you. Think about the things you used to like before the kids. Tennis? Collecting Lladros? Sharks and marine biology? How about Photography. Or golf. Or chess. Talk. Share.
And then take it out of the house too. Set up dates. Remember dates? Even if you just to to Barnes and Noble and cruise the books while having a coffee, that's a nice start. Go to the aquarium to see the sharks. Go to a Devil's hockey game or go see Santana in concert. Check out a piano bar, or a paranormal society's overnight ghost hunt. Try not to just find any old thing to do, but instead try to find things that respark your personal interests. Go to some antique shops together to see if you can find old record albums you both like, or a cool old pin ball machine for his new game room.
Let him enjoy his time home now that he's not working so hard anymore. Maybe he'd really like a nice long quiet weekend to just read and relax. Join him. Break open some books and let him unwind. Doing it together is the best kind of dating there is.
Whether you're both interested in playing a game of chess, or learning how to go scuba diving or snorkeling, or exploring an interest in photography, as long as these are things you share as a "new" couple, they're perfect.
As you begin to reconnect, it will be a short step to the romance department. Wind up a fun day of tennis with a romantic card you hide in his dresser drawer, thanking him for such a wonderful day, and telling him he's still got the moves. ;)
Or maybe you could offer a massage to help him unwind and relax. Let one thing lead to another. No one is going to come in unannounced. No one lives there anymore but you! This will take a little bit of adjusting. But hopefully you can embrace the fun in that!
Cook or plan meals that are particularly to his liking. Candles, romance. Ask him to stay in with you for a movie night, and rent something dirty and wild. Take an interest in your appearance. Get your hair done, get your nails done. Stop thinking like a mom, and think like a woman. Even if you think you've been doing that all along, try to step it up a notch. Pretend you're meeting him for the first time, and you're trying to make a great first impression. I realize this may sound silly. But try it. You may be surprised.