An old colleague who now lives alone with his wife was telling me how strange it felt to be an empty nester. Well, he didn’t quite use that expression but he spoke of the feeling of emptiness that afflicts most parents when grown up children leave home. His daughter had just got married and his son was studying abroad.
In India, it is more common for the girl who gets married to leave the parental house first. The boy may or may not leave his parents house. It depends on whether they choose to live together, especially after he gets married. He might otherwise choose to stay apart, but stay in touch.
As an empty nester, one important consideration is how you configure your new lifestyle. In all probability, you are retired from active work. The need for space is different. The pressures on time are different and the issues to be worried about are again, different. Some have opted to move to smaller accommodation. Amongst other things, the efforts and expense to maintain the bigger place is far less. Others have preferred to go the other way and sought out bigger and more spacious accommodation, even if it means going to a smaller town or suburb. The advantage here being that you get a bigger and perhaps better place , for the same amount of money. People from Bangalore may, for example, shift to Coimbatore or Mangalore. This phenomenon is universal as you can see from Joanne Kaufman’s recent article in the New York Times.
Admittedly where you live does influence your lifestyle, or the lack of it. However, despite where you stay, I believe a more important point is what you do. Many empty nesters find themselves with a lot of time on their hands and very little to do. Others miss their earlier hectic lives and mope about the past, which is really not too helpful.
Here are a few points that I have found useful in my own experience:
- Stay in touch: Thanks to technology, your children may be at the other end of the world but technology makes them appear as if they are right there with you. Be it over Skype, email or whatever , staying in touch with them is the single most important factor.
- Make the Effort: Remember a time when you were too busy to return a call or too late to wish someone because of the pressures of your work? Well, your children are now in the circumstance you were in years ago. Understand the difference and make the effort to stay in touch. Don’t wait for them to call or mail you.
- Develop Shared Interests: If you share interests, the old bonds will grow with a higher degree of commonality. There is a limit to which you can talk about the good old days when they were kids. They have their own lives to lead and their own interests. If they broadly match yours, all the better. They will get cheesed off if beyond a point you keep talking about your favorite political party and all that it stands for, if their priority is to earn a decent living.
- Offer advice but don’t expect it to be taken: They may stay far away but you are still his/her father/mother, and always will be. Offer advice, suggestions based on your experience but leave it to them to decide what’s best for them. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t follow your advice, unless they have specifically asked for it on an issue of importance.
- A State of Mind: An empty nest, at the end of the day, is a state of mind. You may remain connected strongly with your kids, even if they are on the other end of the world or you may be alienated from them, even if they live at the end of the same block.
The good news is that in making the best of the new situation, it is largely up to you and your spouse to cope . Tara Parker-Pope has some suggestions when she writes of what happens to your marriage when the children leave home. Again, respect the need for each of you to have your own interests. Encourage and support each other in learning new skills.
What’s best for you as individuals is, in my view, what’s best for the empty nest.