Advice from the 'empty nest': Stay close to parish, each other
Staying close to your parish pays special dividends throughout a marriage, according to couples who've moved to the "empty nest" stage.
The stage that follows children leaving home as adults can be an adjustment at first, when the children are missed and a less active household is faced. Couples find, however, that they can reconnect through various fun activities with each other and develop new interests.
A big help is staying connected to their parish. Developing those ties earlier on is important, even during the busy times of raising children.
"When the children are young they have a lot of needs, and you're really busy with them," said Carolyn Bradley of St. Paul Parish in Fenton. She noted that she and her husband, Jim, went camping together with the kids, took part in youth ministry and Luke 18 retreats with them and more.
"That's your focus for many years. But we also need to be focusing on 'us' as well, so when they do leave it won't be such a huge change for us," Bradley said.
The Bradleys got involved in activities at their parish, including Cursillo. They also had participated in marriage enrichment weekends and continued to learn of ways to enhance their marriage.
After the children left, "we started doing things -- dating all over again," she said.
Bike riding, working out together, cooking meals and eating healthier became some of their new interests together.
While at first they found it hard to see their children leave, they eventually came to realize they have "three awesome sons and now three awesome daughters-in-law," Bradley added.
"We missed the conversation with them at the dinner table. All of a sudden it was just the two of us there at the end of the day. It was so quiet."
They were lost for about three months, she said, but "now we learned to embrace it, we're enjoying it. It's a new stage in our life. We were active with our kids, but it's healthy for them to move on and live their lives. We're here for them when they need us. And we enjoy getting together with them whenever we can and doing things with them."
In addition to marriage enrichment -- which was especially helpful at a time when they were balancing the care of parents and raising children -- she advises younger couples to get involved in something that interests them earlier on. Her husband has played the guitar at Masses for more than 20 years, now playing at their parish and at St. Anthony Parish in High Ridge.
They sponsored a Renew group when that program was active in the archdiocese, and after it ended they started a Bible study group that involved couples of various ages.
Daily prayer and Mass also are a big help, she said. "You need to lean on God. That has helped our marriage and been such a blessing. Our strength comes from Him. If we don't turn to Him, it gets really hard."
Another view came from Kathi Broughton of Ascension Parish in Chesterfield who said that for her and her husband, Dave, the reality of being empty nesters is "not for long. Many of us who have had this time" find it doesn't last for long, she said.
"With this economic recession, they (adult children) are back home to save money. We do love having them with us, knowing they will be on their own in the near future. In the meantime, (it) gives us patience with each other and thankfulness that they would come back here to us."
In spite of the boomerang with the children, she said that "we love knowing our adult children." And, "it's amazing how much we still enjoy our own time when we have it."
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