Coping With An Empty Nest and Divorce
It seems like not long ago we were welcoming babies into our family for the very first time. The next thing we know, they are moving into a dorm or their first apartment. We all know the Empty Nest comes eventually, but often we are so busy being parents that we don’t consciously think about what comes next after our kids leave home.
One other warning: When the Empty Nest describes your house, it is not just your children you miss. You miss all of the activity and friendships that you experience through your children. Going to swim meets or track meets or musical programs. Attending back-to-school nights and special functions at the school or at church. You miss the interaction with their friends, and their friends parents, too.
Empty Nest Syndrome is a major life adjustment, and most of us don’t think about how we’re going to cope until we’re actually sitting alone in the kitchen thinking, “What do we do now?” Getting divorced at the same time changes absolutely everything about the answer to that question, and it is getting more common every day.
For me personally, coping with a divorce, an empty nest, less money and fewer social connections was devastating! Trying to cope with all of that change all at once is exhausting and overwhelming.
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Below are a few ideas to start with right now:
- Figure out the finances of your empty-nest-post-divorce life. This is a real challenge when you are probably operating on way less money than before your divorce.
- Get healthy! Get strong physically. You’ll need physical stamina to get through this.
- Grieve and heal. This takes time and energy – be patient with the process.
- Start thinking about what you want your life to look like as you move forward. (This is probably totally different than what you wanted when you were still a couple.)
- Develop your own interests and friends apart from your children and your ex-spouse.
- Reconnect with friends, family and social groups in a more deliberate way.
- Remember, you will get through this and your life can be good and full and fun again!
Empty Nest Divorce Rates & Statistics
Statistics are proving that divorce and the empty nest often go hand in hand. Many couples consciously choose to stay together until the children are out on their own. But for far too many, a mate asking for a divorce at the same time kids are leaving home is totally unexpected. I talked to a woman recently whose husband left a note in the kitchen saying, “I’m done.” After 25 years of what she thought was a good marriage, she was shocked and devastated beyond describing.
Renee Stepler from the Pew Research Center gives us some of the numbers on midlife and late life divorce.
“At a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults, so-called “gray divorce” is on the rise: Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s.
In 2015, for every 1,000 married persons ages 50 and older, 10 divorced – up from five in 1990, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. Among those ages 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled since 1990, reaching six people per 1,000 married persons in 2015.”
With the surge in divorces for those 50 plus, the empty nest puts couples at higher risk for divorce than ever before.
In my midlife divorce recovery work, I hear from women who were so looking forward to having more free time to get re-connected with their spouse when the children left. Many were eager to have more time to travel, re-focus on themselves and each other, and find new interests to share. Then, out of nowhere, they are told by their husband that he wants out … often that he hasn’t been happy for years. It’s like a bomb exploding in the middle of your empty nest life.
Empty Nest And Divorce At the Same Time
Often, parents on the brink of divorce stick it out until their last child leaves for college (Finally, the kids are launched!) While they may have been planning this for awhile, parents think they are doing their children a service by waiting until they leave home to break the news. (A terrible idea!)
I was speaking at an International Conference at Pepperdine University a while back, and I arranged to speak with a man who counseled incoming freshmen at the school. He said he was seeing more and more kids coming to college in the Fall, and soon after arriving, getting a letter or a call from their parents saying they had decided to divorce.
He said that this was the worst possible way to send your child off to school! Kids who are struggling to adjust to college, suddenly feel abandoned and unsteady when they should be excited as they start this new stage of their life.
I can see the wisdom in wanting to wait until the kids are launched before you divorce, but do not pretend that everything is fine before they leave and then smack them in the face with your divorce after they are alone at school for the first time. They feel betrayed and wonder if there is any solid ground anywhere.
There are several things we can do when children are about to leave home … and we are faced with divorce at the same time.
My youngest child was the only one still at home when we first divorced. He was in the middle of all the mess for the 3 years before we actually divorced, and he left for college the next year. He was fully aware of what was going on. I was still terrified that he would worry and feel guilty about leaving me alone, and that would negatively affect his experience at school.
We must reassure our children that even though we will “miss them like crazy!” as I told my son, I wanted him to know that this time while he was away at college would be good for both of us. It would give him a chance to get away from all of the divorce trauma and drama, and it would give me a chance to grieve and heal and move on without worrying how all of my readjusting was affecting him.
Remember, our children are NOT responsible for our happiness. They need to know that we are getting help and working on what comes next for us. They need to know that we believe that our life is going to be full and fun and good! They need to see us joyfully embracing life again.
Does An Empty Nest Cause Divorce?
The Empty Nest does not cause divorce, but things drastically change when our children “fly the coop.” We might not have addressed issues that were troublesome to our marriage. We might have been so busy keeping up with all of the activities and responsibilities of parenthood that we neglected our relationship as lovers, friends and husband and wife.
Also, especially when mothers were stay at home moms, they are no longer needed in such an immediate way by their children. They feel a loss of meaning and direction. However, many women see this natural progression of events as a great time to explore their own interests, and look forward to less pressure and more free time.
Most men still have a job to go to and don’t feel the same void that their spouse might feel. There is not the same drastic change. Some spouses want to slow down after kids leave home. Others want to be a little crazy and wild and get more involved in things that they’ve always wanted to do, so they push the fast forward button to make up for lost time.
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