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Guide to Becoming an Empty Nester

Empty Nesters: Manage Change with Big Plans, Reasonable Expectations

You knew this day was coming. You looked forward to it and dreaded it, looked forward to it and dreaded it again. Your kids are off to college, a job, a place of their own. Your nest will be empty for the first time in more than a decade or maybe two. So now what?

Becoming an empty nester is a bittersweet change. It's exhilarating, emotional, a little scary and, if you let it be, a lot stressful. But you don't have to ride that emotional roller coaster with your eyes closed. Instead, if you look ahead and plan, it can be a time of exciting growth and change for you, your spouse and your kids.

Communicate With Your Partner

Start by talking with your spouse about expectations for life in the empty nest.

Some parents might be thrilled at the prospect of traveling or home remodeling, while others might feel like sitting outside the now-empty room and having a good, long cry.

“It's natural to feel a sense of loss. It's natural to feel sad. It's also natural to feel a little excited,” Dr. Terri Orbuch, a marriage therapist and author of "5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great,” said in her tips for couples becoming empty nesters .

She suggested making a list of what you love about parenting and what you won't miss. Sometimes seeing the good and the bad side by side can make the bad not quite so bad.

Next, it's time to focus on you and your relationship with your partner. Parenting is a tough but rewarding job, but often it doesn't leave time for self-examination or growth, let alone date nights or couples' adventures.

In the Tribune story, Orbuch suggested talking to your spouse/partner for at least 10 minutes a day about “s omething other than the house, work or children,” as well as focusing on goals, “both individual (how do I want to reconnect with myself?) and as a couple (what is something we've always wanted to do together)?”

Bittersweet, exciting time perfect for focus on you, your spouse

Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College, in her advice for getting over an empty nest , advised “ this is a time for you and your husband to rekindle your romance, have privacy in the house, travel, get to know one another again.” And it's time to dream, she said.

“Make a list of things you always wanted to do but couldn't because you were raising your kids. Maybe it's pottery, writing or learning the piano. Maybe it's finding a new career or going back to school. You are never too old to learn.”

Saltz also advised “avoid big changes. Don't make big moves yet. Give yourself time to adjust rather than suddenly selling the house or moving. It takes most people between one and a half to two years to fully adjust.”

Natalie Caine, a columnist and blogger who has two transitions websites -- and , in her empty nest tips for personal transformation said it's important to “honor all the feelings that emerge in your emptiness. … Allow yourself space and time to grieve for a role that is shifting.”

And don't measure your success based on others, she warned. “ Delete the need to compare yourself to how other parents are dealing with empty nest. You don't know what went on behind closed doors.”

If the thought of an empty nest still seems daunting, our team of amazing counselors are here to help. Call us today for your free consultation .