Parents adore their children, despite all their screaming, tantrums and slamming doors. However, every now and then, they dream of the day their youngest finally moves out, leaving them with more funds for vacations, more free time and a newfound peace they haven’t experienced in decades.
In reality, living as an empty nester is not exactly as most moms and dads pictured it would be. In fact, most newly emerged empty nesters soon discover that life without their kids at home is more expensive and even busier. If you want to find out the unexpected and sometimes harsh realities of being an empty nester, read on for a quick reality check.
You might feel less satisfied with your life in general
Less stress and fewer financial worries for empty nesters? Sounds great. But before you start doing the happy dance, you should know that life will not necessarily get better once your kids move away. In fact, according to a 2017 German study, more than 17 percent of non-empty nesters rated their happiness at a 9 or 10 out of 10; surprisingly, under 11 percent of empty nesters were able to claim the same.
You may start resenting your partner
After years and years of putting your children first and your relationship with your spouse second, you’d think that with children now out of the picture, you’ll have more time for your relationship. Sadly, kids no longer living with you is not always a good thing.
In some cases, couples no longer focusing on kids start discussing issues previously hidden under the rug.
Certified divorce coach Angela Ianuale Shanerman explains that many couples struggle to cope with the new dynamic of just the two of them instead of the entire family. “If there is not a solid foundation and clear communication, many times one person is unfulfilled, and resentment begins to build.”
You might end up divorcing
When partners have a common goal, like raising children together, other issues that might appear along the way do not seem to matter that much and are left for another time. That time usually comes when children fly the coop.
According to California-based family attorney Julian Fox, for couples to get through the first shock of becoming empty nesters, they need to find a new purpose for their relationship. Some cannot do that. In fact, divorce rates are higher among couples aged 55 and over.
You’ll miss the noise
When your children are living with you, you feel like moving on an isolated island, away from all the noise and chaos they’re constantly creating. Not forever, of course, just for a little while, to clear your mind.
Fast forward to when they’re really moved out, and the silence you discover as an empty nester suddenly feels like an enemy. It’s like your missing something that made you happy.
“As an empty nester, one of the things that will surprise you is the quiet,” stated certified mental health expert and family care specialist Adina Mahalli, MSW. It’s not only the fact that there are fewer voices creating chaos at the dinner table, it’s also that there are fewer voices in the house in general. No noise of footsteps, of the TV running in one of the rooms, of doors being opened and closed all the time. All that quietness and noiselessness can be difficult to get accustomed to, Mahalli added.
You may not travel as much as you anticipated
One of the most important things people always wish they’d have more time and money for is traveling. And it is also one of the perks of retirement, given you’re no longer tied to a job or to your kids, therefore able to fly around the world on your own time, and budget, of course.
Unfortunately, most empty nesters are surprised to discover that never-ending vacations have nothing to do with real life. In fact, according to a 2016 report from AARP, 48 percent of soon-to-be empty nesters claimed they had travel plans, but only 27 percent actually did the traveling. In reality, the only ones doing the flying are children…out of the coop.
You might not have as much hobby time as envisioned
All that newfound freedom and free time that come with retirement and living without your kids is not the equivalent of hobby time. Most people dream of spending more time on their hobbies until reality sinks in. According to AARP, 36 percent of empty-nesters said they had plans on starting a new hobby or mastering an older one. However, only 13 percent carried out their plans.
You may experience a sense of loss
Changes are necessary from time to time, but they are not always easy to make. For some empty nesters, having more time for themselves is perfect while for others it’s the beginning of a struggle to get to know themselves all again, once their children have moved away for good.
Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, draws attention on this aspect and says that “If the mom was overly attached and overprotective, for instance, that mother is going to feel an emotional emptiness that is very painful.”
You might start feeling guilty
More free times equals more thinking time. This is also what happens to parents who suddenly find themselves not having their children at home anymore. They start thinking and reevaluating their actions and how they behaved in certain situations, when their children were living with them and become consumed with guilt over how they reacted and treated their children in certain situations.
“If the parent was critical with a short fuse temper, they might feel guilty and unresolved when their kid leaves,” added Dr. Walfish.
You might feel relieved
On the other hand, not every empty nester becomes racked with guilt as soon as their children leave the house and start living on their own. Some may feel overly happy they get to be sole owners of the remote control and upstairs bathroom, even if they liked having their children at home and had an active role in their children’s lives.
As Walfish says, “If the teen was very high maintenance, the parents may actually feel relief when their kid goes away to college or moves out on their own.”
You’ll get more comfortable flying solo with time
You may find it difficult at first but once you get the hang of it, you’ll get used to being an empty nester. As demonstrated in the AARP survey, 69 percent of empty nesters started feeling more comfortable with living without their kids, with 28 percent claiming there was no change, and just 3 percent admitting they’d gotten less comfortable with their new role.
Your housing costs might still be higher than expected
According to a USDA report, the average cost to raise a child up until age 17 is $233,610—with housing accounting for around 30 percent.
If you’ve hoped that your costs will significantly decrease when your children are no longer living with you, you’ll be shocked to find out it’s quite the opposite. According to the Tapestry Segmentation report on Comfortable Empty Nesters, the housing costs of adults whose kids had flown the coop are 9 percent higher than those of the average American household.
