Is your daily schedule packed with homework, soccer games, dance recitals, and Scout meetings, not to mention work, church, and community commitments? Do you feel like a juggler most days, just trying to keep all of your balls in the air? If so, planning for the empty nest, the time when your children will be out on their own, is probably the farthest thing from your mind. And no wonder – it’s hard to think about the future when you’re just trying to get through each day.
I want to encourage you, though, that now is the time to think about the future and prepare for the empty nest. Because time flies, and that day “down the road” is going to arrive sooner than you think.
I know a bit about this, because my husband and I have been moving toward the empty nest for a couple of years. Our older son has graduated from college and is living on his own, and our younger son just finished college and is going to live at home during grad school. They’re both doing their own thing – even though one still sleeps (and sometimes eats!) at our house – and my husband and I are essentially doing our own thing too.
We’ve been anticipating this for a number of years. I can’t say we’re fully prepared, but we knew it was coming and wanted to know that we could enjoy life together when soccer and basketball and school activities came to an end.
So I want to share with you 10 things we’ve attempted to do (some well, some not so well) to get ready for this new phase of our lives. If your children are in elementary school or older, I encourage you begin doing some of these things too. On the day when your youngest child heads off to college or moves into an apartment, you’ll be glad you did!
10 Simple Ways to Prepare for the Empty Nest
• Pray together. Establish your faith as the foundation of your marriage and family by praying together regularly. This doesn’t have to be complicated or burdensome; just spend a few minutes together each day thanking God for your blessings and asking for His help with your concerns and problems.
• Orient your family around your marriage. Your children are important, and their needs and activities require time and attention. But those needs and activities shouldn’t become the “sun” around which your family revolves. Placing your marriage at the center of your family’s life helps keep things in perspective when your children are young and eases the transition into the time when it’s just the two of you. It also reminds your children from an early age that the universe doesn’t revolve around them!
• Talk about the future. The elementary school years are not too early to begin talking about life and marriage after the child-intensive years. Because by the time your children get to high school, they’ll be focusing more on their friends and outside interests and less on the family. So enjoy the elementary and middle school years and all the activities they entail, but spend time talking with your husband about the future too. It’s never too soon to dream about the life you’ll enjoy together when it’s just the two of you.
• Take care of your health. When you reach the empty nest years, you want to be able to enjoy them. Which means that you want to be strong, healthy and fit, and don’t want to be slowed down by health problems. Most of the health problems that begin to affect people in their 40s and 50s – diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart problems – are preventable. And it’s never too early to begin working to prevent them.
So start now by eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and generally taking care of yourself. And encourage your husband to do the same. Those simple activities can help ensure that your empty nest years are healthy and active.
• Begin developing interests you can enjoy together. You don’t want to deliver your youngest child to college, only to discover that you and your husband no longer have any interests in common. So even though it’s difficult to find time for adult activities during the child-raising years, make the time to develop at least one activity that isn’t focused on your children. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but it should be something you both enjoy.
• Develop friendships and a social life beyond your children’s sports and activities. When our younger son finished his final season of high school basketball, I (somewhat) jokingly asked my husband, “What are we going to do for a social life in the winter?” Because for many years, our social life from November through February revolved around basketball. It’s natural for that to happen, because basketball (or soccer or dance or Scouts) takes up a lot of time.
But if you aren’t intentional about developing friendships or a social life beyond those activities, you may experience quite a “social shock” when they end. So spend some time and energy developing friendships in your church, neighborhood, or other social circles too.
• Prioritize sex and intimacy in your marriage. During the child-intensive years, it’s tempting to let sex and intimacy fall by the wayside. It’s so easy to think, “I’m tired, I’m busy, the kids are sucking up all of my energy, I just don’t feel in the mood.” Some or all of those things are probably true, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you or your marriage.
Sex holds the two of you together in the hard times and creates joy in the good times. So don’t let it slide. Instead, talk about it, nurture it and pursue it. Deep intimacy and an enjoyable sex life will pay you back in spades, both now and in the empty nest years.
• Find ways to serve together. It’s easy to be so focused on our schedule, activities, and commitments that we forget about real needs that exist right in our own communities and around the world. But it’s important to recognize those needs, both to keep our own problems in perspective and to find ways to serve others. After all, crazy soccer and ballet schedules don’t seem so overwhelming when we remember that people are hungry or lonely or homeless.
So look for ways to serve others, as a couple or a family. It will help keep things in perspective now and create an interest you and your husband can continue to develop as your children get older.
• Manage your finances. The earlier in your marriage you begin to control your finances, the better. Debt, lack of savings, and living beyond your means take a toll at every stage of life, but the older you get the harder it is to recover from financial mismanagement. Plus, when you finally have extended time to have fun with your husband, you want to have a little bit of money on hand to do it!
So start now to eliminate debt, control spending, and/or bring in some additional income. My husband and I didn’t start working on this early enough in our marriage, so we’re having to work harder on it now.
• Develop the fun side of your marriage. Sometimes marriage becomes just a little bit tedious, doesn’t it? It’s all work and no play, and suddenly no one is having very much fun! So don’t let your long list of “have to” items suck all the fun out of your marriage.
Set a goal of doing something fun together at least once a week. More often is better, but once a week is a good place to start. It doesn’t have to be a “date,” just something both of you consider fun and relaxing – a walk after dinner, a bike ride, an outing to get a cup of coffee, or time to watch a funny movie. Or something a little bit more adventurous. You don’t want to arrive at the empty nest years and find that you don’t know how to have fun together anymore.
Whatever the age of your children or stage of your marriage, it’s never too early to begin thinking about the empty nest years. And it’s never too late either. If your children are in high school and you haven’t given it much thought, start now! Talk with your husband, begin making plans, develop a couple of shared interests, and work on enjoying life together!
Originally published at To Love, Honor and Vacuum.