Do you ever wonder what life will look like when your children are grown and out on their own? If your life currently revolves around diapers and play dates, I’m guessing the answer is “no.” You’re too busy just trying to hold things together. Even if your children are a bit older, you may not have given it much thought.
I, however, am giving it a lot of thought. Our youngest son is a student at USC, which means that my husband and I are staring the “empty nest” right in the face. And I have to tell you, it’s slightly terrifying.
It brings a lot of questions to mind. Questions about me and my husband, our son, our family and what the future may hold. Questions I can’t answer today, and may not be able to answer for quite awhile.
But even though I can’t see the future, I’m reasonably confident we’ll be okay. Yes, we’ll flounder at times and wonder what the heck we’re supposed to be doing But in the end I think things will work out because we made choices a long time ago that put us in a good position to move forward. No, these choices aren’t a guarantee (there are no guarantees in life, marriage or parenting!), but they help. And I don’t regret them, even though some of them were hard at the time.
Whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, you’re making choices every day that will affect your life and theirs, now and in the future. Here are four you won’t regret when they’re grown:
1. Taking care of yourself
Parents often invest all of their time and energy in their children. As a result, they often forget to take care of themselves. That’s how moms end up sitting at soccer practice for hours each week, but don’t have time to exercise. Or end up eating fast food for dinner four nights a week. Or find themselves sleeping only five hours a night. But not taking care of yourself always takes a toll, because your health depends (in large part) on the choices you make over many years. So make some now in favor of your physical and mental health. Set aside time to exercise regularly, eat well and sleep at least 7 hours most nights. Make time to slow down, take regular breaks from the daily grind and pursue one of your passions.
2. Focusing time and energy on your marriage
If you’re married and raising children, it’s incredibly easy for “married” to slide to the bottom of your priority list, while “raising children” shoots straight to the top. And it makes sense at first, because babies require lots of time and energy. In most cases, both parents need to be “all hands on deck” in order to keep the ship afloat. So it’s typical to focus on kids first and marriage last. But don’t let that happen. Even when they’re very young, be intentional about focusing some of your time and energy on your marriage. Even if it means that chores go undone or somebody misses soccer practice, make regular, focused time for the two of you. And as your children get older, make it clear that your marriage is a priority, and that kid stuff will sometimes have to wait.
3. Controlling your family’s schedule
By the time children are in elementary school, it’s easy to enroll them in activities several days a week and many weekends. But don’t do it. Because if you do, those activities will quickly take complete control of your family’s schedule. This means that family meals, bedtimes, recreation and relaxation will be controlled, not by decisions you and your husband make, but by soccer, dance, scouts and other activities. But when you take control of the schedule, you can free up time for things that reduce stress and bring you together as a family – things like playing games, riding bikes at the Riverwalk, canoeing at Saluda Shoals or just kicking a soccer ball around the back yard.
4. Developing interests and friends beyond your children’s activities
Here’s a little secret nobody tells you – when your children’s activities end, much of your social life will end too. And you’ll lose some of your friends – not because those people will stop liking you, but because your paths will stop crossing. My husband and I learned this when our youngest son stopped playing basketball; suddenly, the “social life” we had participated in for many years ended abruptly. So enjoy those activities and friends, but branch out too. Make friends with people in other settings, and develop some of your own interests.
When you’re raising children, you face a lot of choices – and it’s hard to know if you’re making the right ones. But if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your family and marriage – and prepare to face the “empty nest” one day – these choices can help you move in that direction.
Have you faced the empty nest? What would you add to the list?
Photo credit – Sean Lock Photography