The real question, is will you survive Empty Nest?

The day our oldest daughter learned to tell time, was a monumental day for our family.  She had been really struggling to grasp the concept and as the big sister of 4 younger sisters, she felt it her duty to learn the art of time telling to keep her younger siblings on schedule. “It’s time for lunch, girls.” It’s nap time little sisters”. She was quite the big sister and we celebrated this accomplishment with her.

Until it came time to putting all to bed that evening. We were going through the nighttime ritual of teeth brushing, endless cups of water, nighttime prayers and favorite Disney songs, when our oldest declared “Mom, it’s not eight o’clock yet. The big hand isn’t on the twelve and the little hand isn’t on the eight!”

I am not giving parenting advice as I don’t know if this makes us terrible parents or geniuses, but we had been known, from time to time, to declare “bed time girls, it’s 8:00 o’clock” a little before the big hand was actually on the eight. Friday night was our date night. Raising 5 girls on one income, meant that money was tight, so date night for us usually consisted of moving the TV in our room and snuggling in bed with a movie. Or sometimes getting Arbys and eating French fries by candlelight.

Only occasionally did we hire a sitter and go on an “out of the house” date. It was on one of these rare occasions that one of our twins, who is a lover of truth-even at that young age-looked at us about ready to leave for a movie date and said to us “You know, if you and daddy went on less dates than maybe we could go to a movie as a family more than once a year.” 

And she was right. It was true.  At that time, we bundled our girls up and went to the “big theater” once a year at Christmas time.  Treating 7 people to a movie and popcorn was costly, and well, honestly it took us all year to save up enough for that special treat.

As I had my hand on the door ready to leave for our special, rare date, I turned around and got down on her level. I looked that sweet 6-year-old in the eye and said to her “Sweetie, do you know why daddy and I go on special out of the house dates sometimes?” As she nodded her head no, I kindly but gently said words that she could in no way understand in her young age, but came true oh so quickly, “Because honey, someday you and your sisters won’t live here anymore and it will just be me and daddy.”

“Someday” came faster than I ever imagined it would. In the middle of the chaos of spilled milk, and constant potty breaks, little or no sleep and forever wiping runny noses, I often would hide in the shower and wonder if they would ever grow up.

But grow up they did and spread their little wings far. Too far, I sometimes think. However, we did raise them to make their mark on this big, beautiful world. And from coast to coast, that is exactly what they are doing.

We went from 2 daughters at home, to 0 daughters at home in the span of 3 months. It was a bit of a shock to my mommy heart and I cried most of the day after I dropped my youngest off at the airport. But the next morning, my hubby texted me at work and asked if I wanted eat a pizza together in front of the tv-cuddled up just the two of us. The next evening, we skipped dinner all together and just ate popcorn while playing a two-player game. We quickly realized that, although we missed the chatter and the laughter of the girls, we rather liked that we were only accountable to each other. We could eat dinner whenever we felt like-or not at all. We could stay cuddled up a little longer on a Saturday morning. We could go on an “out of the house date” without explaining it to a 6 year old.

Recently, that amazing daughter of mine who once declared that we should go on less dates, looked me in the eye and thanked me that dad and I made it a priority to invest in our marriage throughout their childhood.

Too often we hear of marriages that end once the kids leave the house. Of course, there are all kinds of factors involved, but I can’t help but think that a lot of is just due to the fact that raising kids is stressful. It can just plain get overwhelming. It is too easy to run ragged separate paths as we are dropping one kid off at dance here, and picking up another from soccer. Family dinners become obsolete and conversation centers around schedules and report cards over hopes and dreams and laughter.

We fear they will never grow up, but more than that, we fear the kids are our whole universe and the only thing we, as a couple, have in common.

If you are in the middle of the chaos, I know you are not even thinking about the day you drop them off at the airport. If you are anything like me, you are hiding in the shower until all the hot water runs out, with tears streaming down your face wondering if you are actually going to survive.

I have complete confidence that you are going to survive raising your kids. I really do.

The real question, is are you going to survive empty nest? More than likely it is going to last longer than the 20 or so years that it took to raise your kids.

I know you are tired. And all you really want is a hot bath, your favorite book and a glass of wine. To be left alone.

But please, for your kids that will be adults someday. For you and your spouse that will, before you know it, be sitting at a dinner table set for two. Call a sitter.

And when your toddler cries while you are heading out the door, get down on their level, look them in the eye and say “I am dating your daddy because someday you and your siblings won’t live here anymore”.