Thursday, 11 September 2014

Marriage and the empty nest

The biggest worry for couples whose kids are leaving home is whether their relationship will survive.
It's understandable: for years the children have been the glue that binds, as well as a good excuse to deny any problems between you.

When you're bringing up kids you just blast on, day after day.  There are few opportunities to stand back and think about your relationship, and before you know it small problems have become the elephant in the room, too big to talk about.  Parents need to be able to take something for granted, and it's usually our partner.

Marriage crisis? 

Then suddenly the kids have gone and one of you  - perhaps both of you - thinks,  Is that all there is?
It's a crisis for many couples.
But a crisis can be hugely positive, an opportunity for growth, a chance to talk properly, perhaps for the first time in years.  And without the kids the romance between you can blossom once again - although the chances are that after all this time it will need a bit of nurturing! There was a feature in The Independent this week about the romance of later-life weddings - in which I talked about my experience of marrying my partner after  37 years together (well, we wanted to be sure …!)
And here are a few tips I've picked up along the way:

How to rekindle the Spark

  • Go on holiday. Just the two of you, no friends, no kids. 
  • Don't give up on sex.  If you need a bit of a reminder Sex expert Suzi Godson's site is packed with good advice.  So is relationship expert  Andrew Marshall's.  He's written a great book on keeping sex alive in long-term relationships, Make Love Like a Prairie Vole (prairie voles mate for life!).
  • Do something new and challenging together. A bike ride? Ice skating? Tango lessons? 
  • Root out the old tunes and dance round the kitchen together.
  • Suggest outings that are romantic to you - a walk in the moonlight,  a concert, a boat on the river.
  • Don't just flop in front of the telly every night.  Have a game of poker, do the crossword, go to the pub.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Good reads for empty nesters

I don't only read novels about the empty nest!   But it's a thrill when you find the subject touched on with great sensitivity and insight, as in these two novels.

Insights and echoes for empty nesters

The first is Olive Kitteridge by the Pullitzer prize-winning writer Elizabeth Strout.  In one of the stories that make up this wonderful novel, it's the father, not the mother, who suffers most from his sons leaving. It precipitates a crisis which threatens to shatter his marriage. Here's a taste:

'He had thought Bonnie might have a bad empty-nest time of it, that he’d have to watch out for her. He knew, everyone knew, of at least one family these days where the kids grew up and the wife just took off,  lickety-split. But Bonnie seemed calmer, full of a new energy...

Something else happened the year Derrick went off to college. While their bedroom life had slowed considerably, Harmon had accepted this, had sensed for some time that Bonnie was “accommodating” him. But one night he turned to her in bed, and she pulled away. After a long moment she said quietly, “Harmon, I think I’m just done with that stuff.”'

'Brooklyn' - a story of Emigration

It's hard for any parent when a child moves an ocean away - as I discovered recently when talking to parents at the American School in London. But in the fifties, when Brooklyn is set,  a time when there was no Skype, and phoning home cost an arm and a leg, it was much, much harder for parents. And it was hard for kids too - it still is. 

The second novel, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin,  is at times an unbearably sad story about emigrating,  written from the adult child's point of view (surprisingly not often heard in empty nest discussions).