This is the summer of separation for some parents.
I’m not talking about divorce but rather college. I’m talking about how some graduated high school seniors are heading off to college at the end of August, leaving parents as “empty nesters.”
Suddenly husbands and wives are looking at each other after years of dedicating most of their time and energy to their children, asking: “Now what are we going to do?”
A reoccurring theme of my column is the need for middle age guys to strive for balance and to make changes in their lives to achieve happiness. Dealing with the empty nest dilemma is a good example of this.
If your kids are anything like mine were, their thoughts the summer before they head off will not be, “Gee, I’m heading off and I really owe it to my parents to spend as much time as possible with them because I’m going to miss them so much.”
Fat chance. They’re looking outward and focusing on time with their friends. That’s normal and healthy.
Rather than getting down about your children’s departure, I’d suggest another thought. Look at this coming summer as a golden opportunity – an opportunity to re-evaluate your relationship with your wife, friends, and extended family.
Start now. Take a close look at how you spend your time. Set some goals for yourself concerning the activities you’d like to be involved with. You won’t have your kid’s sports events to go to; or have to play taxi cab driver, taking them to this activity and that. No more PTA or sports booster club meetings.
Think about it. Think about how your life changed when your kids arrived on the scene. Some of the changes were jarring, uncomfortable even. You were forced to be more unselfish, more giving. It’s called being a father.
With the children out of the house, you don’t stop being a father. You just have more time to do the things you enjoy.
As for your wife, it’s time (if you didn’t see this coming and haven’t already) to get reacquainted with her and to try and understand where she’s at. Arrange for a weekend get-away. Rekindle the passion in your marriage. The most important thing, though, is to talk about what’s important to both of you, and to set individual and joint goals.
Understand this new opportunity does not translate to simply spending more time with each other, although hopefully you will want to do that. However, she has her interests; you have yours. That’s where the balance comes in. Try to recognize each other’s needs and encourage each other to allocate time for friends and activities outside your marriage.
Some couples put their heads in the sand about the need for change during this transition. They just bag it. They haven’t been getting along for a while and with the kids leaving the glue that kept them together is gone. The result? Divorce.
I saw a bumper sticker a little while back that sobered me up. It read: “Marriage is grand; divorce is 100 grand.”
Fortunately, I’m still in the “marriage is grand” group and I credit going to marriage counseling, among other things, as a major factor. Marriage counseling rekindled my passion and appreciation for my wife, and got us talking about what needed to be talked about.
Believe me, this separation from your children heading off to college is typically not permanent.
Your kids are like boomerangs. Around Thanksgiving (and sometimes even before), they’ll be back.
They’ll bring home a ton of dirty laundry. They’ll borrow the car and empty your gas tank. They’ll spend a lot of time with their old high school buddies, catching up and comparing notes about college. They’ll empty your refrigerator. They’ll sleep in way past noon.
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