It seemed like it would never end. You got your kid through all the rigors of college applications (and maybe a few rejections along the way). You helped them make lots of memories during their senior year. You made sure they packed everything they needed for school and then carried it up all those flights of stairs in their dorm. You tried to hide your tears when you had to leave them on campus. And then you came back home — without them.
So now what?
Many parents experience Empty Nest Syndrome after their kids leave for college. According to “Psychology Today,” the symptoms include sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, distress and a loss of meaning and purpose. Moms who don’t work outside the home can be hit especially hard.
Empty Nest Syndrome is painful, but part of a very normal transition in life. Your child is starting college and you are now entering a new stage in life. You’ve probably strongly identified with being a “mom” for a long time. But now it’s time to reconnect with the other aspects of your life as well. Here are a few questions to help you move through Empty Nest Syndrome and spread your wings again.
What’s Going On With You and Your Husband?
Do the two of you still feel connected? Or have things been so busy that you are more like strangers? If that’s the case, now is a great time to rebuild your intimate friendship. You probably have more time to spend together, and you may even have a little extra cash for some fun weekend trips or other new experiences. If you want to refocus on your relationship now that you are empty nesters, my book Strong Women, Strong Love is a great resource.
Could Your Other Relationships Use Some Attention, Too?
Just as you might have neglected your marriage due to your focus on parenting, you may also have let some of the other relationships in your life fall off the radar. If your “social life” used to revolve your kid’s activities, think about the other options you have now. Perhaps you can hang out with the old friends you never seemed to have time to connect with before. Or maybe you could get to know your colleagues better by taking part in the after-work activities you used to skip. However you choose to expand your “relationship portfolio,” doing so will help with the feelings of loneliness that Empty Nest Syndrome can bring.
What Are YOU Interested In?
This can be the hardest question for many women to answer! You may have lost touch with your dreams, ambitions, passions and hobbies as you raised your kids. Now, just as you reconnect with others, it’s also time to reconnect with yourself. What activities would enrich your life? What would be just plain fun? (There’s a bonus here, too. When you pursue your own interests, it often spices up your marriage.)
What’s Meaningful to You Now?
According to the famous psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, you are now in stage of life called generativity vs. stagnation. At this stage, we feel compelled to create something meaningful that will outlive us. We start thinking a lot about making a difference and leaving a legacy. If we feel like we are failing at these things, then we have a sense of stagnation and disconnection.
Of course, you’ve already done something incredibly meaningful: nurturing a child who is now thriving at college. But as you’re remaking your life, look for other projects and relationships that enable you to make a contribution and feel connected something bigger.
With your child in college, there’s no denying that a part of your life is over. But an exciting new part is beginning. Enjoy your marriage, your other relationships, your passions and, yes, your grown-up kids!
many articles have you read about the importance of having regular date nights
with your husband?
From what I’ve seen, though, date night can backfire sometimes. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re determined to have a “real date,” so you hire a sitter and make reservations at a nice restaurant or buy tickets for a special event. The cost of the evening, both in time and money, weighs on you, and so does the expectation that this date will somehow work magic on your relationship. Not surprisingly, the whole thing ends up being more stressful than fun.
Here’s another common scenario: That nice dinner out (or other creative date night idea) is simply not possible for you right now, whether because of scheduling, finances or both. So you end up feeling that there’s something wrong with your relationship, or that you’re somehow missing out.
Change Your Idea of Date Night
Let’s take some of the pressure off you. Look, I’m the first one to recommend trying something new with your husband — like going on a fun adventure or checking out a new restaurant — to stoke the passion in your relationship. But if you can’t right now, that’s fine.
The point of having a date night isn’t to do something you can brag about on Instagram. It’s to connect with each other. That’s why I recommend broadening your definition of what a date is. What if you were to think of date night as any time the two of you can be fully present with each other? Date night could mean snuggling and talking on the couch in the quiet time after the kids go to bed. It could be having a candlelight dinner in your own dining room. Date night doesn’t even have to happen at night! If possible, how about sneaking off during your work day and grabbing lunch once in a while?