Your food budget might still cause surprises
Although you’ve moved past the phase when everything you bought seemed to be insufficient for your hungry teenagers, don’t think your food budget will significantly decrease when it’s only you and your spouse that need food.
As stated in the same report by the Tapestry Segmentation, food costs for middle-class empty nesters are 8 percent higher than those of the average American household. So, who’s eating all the food?
You may not manage to save as much as you expected
When you’re a parent, saving is a very difficult goal, particularly when you have other priorities like buying school supplies, clothes, toys and whatnot for your children. With so many things to pay for, saving for vacations seems like a distant dream.
According to a 2015 study carried out by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, empty nester households only managed to increase their 401(K) savings by 0.3 to 0.7 percent when their children stopped living with them—not enough to buy a steak dinner once a month, let alone a waterfront house in Florida.
You might find yourself splurging more
I think we all agree that saving money after your children move out is going to be difficult. Do you know what else is going to be difficult? Not spending more money on indulgences than when your children were living with you.
I know what you are thinking. Why shouldn’t you be able to treat yourself to a shopping session once a month or new fishing gear? Well, that’s exactly the type of thinking that eats away at most empty-nesters’ budget. The same report conducted by the Center for Retirement Research revealed that the actual spending among empty nesters is higher, per capita, by no means lower. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?
You may even have to spend more on your children
How is this possible? Well, once they no longer live with their children, empty nesters aren’t simply indulging their own whims. Many of them are also paying the bills and other expenses for their offsprings.
According to a 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of U.S. parents admitted they still financially help their adult children. No one is saying you should not help your kids from time to time, but maybe give them the chance to mature and become responsible enough to pay for their own stuff.
You may find yourself in a poorer health condition
When kids were living with you, ice cream was constantly on the menu and sleep was constantly off. With your kids away, you’ll have plenty of time to take care of what you eat, how you sleep and focus on your health. Or so you think.
In reality, having an empty nest could actually affect your health more, not in a good way. A 2017 review of research in SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research showed that 51 percent of empty nesters believed they were in acceptable or less-than-acceptable health, as opposed to just 40 percent of non-empty nesters.
You might have less time to get rid of extra pounds
Planning on hitting the gym and adopting a healthy diet once the kids are all moved out? You’re not the only one. In fact, 25 percent of future empty-nesters said they wanted to get rid of the extra pounds once their children were no longer living with them. In reality, only 7 percent were actually able to stick with the plan and shed the unwanted extra weight.
You might still do some chores for your children
Just because your kids are no longer living with you, it doesn’t mean you’re no longer a parent. In fact, you might find yourself assigned more parenting tasks than you’d anticipated when your children moved out on their own.
At least this is what a 2002 study on maternal mental health published in the Tzu Chi Nursing Journal says. According to the study, in order to cope with the fact that they were no longer living under the same roof with their children, some mothers still cooked and did other household chores for them. I guess it’s true that old habits die hard!
You probably won’t keep your kid’s room a shrine forever
The room full of stuffed animals or walls covered in your children’s adorable art won’t stay that way forever, you do realize that, don’t you?
You might want to keep everything inside the room intact, but if you can turn your child’s former room into something useful, surely your children will not mind, will they? According to AARP, 16 percent of soon-to-be empty nesters admitted their desire to repurpose their children’s rooms while 19 percent actually carried out the redecorating project.
You may discover that being an empty nester does have its appeal
There are some who will realize that life after their kids had moved out is not the same, as in not as satisfactory. On the other hand, there will also be a vast number of empty nesters who will enjoy the experience of living without kids to the fullest.
The AARP study showed that 33 percent of current empty-nesters said they enjoy being empty nesters more than they had previously anticipated, compared to only 27 percent of soon-to-be empty nesters.
You may have more time to connect with old friends
Becoming an empty nester is also an opportunity to reconnect with your old friends, especially if they are also empty nesters like you. According to AARP, 16 percent of empty nesters had more time to spend with their friends after their kids fly the coop.
More than that, with your children away from home, you might find yourself in need of a new occupation. Either a new hobby, a part-time job or making new acquaintances. The above-mentioned AARP study also showed that 8 percent of empty nesters claimed that they were able to make new friends once their children moved out. Say hello to poker nights and spa trips!
You may be eager to downsize
If empty nesters cannot manage to reduce the food costs and other expenses, they may still be able to succeed with one thing: save some money by downsizing. In a 2016 AARP poll, 11 percent of empty nesters admitted they were eager to reduce the size of their home. And for good reason. Why should you pay for a three-bedroom house when there are only two people in the house, using only one or two rooms?
You might even consider a retirement community
When you’re young, a retirement community may not seem like the best place to spend your golden years. Fast forward to your 60s, and your perspective will be completely different. For one, being surrounded by people your age, with similar passions and mindset, is actually a very good and healthy thing.
If you don’t believe us, believe this survey conducted by senior housing developer Del Webb, in 2004, according to which one quarter of baby boomers were considering a move to a retirement community after their children left home.
Your kids might come back
Your children might have flown the coop, but it doesn’t mean they can’t come back. You’ll actually be surprised to find out that the number of adults between ages 18 and 24 living with their parents is on the rise and 55 percent of adults in that age group are still sharing the space with their parents.
In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, 12 percent of homebuyers in 2019 were looking for a multigenerational home. Speaking of home buyers, check out 11 Home-Features Buyers Will Hate The Most About Your House.