A year after Tola got married she gave birth to her first child. Over the next couple of years, she gave birth to three more children. Time passed and twenty-eight years after the birth of the first child, the last child gained admission into higher institution. It was then it dawned on Tola. She began having a feeling of anxiety as her last child was about to leave. For twenty-eight years, her life has been centred on her children. Time flew incredibly fast. Now, she is wondering whether she still has things to discuss with her husband. Do they have things in common? Am I not going to get bored of his company? Do I even still like him? She was worried. Therapists call this the “Empty Nest” phenomenon.
When children leave home, especially the last child or an only child, for most mothers, it is the end a whole phase of life. For close to three decades, they have been raising children and the task consumed them emotionally. And now all of a sudden, the nest is about to be empty. It is a massive shift.
No parent is perfect at parenting. It is when children start to leave home that many parents realize they are not going to be getting another chance at parenting. This may bring a feeling of grief especially for a parent that may not have done as much as is expected. Whether they have done a good job or not, they have to let them go. A parent that has done a good job will hurt. We make many transitions in life and emptiness is a common reaction to many kinds of transition including that of the empty nest. But it is also a place of struggle towards the birth of a new form of identity.
There is often an unexpected result of a child’s departure which is the exposure of the health status of the relationship of the parents. Their marital relationship comes under a greater scrutiny. Parents can get so busy with raising children and attending to their careers that they do not recognize the problems in their relationship. Empty nest brings these problems into the glaring spotlight. Divorce sometimes happen at this stage.
Empty nest forces parents to look at their own lives and what they set aside in order to raise their children and this includes their intimacy and dreams. Couples who are still committed to the marriage can actually renew their marital bond at this stage. It does not really take much to rekindle the wonderful feelings felt early in the marriage. Being alone once again is another beginning and offers the opportunity to revive the excitement in a marriage. Rekindling the Feelings of Love is a post I published on how this can happen. When partners make a few positive changes in their habit as well as their behaviour towards one another, they can immensely increase their marital happiness over the next many years that their marriage will last.
Empty nest is a huge transition that will give marriage partners a new form of identity. It does not have to be a period of prolonged grief and loss. With extra time, more money, and more room for intimacy for parents, they can make this transition one that would not only deepen their relationship, but also bring back the freshness and pleasure of a new relationship.
Godwin Nwaokike is the author of the book Growing Through Life: The Pursuit of Fulfilment.