Look for opportunities to turn overlooked moments in your day into times to connect. Perhaps, you could you take a couple of minutes to catch up with each other after work before jumping into household tasks? Could you create a bedtime ritual that brings you closer?
You can make date nights as big or as small as you want them to be. The best dates for the two of you depend on your specific relationship and what’s going on with you right now. Try to go on at least one “date” this week. And for more ideas about strengthening your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
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With Mother’s Day right around the corner, today I have a special blog article on marriage and motherhood for you. It compiles advice from some of my most popular articles on this topic. Follow the link with each tip to read more.
1. Let experienced moms/wives show you the way. If this is your first Mother’s Day, you may already feel confused about how to juggle your marriage with your new responsibilities as a mom. Learning from seasoned parents who have already successfully made this stressful transition can be incredibly helpful. (Read more: Protecting Your Marriage When You Become Parents.)
2. Stop chasing perfection. It seems like the list of what women are “supposed” to be doing as wives and moms just keeps getting longer: staging elaborate parties for the kids, preparing organic meals, planning exotic vacations. And sometimes looking at other people’s social media feeds makes us feel like we’re the only ones not doing everything perfectly. As a result of constantly chase perfection, we often miss the flawed but lovely lives we already have. Pause, catch your breath and be in the moment. (Read more: ‘I’d Spend More Time Being, Not Doing’)
3. He does need to pitch in more. The research shows that in most marriages, wives still do more housework and childcare. If that’s true in your relationship, you’re probably feeling tired, frustrated and resentful. That’s not really conducive to being a loving, patient wife or mom! Open a conversation with your husband about how the two of you can manage household responsibilities better. That could mean that he takes on more or that you hire a housekeeper. (Read more: Why Does Marriage Get Worse After Kids?)
4. Do what you like doing sometimes. Do you always do what your husband or kids want to do? If that’s the case, then it’s time to get back in touch with your favorite hobbies and interests. This isn’t selfish. It actually makes you a better mom and wife. (Read more: Are You Stuck in a Rut? Here’s How to Re-Energize.)
5. Don’t forget to connect first. When we’re busy and stressed, it’s easy to take those we’re closest to for granted. We might be much more abrupt and less tactful with them than we are with other people. But taking that extra moment to connect first pays off. It helps your husband and your kids get into the mental space where they can truly hear what you’re saying and engage with you. (Read more: Connection is Always the First Step.)
Have a warm and joyful Mother’s Day!
Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”
Marriage isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all face
challenges like balancing work and family and somehow finding time to nurture
our relationships amid our busy lives.
Couples parenting children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities, though, face an extra level of difficulty. And that can take its toll. For example, one study found that parents of children with autism have a 10 percent higher chance of getting divorced.
The relationship advice I would give to any couple takes on even more relevance for parents of children with disabilities: The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to pull together whatever resources you can to help manage stress.
Parents of children with disabilities can face extra stress on many different fronts:
Paying for treatments or therapies for the child can stretch the family’s finances. Of course taking the child to these therapies can disrupt daily life.
When a child has a more severe disability, one parent may actually need to leave the workforce and stay home with the child. Of course, this can create additional financial strain, as well as feelings of isolation for the parent who stays home.
Caring for a child with health issues can place demands on time, which may limit a family’s ability to engage in activities and friendships they once enjoyed. It’s also easy to neglect your relationship when time runs short.
The emotional part of caring for a child with a disability can be hard. Chronic worry about your child and their future can be draining. Feeling frustrated when demands are high is normal, but many parents also feel guilty for feeling this way.
Being spontaneous can be difficult when your child’s every day life requires extensive planning and preparation. The monotony of a rigid, demanding schedule can become exhausting.
Stress Makes It Hard to Relate
So much stress has a very real effect on your brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel says that under extreme stress, the primitive area of the brain geared toward survival hijacks the part of that brain that reasons, plans and makes good decisions. He calls this “flipping your lid.” When this happens, it’s almost impossible to be rational.
As you probably guessed, it’s a struggle to be a good partner when you’re in this mode. You have trouble processing information and hearing each other. That makes it hard to have empathy. You may also become defensive and have difficulty being open. Since you’re in self-protection mode, your capacity for being patient with each other may be compromised.
