When your kids are in the last years of high school, life seems a whirlwind of homework, extracurricular activities, community service projects, ACT and SAT prep and testing, college visits and applications, and scholarship meetings. But somewhere in the midst of this frenzy, it hits you - the kids are leaving. The nest will be empty.
As far as life changes go, this is a big one. It's like finding yourself unemployed, or, worse, fired. A lot of time, love, and effort went into those offspring, and suddenly the hands-on, daily part of the job is over. You can't help feeling a little sad and lonely, and no matter how well the kids turned out, you probably have some regrets.
But your toughest assignment won't be adjusting to missing the kids. It'll be adjusting to your marriage. Couples realize they've let their lives revolve around the children, and once they're gone, the big question is, "Now what?" "All of a sudden the two of you are sitting there thinking, 'What do we talk about?' " says Ingrid Melrose of Houston, whose youngest child recently started college. "You have to readjust to having conversations with your spouse."
Chances are, family activities revolved around the kids, too. Remember the last time you went out as a couple, just for fun? No? You're not alone. "Your marriage has been child-centered, and one of the big challenges is to go from that child focus to a partner focus," points out Claudia Arp, marriage educator and coauthor of Empty Nesting and The Second Half of Marriage. "Issues you think are long buried resurface. It's easy to be lonely and stressed out. An empty nest is a time of particular danger for an affair."