Seeing your own children leave for college is both a gain and a loss -- a gain for them in their quest for independence, a loss for you in your need to readjust without them. The long process of bringing them into the world, of raising and nurturing, of inspiring them to higher aspiration, lead inevitably to their departure into the world and your arrival at a new point in your life.
So it was with us, two parents who had reared two children to maturity. For much of our marriage, children predominated and took over. Our energy was expended almost totally in their behalf, and thus we had little left for developing our own relationship as husband and wife. It was only after they had left that we had the time to focus exclusively on ourselves. This as a kind of liberty we had never known before.
The central consideration becomes: Is there enough in the marriage, now that the children do not take center stage, to make it worthwhile going on? We asked ourselves that many times, talked about it incessantly, reviewed the years of involvement in the children and looked at our situation now. The conclusion we came up with is the conclusion that the path we knew before was well-routed, but the road we take now is primarily up to us. Simply, our relationship has to be worked on, developed, strengthened. What was good is cemented; what will be good for the future requires a whole new transaction.
Actually, it's exciting to get to know my wife again, to have the time to share experiences intimately, to give myself devotedly to her concerns, to say "I love you" spontaneously. It's coming home to peaceful surroundings, to an orderly house, to an unstructured setting in which we can control our activities as we see fit. No longer need we be controlled by the demands of children or subject to their needs. At this stage of life, we are in complete command.
It takes a while to get used to this new rhythm. There are no longer the sound of young ones to raise us up from our seats, the patter of feet in other rooms to alert us to some melee, the clatter that always stirs us to readiness. The quiet of a once-stormy house allows us to think, to feel, and to be close. This new rhythm ushers in a whole new consideration of each other as people apart from children. And it is delicious.
In such quiet moments we reminisce a lot -- about our previous role as nurturers. We recall the many pleasures as well as the pain, the highs and lows , the surprises that always greeted us.We wonder whether we did the right thing, made the right decision, acted in their best interest. Often, we just join hands and say, "We did our best. Now let's hope they will be decent adults."
Our children return for visits, telephone frequently, write letters. The contact and closeness are there, but the relationship is different. We see them and share in their new life but soon they leave. Our home is no longer the nest that sheltered them; it is a place to visit and stay for a short time.
In many ways, the "empty nest" period can be the best of times. We can be ourselves, develop in new ways, rechart our life together. The key to the success of our new years together is investment: our willingness to make our coupleness a thing of beauty. With no other responsibilities to intervene, we can renew our marriage vows, intensify our love, and become closer friends. And that is what we are doing: broadening our social life, getting involved in areas of interest, sharing fresh activities together. We are spending time in ways we never dreamed before. Separate interests have become blended pleasures.
Since the children have gone, we as a couple have become more trusting, more open, more revealing about our feelings. As a result, we are discovering a love that is quite different from the love we enjoyed as parents. It is like a faith renewed.
We look ahead with increased confidence that we will share a life together. We look back and see the road we have taken. It is this past road, filled with the joy and pain of raising children, that will, if properly bridged, lead joyously to a richer phase of married life. We are taking advantages of every moment to make this a reality.