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Claudia Arp on Your Empty Nest
Claudia Arp is co-founder of Marriage Alive International along with her husband, David. Their non-profit, marriage and family educational organization is dedicated to helping congregations and community groups build better marriages and families. Claudia and David have been married for more than 40 years and have written more than 30 books, including the 10 Great Dates series and the award-winning title, The Second Half of Marriage. Here, Arp offers her advice on overcoming the challenges of an empty nest.
What happens to parents during the first 30 days of having an empty nest?
For the parent whose focus has been on raising the kid, she or he basically experiences a loss of identity. For couples that lose the emotional connectedness they had through their children, they now don’t know what to say to each other. They fear the silence.
What concerns do you see parents of an empty nest coping with? What can they do to overcome them?
For some, the empty nest is a misnomer, because there may still be adult children around; so dealing with them is a concern. Mothers often go through a grieving process. In our books, we suggest that if a parent is deeply sad or even showing signs of depression that she get professional help.
We also advise parents to bring closure to that part of their lives. This is a time when couples realize they have lost their emotional connectedness. Transitional times are always risky. We believe, though, that at this stage of marriage you can reinvent your relationship.
What are the most important things to DO as a parent and as a couple in these first 30 days?
First, give things a chance to settle down. Get some rest. Slow down. It’s okay to go to bed at eight o’clock and to give yourself permission to not be productive. Don’t make any major or speedy decisions. Give yourself time to renew your stamina and resist filling up your schedule. Many people tend to fill up all the time and space that is vacated when a child leaves home. You become first on everyone’s volunteer list.
Partners need to acknowledge to each other that this is a time of transition and that it can bring out insecurities. Don’t fear the silence. Work on a project with your spouse. Go to a marriage class together. Upgrade your communication skills. This is important because now, not only do you have time to start an argument, you also have time to finish one. Celebrate the change with a lovely dinner out or a weekend away.
How do men and women differ in their experience of the empty nest?
It is an interesting stage in life because men are usually at the peak of their careers and are now focusing more on home life and retirement. Women, on the other hand, who are generally more responsible for the kids, now become more expansive, wanting to go back to school for a degree or get their real estate license and such.
It can seem like the partners of the marriage are moving in opposite directions, but in fact, they are moving closer. If they realize this, they can capitalize on it. Now is a good time to set goals for the second half of life.
What types of obstacles do couples face in the first 30 days of an empty nest?
We did a survey with about 1000 people and found there were eight challenges that couples faced at this time. The first one is to let go of past disappointments. We suggest sitting down and making a list of what you will never do again—dreams that won’t happen now, unrealistic expectations. Then make a list of what you are going to do.
The other seven challenges mentioned in The Second Half of Marriage are:
1. Create a marriage that is partner-focused, rather than child-focused.
2. Maintain an effective communication system that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys and concerns.
3. Use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship.
4. Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse.
5. Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship.
6. Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children.
7. Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage.
Are there phases that parents go through, especially in these first 30 days?
The phases of the process have to do with how successful the couple or individuals feel as parents. If a child makes what the parents believe are inappropriate choices on leaving the nest, then the parents will struggle with the change even more.
Normally the stages are: Separation from your child—realizing that you are not your child and your child is not you; letting go of past disappointments; and then, looking to the future.
After the first 30 days of a child flying the coop, what should parents do to continue to move through the change positively?
It’s important to keep building relationships with others. Look for ways to grow as a person, perhaps by mentoring a younger mother. Offer time and service to others. Have lunch with a friend. Write a book. Work on your love life.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
My husband and I both go to our faith. We find our strength comes from there. Prayer is important to us.
The best thing about change is…
…it gives you a chance to reinvent your life. It keeps you from getting in a rut, from getting stale.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Marrying my husband and moving to Virginia several years ago. We love the international atmosphere here. The move was worth taking the risk.
For more information on Claudia Arp, visit www.marriagealive.com.