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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

For parents, empty nest can be full of promise

nester9.jpgWhat’s next? That is the looming question many Oklahoma families will face this fall when they usher the youngest child out of the house and, in a moment of hand-wringing fear and giddy excitement, officially empty the proverbial nest.

After the birth of children, the second major adjustment for many marriages comes when those children are grown up enough to leave the home, said Ron Cox, associate professor and Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension marriage and family specialist.

“After a couple spends 20 years raising their kids, they often find that they don’t really know each other anymore once it’s just the two of them again,” Cox said. “It can be very difficult for parents when the last child leaves home.”

Ensuring their children’s well-being is a full-time job for parents, which is why research shows that on average marital quality takes a bit of a hit when kids come along.

“The decline in marital quality is normal, actually, as couples figure out the routine that comes with raising children and maintaining the household,” Cox said. “Meanwhile, couples may not spend as much time on their own relationship so it frequently gets neglected.”

However, once those children are ready to strike out on their own, it forces husbands and wives to rethink the marriage. This can be a great opportunity for rediscovery or it could be problematic if a couple feels they do not know each other anymore.

In fact, there is a small spike in the divorce rate around the 22-year marriage anniversary mark, proving just how difficult it can be to go back to the days before diapers, soccer practices and homework.

However, for many couples the empty nest is a chance to start anew.

One of the ways couples successfully negotiate the transition from full house to empty nest is by finding positive experiences they can share together.

“Maybe you take up a shared hobby, seek out other couples to socialize with or begin planning your retirement home,” Cox said. “With the kids gone, you’ve a lot of time to fill, and it’s important to spend most of it doing things you enjoy. As your role as a parent becomes less demanding, you and your spouse have a chance to start pursuing old dreams or chasing new ones.”

Actually, couples do not have to wait for the kids to completely clear out to begin identifying activities they can share.

“Start by setting aside a date night or scheduling lunch together once a week,” said Cox. “Or, consider getting involved in a cause, perhaps through a social service agency or a church. Giving back in a way that is meaningful to each of you not only helps renew the bonds of your relationship, but also benefits a cause in which you both believe.”


Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
158 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078