Issue #12 |September 2009

Today’s Topic: Looking Forward to the Empty Nest

Carol Tanner, 56, has one word to describe her experience of becoming an empty nester: liberation.

- Marcia Kaye

Good news

I was recently interviewed for an article in the September issue of MORE magazine, the Canadian publication for women over forty. This article shares some good news for parents anticipating the effects of their children leaving home -- namely that their marriage may improve. (See the article at:

The article sites a 2008 University of California study, which tracked a group of women from their 40's through to their early 60's. It found that the women's marital satisfaction increased as they got older, particularly once their children left home. (I would suggest that this bodes well for the satisfaction of their partners too!)

As the author Marcia Kaye points out, "The research didn't suggest that the women had been unhappy while the kids lived at home, nor did it say they became more satisfied with life in general after the kids moved out. They just became more satisfied with their marriages."

The upside of couples being "home alone"

I consider myself an empty-nester-in-training. I have a 16 year old son in high school and a 20 year old daughter, who has returned home temporarily after moving out 2 years ago.

My proximity to the empty nest brings with it an appreciative poignancy for the present. I know there is an end in sight to the back-packs dumped by the front door, wet towels on the bathroom floor and big food bills. The umpteen trips back and forth each week for sports practices and games seem precious and time-limited. So I'm not wishing them away.

However it's comforting to know that once my kids are gone, the reduced stimulation from all their activities will allow for other possibilities for my husband and me.

This news also provides a refreshing alternative to the predictions that women in particular will experience sadness and even depression, with the loss of their parental role. While these intense feelings do occur for some women - and need to be taken very seriously if they persist in the form of chronic depression - this articles highlights a brighter side of the empty nest.

After speaking with a number of empty nest veterans, here's what I've concluded about WHY couples report an infusion of new life into their marriages:

1. More time and energy

When life no longer revolves around the kids' needs and schedules, there is more quality time and energy for the relationship. The reduction in housework, laundry, shopping, cooking and chauffeuring frees up both partners. Couple connection is bound to be enhanced with more opportunity for leisurely conversations, shared activities and deeper communication.

2. Increased privacy

Couples tend to behave more spontaneously when they aren’t concerned about how much noise they make or who will see them. This can be revitalizing for the romantic and sexual health of a marriage. Being well rested doesn’t hurt either!

3. Enjoyment of a shared accomplishment

With the launching of their children into the larger world, couples can take great pride and satisfaction in having raised their children to young adulthood. This shared accomplishment can be a source of joy and celebration for the couple, adding to their sense of intimacy and closeness.

4. Time and space for the emergence of new dreams and interests

New options become possible when children leave. Travel may be easier, there's more time for creative passions, new goals or aspirations may emerge that can now be acted on - such as going back to school, launching a new business, writing that novel or supporting a worthy cause. These new endeavours bring energy and excitement into the relationship.

5. Maturity and a sense of mortality fosters greater acceptance

Couples who have successfully navigated child-rearing with their relationship intact have grown in maturity – and may have arrived at a new level of self-acceptance –- as well as acceptance of their partner.

Unlike a twenty-something, mid-lifers know they won’t live forever. If they have navigated health challenges, a couple knows that life is precious and there are no guarantees. This can foster a deep appreciation and gratitude for life – and for the one you share it with.

6. Freedom from our biological imperative

With the end of the child-rearing years, there is the freedom to write a new chapter in the book of our lives. With increased longevity, many of us can look forward to many healthy, productive years after child-rearing.

This is a time of great freedom of choice, as we re-create the lifestyle that suits us as individuals and as a couple. If we can free ourselves from “should’s” and confining assumptions, we can embark on a new, exciting adventure together.

In the meantime, enjoy those kids while you have them.

They are a precious, often challenging, time-limited gift. However when the time comes to let them go, take comfort in the knowledge that as they fly free, you and your spouse will too!

Invitation to action

Be pro-active in anticipation of your empty nest. Talk with your partner about how this transition may affect each of you. Make room for each other’s feelings and emerging desires –- which may differ. Begin to dream, imagine and discuss what this next phase of life may hold for each of you – and for you as a couple.

If you’re a single parent, talk to a trusted confidant about your feelings as the empty nest approaches. The hole left by your children’s departure may loom larger when you are on your own. Make plans for how you will deal with that loss and how to replace it with a positive vision for this next phase of your life.

Shirley’s Update:

Single or divorced? Interested in dating or having a relationship? Want to empower yourself to succeed? I love to support singles in having the relationship they desire. Contact me about the new and improved Conscious Dating Self-Discovery and Readiness Program, which I use in my coaching work with singles. This comprehensive program can help you avoid past mistakes and give you the tools for making pro-active and healthy choices in dating and finding love.

Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website at
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Copyright © 2009 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved.