Every mom and dad absolutely adore their children—even when they’re screaming, spitting, and slamming doors. And yet, there isn’t one parent out there who hasn’t dreamed of the day their youngest moves out, leaving them with more free time, more funds for getaways, and a peace and quiet they haven’t experienced in decades.
The reality of living as an empty nester, though, isn’t nearly as peaceful as most parents imagine. Rather, most moms and dads find that, without the kids at home, they somehow spend more money and have less time to themselves. If you’re curious to find out the surprising realities of what it’s like to have an empty nest, read on.
Resentments may begin to crop up with your partner
While you might assume that your relationship with your spouse will improve without the stress of kids at home, that’s not always the case. On the contrary, it is quite commonplace for couples to experience a strain on their relationship, as issues previously hidden below the surface are brought to light.
“I see empty nest couples struggle with their relationships and often times divorce at this stage of life,” says certified divorce coach Angela Ianuale Shanerman. “The relationship is now faced with a new dynamic of just the two people instead of all the family care-taking and those distractions. If there is not a solid foundation and clear communication, many times one person is unfulfilled and resentment begins to build.”
You may find yourself getting divorced
For parents, raising children is a huge incentive to stay together. Therefore, when the final kid finally flies the coop, many couples find that they have to reevaluate their relationship—or risk getting a divorce.
“You may need to find new purpose for being together,” says California-based family attorney Julian Fox. “A surprising number of couples split up soon after their last child has gone to college. In fact, divorce rates are down overall, but are growing among people over the age of 55. Just as having a baby changes your relationship, having those ‘babies’ move on will also alter the dynamic.”
You’ll miss the noise
Though you might currently be eager to put the not-so-dulcet tones of slamming doors and Taylor Swift singles behind you, the silence you encounter as an empty nester may not actually be a welcome replacement.
“As an empty nester, one of the things that will surprise you is the quiet,” says certified mental health expert and family care specialist Adina Mahalli, MSW. “I don’t just mean the quiet that comes from fewer people talking together at a meal. I’m also referring to quiet throughout the whole house—the television and washing machine running less, no doors slamming, no noise of footsteps overhead. It’s a hard thing to adjust to.”
You may not travel as much as you expected
Though you might have imagined your post-child years to be spent flying around the world, most empty nesters find that they don’t have nearly enough time or funds for never-ending vacations. In a 2016 report from AARP, 48 percent of soon-to-be empty nesters said they planned to travel more, but just 27 percent actually did.
You may feel a serious sense of loss
While some people act like having an empty nest will undoubtedly be a net positive, the reality is that many parents find themselves seriously struggling once their children move away for good.
“If the mom was overly attached and overprotective, for instance, that mother is going to feel an emotional emptiness that is very painful,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and co-star on We TV.
You’ll start to feel guilty
For some parents, suddenly not having their children at home causes them to reevaluate and scrutinize their every action, so much so that they become racked with guilt over how they once treated their kids. “If the [parent] was critical with a short fuse temper, [they] might feel guilty and unresolved when their [kid] leaves,” says Walfish.