How We Embraced Our Empty Nest

More than a decade ago, Domino's Pizza called, wondering if we were okay it had been weeks since we ordered pizza. Dave assured them that all was fine. Actually we were overdosing on lima beans, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Why the change in menu?

Several weeks earlier, we had dropped off our youngest child, Jonathan, at Wheaton College. Now we could eat what we wanted, when we wanted. Our time belonged to us. No longer was Claudia the family air-traffic controller. No more junior tennis tournaments or soccer practices. No more impromptu teenage parties. Our house was ours again, including the kitchen and the menu.

Please don't misunderstand us. We love our three sons and enjoyed raising them well, most of the time yet our initial reaction to our empty nest was relief. Parenting three boys wasn't easy, but with God's grace, a sense of humor, a few good parenting principles, and more than 20 years of forced labor, we made it.

Now it was our turn to enjoy life! But making the transition to the empty nest wasn't the breeze it first appeared to be. Instead, it was more of a hurricane's gale-force wind. After bingeing on vegetables, we struggled to eat regular meals. Without kids around, we found ourselves working until 9 or 10 at night and forgetting about dinner. Our late-night boxed-cereal buffets were becoming a tradition.

Changing responsibilities also confused the landscape. Claudia had been more involved with our children and running the home than Dave had been. Now was her time to do what she wanted to do with her life but what was that? Claudia enjoyed writing and the times we had traveled and spoken together. Suddenly she realized that all the things she had delayed until the kids left home were possibilities. Soon we accepted writing projects, speaking engagements and seminars too many of them which left us with little time and energy for each other.

Sitting at our breakfast table one morning, we agreed something had to give. We needed help; we needed to regroup, to refocus and refresh our own relationship. We decided to research this passage into the empty nest and beyond. That day we began what has become a 10-year journey.

Surveying the second half

We conducted a national survey of long-term marriages and received more than 1,000 written responses. We interviewed couples in all kinds of marriages from the healthy, loving and vibrant to the distressed, hurting and lonely, and those in between. And one of the most encouraging discoveries we made is that for couples who make it through the empty-nest transition, marital satisfaction rises if they keep working on their relationship. For those who don't take the risk to grow together, their marital bond slowly weakens over the years.

In our book The Second Half of Marriage (1996, Zondervan), we listed eight empty-nest challenges. We are convinced if you work through them, your marriage will be enriched.

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