Second Childhood?
February 5, 2009 8:20 AM   Subscribe

What is empty nest like for couples who had their children young? My wife and I had our daughter young. We are both 31 and our daughter is 13. We have been raising children our whole adult life. What is it like for parents like us when their children move out?

Let's assume my daughter goes away to college and becomes financially independent in her early 20s. (For the record, we're not going to be those creepy parents calling colleges asking why snowflake is failing.) For people like us, what will our late 30s and 40s be like? What does it feel like to be a raising children your whole adult life and then not be. Obviously parenting doesn't end when your kids go off to college, but it's certainly different.

Most people we know are *just* starting to have kids, but here we are picking out high schools. Our daughter will graduate from high school when most of our friends' children will be entering elementary. These other couples obviously have better prepared careers, so I bet we'll become more career focused, but I don't know.

I guess I am interested in what it's like for couple's who had their children later, but I am really interested in what it's like for couples like us who had essentially no adult life that didn't involve children. Anecdotes welcome.

PS: We're not going to have any more children.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
see: Gilmore Girls :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:48 AM on February 5, 2009

A colleague of mine is 40 and just sent her only son off to college. Over the last few years she has greatly advanced her career and also became a yoga instructor. She travels and has an active social life and (this is superficial) she looks fantastic from having the time to take care of herself.

I had my kids late- I'm 38 and they are all under 7. I don't have regrets b/c I allowed myself an extended adolescence until the age of 31, but I do see that starting earlier could have afforded me the same adventures later in life - only with more money, perspective, and appreciation. I think you are good to go. Enjoy and don't compare out.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 8:52 AM on February 5, 2009

Wonderful! I'm 48 and my two boys are 24 and 25. All I have to do is show up for work 5 days a week. Otherwise, I have few responsibilities.
posted by Carbolic at 9:11 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've got a 17 year old and that empty nest is starting to sound like fun. You'll be able to focus more on yourself and your marriage. My wife is getting involved in projects outside the home and I'm looking at going back to school for fun (a biology class here, Italian I there, maybe a little programming, etc, etc), while we're both looking at finally being able to do more traveling as just a couple. Big bonus is that you get to hang out with the kid and not worry about them and just enjoy their company
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:20 AM on February 5, 2009

You move on with your career I guess. I had a former boss, originally from Texas, who came to head the marketing dept at a software company in Toronto. One day he brought his 13 year-old grandson in with him as he was visiting. He had his kids at 20 and his kids had their kids at 20, so by his 50's my boss had pretty big grandkids. What was interesting was that one of my boss' sons was also a software exec as was one of his other kids - I think they could have fielded an entire executive team for a mid-sized software company from within the family. Anyway, he was able to take a job far afield because he had experience but he didn't have anything tying him down home. I don't think he even sold his house in texas.

You can take jobs overseas that require experience. You can work 50 hours a week if that floats your boat or dial it back since your kids will (hopefully) be financially independent. You will suddenly have far more time than your friends to focus on career advancement as they dial down to deal with young families. You'll have the income and vacation time available to travel if you want (assuming you have some level of job seniority). In short, you get to do in your 40's what all your friends did in their late 20's.

Have fun!
posted by GuyZero at 9:32 AM on February 5, 2009

It feels a little odd. My daughter is 18 years younger than I am and when she went off to college, which coincided with my younger son going to hippie boarding school, I was at loose ends for quite a while. I didn't know what on earth to do with myself and I moped around and was somewhat self destructive and all that kind of thing. I got over it though.

I'm happy to report that some years later, now that my daughter is 26 and completely on her own and my son is 17 and currently not home either, I have no trouble with this empty nest thing at all. In fact, it's awesome. I can do whatever I want whenever I want for basically the first time in my adult life. Like, last night I watched a movie I wanted to watch - that could well have been rated R, it didn't have to be PG - and finished knitting another hat: whoo! Seriously, though, if I want to meet friends for drinks after work, I can, and that feels good.

