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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
September is the time of year when parents can suddenly be faced with an ‘empty nest’. It may be that the youngest child is off to university, going travelling or just wanting to live independently, leaving Mum and Dad on their own, having to learn how to be a couple again without the daily demands of ‘family life’.
For most couples, being parents takes up a whole lot of time and energy, two things that, pre-children, they were able to invest in their relationship. As offspring grow up and choose to make their own way in the world, the opportunity comes around again for parents to devote more time and effort in their couple relationship and their individual needs. This unfamiliar luxury can be something of a shock to some couples and it can take a while to reacclimatise and feel comfortable with being ‘just the two of us’ again.
How can this unfamiliar state of affairs be embraced and enjoyed rather than feared and rejected by newly ‘bereft’ couples?
As is usually the case, communication is the key; maybe it’s sitting together to discuss how they would like their new ‘freedom’ to work. Maybe it’s sharing their hopes and concerns about how their life will be, post-children living at home; maybe it’s facing the reality that somewhere along the line, during the parenting years couple closeness went out of the window.
The drudgery of paying the bills, the school runs, being a taxi service, managing home and work demands may well have taken its toll. No doubt changes will have occurred in individuals over the child rearing years. Not only the inevitable physical changes but expectations of each other and things they would like to achieve may have also changed. The ability to understand and tolerate change in a partner can be difficult, particularly when two partners now want very different things.
Some couples strive to go forward together resuming the closeness they once had and managing the changes in each other. They are able to use their childrens’ exit from the family home as an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, develop new interests together, and apart, and to resurrect and improve the couple relationship they once had.
For other couples it may be different; cracks in their relationship that have been masked by the parenting role may vividly appear, change in attitude and expectations of each other may feel just too overwhelming and unmanageable. They may choose to part and begin this new era in their life as a single person again.
Either way children leaving home can invite major change. It’s a time to review, rediscover and re-assess and look forward to a new way of being.