Give Your Marriage Care Too
No doubt, you and your husband are fully committed and resourceful when it comes to seeking help for your child. But it’s important to also apply some of that care and dedication to your marriage. When your partnership is strong, that’s better for everyone in your family.
One vital thing you can do for your marriage is getting practical help to deal with your challenges. That help could take different forms, from seeking respite care to asking friends and family if they can take on an occasional babysitting shift or errand run for you. Don’t hesitate to try marriage counseling if you need a constructive place to figure out how to protect your marriage while supporting your child’s needs.
You should also take a look at the expectations you’re placing on yourself. Being a devoted parent doesn’t mean never taking time to focus on your marriage. Remember, without daily maintenance, your marriage is at greater risk for deteriorating. Since you probably don’t get much alone time with your husband, learn to maximize the value of small moments when you can connect throughout the day, like when you both first come home after work.
The best way to manage stress is to practice self-care. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your own basic needs because you are always focused on the needs of your child. Remembering that you need rest, nutritious food and support will make you a better caregiver. It’s also helpful to talk about how you and your husband respond to stress and how to engage each other at challenging times.
The two of you can be each other’s greatest ally as you work together to do what’s best for your child. It’s entirely possible for a marriage to grow stronger in the face of adversity, as long as you manage the situation well. For more ideas on maintaining your bond, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
If you were able to enjoy a more leisurely pace this summer, it’s probably becoming a distant memory now that September is here. If you have kids, you’ve taken care of back-to-school shopping. Now you’re filling the calendar with the kids’ school events and other activities while trying to keep the household running and juggling everyone’s packed schedules.
And you’re probably doing most of this on your own, right?
Researchers have long noted that women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do (although men are doing better than they did in the past). But there’s another aspect of inequality in domestic responsibilities that’s starting to come to the forefront. And that’s the idea of mental load.
What Is Mental Load?
Mental load encompasses all the planning, scheduling, strategizing and anticipating that go into managing your home and family. It’s all the information you routinely keep track of: your kids’ teachers, best friends and clothing sizes — and on and on. It’s the running list of errands or home projects you keep in your head.
Women carry a higher mental load than men do. Being the only person who knows what needs to be done is extra work for you — even if your husband happily helps with household tasks when you ask.
You might see a lot of yourself and your husband in “You Should’ve Asked,” a comic about the mental load by an artist known as Emma.
“When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores,” Emma writes. Being the household manager and organizer, she adds, is basically a full-time job.
Part of women’s mental load is also thinking more about the “big picture” than their male partners often do. Did you cringe at the scene in the comic where the woman asks her husband to take the baby’s bottle out of the dishwasher? He does — but leaves the rest of the clean dishes inside.
How to Share the Mental Load
Shouldering the majority of your household’s mental load over the long term is a recipe for resentment that will ultimately damage your marriage.
So how can you and your husband redistribute the mental load differently?
First, it’s always best to talk about the situation openly. He may notice that you’re stressed but not understand that this stress is related to your mental load — which means that he doesn’t know what needs to change. And if you’ve been dropping hints, it’s not a very effective way to communicate.
We all go into marriage with our own “scripts” about how things should be. Those scripts are shaped by the families we grew up with and by the culture as a whole. It’s easy to think that our script is the same as everyone else’s, but that isn’t the case. For example, your husband might assume that the way his parents’ marriage worked is just the way that all marriages work.
Remember, though, that inequities in how the two of you handle your family’s mental load could also stem from your script. As women, we grow up hearing lots of messages about how we should tirelessly devote ourselves to the needs of others.
Compare your scripts so that you can understand and empathize with where the other person is coming from. Once you’ve opened the conversation, the next step is working together to negotiate who is fully responsible for managing various tasks. Maybe that means he takes over planning meals and making the grocery list while you cook. Perhaps he takes the lead with your daughter’s gymnastics lessons while you manage her school activities. It doesn’t matter how you distribute the work. What’s important is that it feels fair to both of you.
If particular tasks need to be done by a certain time, identify the time frame so both of you have the same expectations. If one of you is better at a task, go ahead and play to your strengths and let that person be responsible for it. Same thing if you care more about a particular area — you should be the one in charge of it.