You will miss your daughter at first, yes. But you may well find that you get over that surprisingly quickly. Don't feel guilty. And, one of the great things about having kids young is that they often become good friends of yours when they grow up. My daughter is one of my best friends now and I treasure that. My own parents were in their late thirties when I was born and while we got along fairly well, the generation gap was much wider and less navigable. My daughter and I can and do talk about anything at all; it's good.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:52 AM on February 5, 2009

See, this is one of the great benefits about having kids while young that nobody talks about. Well, except here. I have friends not much younger than me that are still dealing with grade school while my kids have jobs.

What's it like? How about chasing (and catching!) each other around the house whenever you feel like it? How about coming and going as you please? How about eating what you want, when you want? How about time for your own projects?

Miss the kids? You bet but that's going to happen anyway so spend that energy on something fun or at least interesting instead of guilt.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:17 AM on February 5, 2009

You may find there's greater emphasis on your relationship with your wife. Depending upon the health of your marriage, this can create more intimacy or augmented stress.

I've a few friends currently going through empty nest adjustment. Here are the two most extreme examples.

Couple 1 has an enviable 25-year relationship. Their youngest daughter lived at home whilst at college, but moved away after securing full-time employment. Their subsequent reduction in expenses, coupled with increased time for togetherness, have allowed them to recently take an extended trip to Costa Rica, enroll together in a cooking class, and spend evenings enjoying each other's company.

Couple 2 has a rocky 23-year marriage. Their youngest son is off to college. The husband vacationed alone in Hawaii (we *think* he was alone). The wife vacationed alone in Vail (we *think* she was alone). Whereas when their son was at home, they made great effort to be civil to each other, and focused together upon parenting, nowadays they are not so civil and lead very independent lives.

So empty-nest can be a bit of a magnifying lens for your relationship.
posted by terranova at 12:41 PM on February 5, 2009

I can't answer this from the parent point of view, but my parents had me at the ages of 18/21 so they were just turning 40 by the time I was flying on my own. They appear to have really enjoyed it, and in retrospect it looks really smart - they've left themselves decades of able-bodied, decently-monied life to enjoy together.

It does seem to cause a relationship adjustment, but on the other hand, empty nests always do no matter what time in life they arrive.

My folks seemed to have gotten a lot out of making travel plans to go new places together. This occupies a lot of their time as they research, book and plan trips, and then come back and relive trips and edit the photos and so on. They also have an active social life and go out to hear music a lot. Since they enjoy the same activities I believe their relative youth has given them a chance to be a dating couple again - which they got precious little of when they were young.

PRepare for the kids to bounce back and forth a while. I lived with my folks for 9 months at one point after college. I also did call them for periodic bailouts when I needed it. So it's not as though they disappear.

One surprising thing that we've turned out to enjoy is meeting together on vacation. I would bring friends (even in my 20s) and meet them at one of their favorite weekend spots. I usually stayed in a different but nearby hotel, and we would do some of our own thigns and some things together. This has been a lot of fun and is a good way to stay connected without the kid having to "come home" all the time. IT's a basis for a more adult relationship between all family members.
posted by Miko at 3:02 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not an emptynester.

But, I think that terranova has a good point. I came in here to tell you that now that I'm pregnant, my empty nest sister gave me the following nugget of advice, which I think makes a lot of sense: even though you will tend to let your children become your whole world, never let your relationship with your spouse become something you don't nurture and care for, because someday your kids will leave. and your spouse will stay. You don't want to suddenly realize that you have both changed and grown without paying attention, and that you no longer like each other.

I had another family member recently tell me that you will tend to let children fill up your life, but to remember that capacity for love is infinite, and that infinity plus infinity is infinity, so the infinite love for your child does not have to replace your infinite love for your spouse. Same kind of idea, I guess.

As for my parents, they were late in life empty nesters (they were in their mid-40s when I was born), and they still went through a strange period of dating/rejuvenation when I left for school. I would call home and they'd be out... on a picnic, or a mystery trip, or something else. It was freaky from a kids standpoint :)
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:03 PM on February 5, 2009

the circle of friends I hung out with a few years back included a woman who was a few years older than me, and had a 19 year old who was just moving out and starting her own life. My friend was able to focus on her career and herself, and seemed to be having a pretty damn good time. I tell you that girl could par-ty.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:32 PM on February 5, 2009

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