Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 13, 2013

Mental Wellness: Empty nest calls for transition

Local columnist

— According to research, marital satisfaction peaks before the birth of a couple’s first child and never recovers until after the kids are gone. That’s pretty darn sad. For those of us with young kids, it’s also kind of dark news. But for those of you about to empty your nests this fall, congrats, your future looks bright.

When parents transition from full-time parenting to making the nest look nice when the kids return, it’s a big change. Here are a few things to consider:

Plan your time well

With extra time comes additional opportunities. Many new empty-nesters are at the pinnacle of their careers. Setting new career goals or continuing education is often a way to find new fulfillment. Also, most couples need to discuss what their new identity will look like as a couple and also as individuals. Often, parent’s social lives have revolved around their kid’s lives — what now?

Transition from parent to guide

Hopefully new empty-nesters have started the transition from parent to guide well before the last child leaves the home. Successful parents work to give their kids increasing independence through high school so that when college rolls around, it feels natural. Emotionally, parents should seek to allow appropriate independence, while also being a guide.

Hold off for a bit

Sometimes the pain or excitement of a child moving can leave a couple wanting to quickly erase that pain. Major decisions like selling the house should be well thought out so that the decision is not based on hiding from hurting emotions.

Grow together

Probably the best thing I have ever heard from an empty-nested couple is, “You have to find new ways to grow together.” Every year that a couple is together, they are not the same as on their wedding day. We each change and grow (hopefully in positive ways), so the person in front of you today is not the person that was across from you years ago.

As children “leave the nest” over the coming months, couples need to find new ways to grow together. They need to transition from being parents to being guides. Parents also need to recognize that big decisions may not be well thought out. Through this process, couples will achieve marital satisfaction unseen since before the kids were born.

Joseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling. The agency now offers Empty Nest Couples Assessments. For info on this and seven extra tips for parents about to be empty-nesters, go to