As more of the mental load shifts to your husband, you may find yourself having difficulty letting go. You will have to grapple with your own perfectionism or anxiety about not being in charge. If you find yourself micromanaging tasks that you both agreed he would manage, he’s likely to get upset with you.
You have to trust your husband and give him space to figure out his own system for managing his responsibilities. After all, he is an adult. He may not do things in the same way you do, or do them to your standards. But it’s healthier to redefine your definition of “good enough” than to continue to carry your whole family’s mental load.
Talking about mental load with your husband and working together on changes might not be easy. But it will improve your marriage and help you set a better example for your kids. If you’d like more practical advice on balancing marriage, family and career, you’ll enjoy my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
For around 30 years, researchers have studied how having children affects a marriage, and the results are conclusive: the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come along. Comparing couples with and without children, researchers found that the rate of the decline in relationship satisfaction is nearly twice as steep for couples who have children than for childless couples. In the event that a pregnancy is unplanned, the parents experience even greater negative impacts on their relationship.
For most people, marital discontent after having kids occurs because of the loss of their intimate friendship with their spouse. This friendship is naturally taken for granted when it’s just the two of you. Maintaining this bond is harder amid all the demands of parenthood. But it’s not impossible. Here are a few strategies for keeping your marriage strong after you become parents.
Moms Are Overburdened
Research shows that the primary childcare responsibilities still fall on women, who also do considerably more housework and spend more hours multitasking than their husbands do. It’s hard to feel romantic and connected to your husband when you’re exhausted or resentful all the time!
Talk openly about household responsibilities and how the two of you and can keep everything from falling on your shoulders. This may mean that your husband takes on additional tasks or that you rework your budget so that you can afford to hire a housekeeping service.
You Need Couple Time
In many families, life revolves around the kids’ schedules, needs and desires. This happens because of parents’ desire to do what’s best for their kids, but this isn’t best for anyone. Children do not want to be — and should not be — the center of the universe. More than additional time, most children need parents who are more relaxed, emotionally attuned to them and involved in a loving, respectful marriage.
As a couple, you need time together to keep your relationship vibrant, but may feel guilty taking away from “family time.” Just remember that if you never prioritize your marriage, it is at greater risk for deteriorating, and that is not good either for you or your children. Children benefit from any effort you put into your marriage. For kids, seeing their parents happy with each other is an extremely stabilizing experience. That steadiness gives them a solid foundation from which to flourish.
Spending time as a couple does not have to break your budget. If you can’t afford a babysitter right now, make sure the kids are in bed early and spend some quality time with your husband in the evening. Have lunch together or take a little time here and there when the kids are in school. If you have friends in the same boat, trade babysitting every few weeks. Give yourself permission to put your needs first at times and bring some fun back into your marriage.
Families Are Overextended
Another way to free up time for your marriage, and to change the whole atmosphere of your family, is to simplify life. As parents, we’re under tremendous pressure to do everything “right” for our kids. There’s an underlying message that you must give them every opportunity to develop their talents and interests and that you must fill their lives with memorable experiences. So we spend hours carting kids all over town to various activities, and we spend money on lessons, tutoring, elaborate birthday parties and over-the-top vacations.
Let me take some of the pressure off: Pushing children to develop every talent and excel at everything is not good for them, especially if you are forcing them well beyond their personal limits. You will not damage, deprive or prevent your child from thriving if you do not provide the “perfect” childhood as portrayed in magazines, parenting blogs and your friends’ social media feeds. Take back control of your parenting so that you and your husband are not frantically attempting to meet the latest fabricated need. Scale back activities to the ones that are truly meaningful for your family.
Despite its challenges, parenting is an experience that is truly life changing. The depth of love you can feel for a child can be absolutely breathtaking, and sharing that bond with your husband can be another source of intimacy. Children have a way of helping us become aware of our place in the life cycle and can bring tremendous joy and meaning to life. Balancing your own needs with those of the vulnerable little humans for whom you are responsible requires tremendous maturity, planning and commitment, but is entirely doable if you stay focused and simplify. Need a guide to caring for your marriage as you nurture your family? Pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.