Friday, August 12, 2022

A nest is thought of as a place, representing home, where the offspring, or children, grow with their parents watching over them and guiding them as they slowly move into adulthood. When the children become more independent and begin making their way in the world, they usually do so somewhat gradually, as, for example, going to college or spending a year or two in Israel, almost always maintaining contact with the parents.

When the children take off on their own (as in when they marry and move away from their parents and get firmly entrenched in their own work or career), there usually is at least some contact that in most cases goes on until the parent becomes old or increasingly infirm and, in many cases the child(ren) then become caregivers, at least in terms of some general involvement in their lives. There are, of course, many variations in the pattern, as, for example, when the parents and children continue to maintain somewhat close contact, which is more common in the Orthodox community. But what happens to the parents when the children leave home?

We usually refer to what the parents begin to experience as the empty nest syndrome, typically thought of as a somewhat lonely and depressing period. In many cases, that is somewhat accurate. The parents, and more frequently, the mother, become lonely, angry and jealous of people who have their children living closer by and who continue to dependent on them. Or they become enmeshed in their children’s lives and embedded in the typical problems that most couples face. In either case, the spouse (usually the father) is pushed to a place that is even further removed from the caring, sharing place that we often fantasize about marriage, and the marriage begins to deteriorate.

In many cases, the relationship between the parents and children is reset in a positive, respectful way. The parents, though still concerned, stay somewhat removed from the children’s own marital issues and are there for advice or suggestion as requested or allowed by the children. The issue of parents helping out their children is a somewhat problematic one. Though parents supporting or helping support their children is very much appreciated by the children, it usually comes at a big cost. A parent helping support a child has a strong interest in how the child is living and spending his money, and this often leads to difficulty and clashes, and sometimes a very troubled relationship. In most cases, the advice of Roshei Yeshivos notwithstanding, it is best if the children make their way in life on their own, even though it might be very difficult.

People experience feelings of empty nest to various degrees. Some do very well, enjoying their lives by spending more of their time in ways that were always appealing to them, but they were usually too busy and occupied to be able to get around to. Their life as a couple gets better, as they have more time and attention to spend on each other, rather than their children. Or they may devote themselves more fully to their careers or businesses than they were able to before, and enjoy the time they do have with their spouse. The following things should be done in order to prepare for the future and make the transition into being alone with each other that much more special.  For one thing, your marriage has to be the foremost focus of your lives, right from the beginning. That obviously doesn’t mean that you don’t pay attention to your children, but it does mean that your primary concern should be your spouse, even though the needs of child rearing will take an enormous amount of your time and attention. That means always paying attention to the needs, desires and difficulties of your spouse even if that means your children will occasionally be very unhappy. Make time to go out on dates regularly. Plan and take vacations alone together. Make sure to buy gifts (even if small) for one another. And always remember, though you are and always will be involved in your children’s lives in some way, they will go on to connect and bond with their spouse and you will always, please God, be deeply involved in the deepest spiritual way with the person you married.

Please feel free to contact me regarding this (or any) topic. You can do so anonymously by writing to [email protected] Dr. Glick was a clinical psychologist in private practice for 35 years as well as a rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel. If you would like to submit a question, or contact him for an appointment, he can be reached at [email protected] or by calling him at 201-983-1532.

By Rabbi Mordechai Glick

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