According to the 2020 Census, there are 22.5 million empty-nesters over age 50 in the U.S. and the odds are 1 in 4 couples will divorce now that the kids are out of the house. For some, this may come as a surprise but for most, the marriage was over years ago, however they did their best to keep it together at least until the kids launched. Either way, it is important to realize that for everyone involved, this is a very sensitive time of transition where everyone will question their new roles.
Those couples that choose to end their marriage and embark in a “gray divorce” may think that the process will be less complicated without having to tackle the issues of child support and custody, however, there still remain difficult discussions surrounding the division of assets and potentially spousal support when there is a disparity in incomes. Experienced attorneys are needed to help navigate these complex negotiations, and individual counseling is key to managing expectations and all the emotions associated with the loss of your marriage and creation of a new life.
Even those couples that opt to stay together now that the kids have launched may benefit from some couples counseling as they start a new phase of their relationship. As household responsibilities and demands on your time shift, it’s important to check-in with your partner regarding your expectations of one another, your finances and your plans for the future. You may find you are not on the same page about slowing down or ramping up at work, how much you will continue to support your adult children, or where you see yourself in ten years. Rather than avoid these difficult conversations, try working through them with a mental health professional. Trust me, it’s better to face these issues now rather than later.
Although I am part of the 25% that divorced years ago, I am still going through an adjustment period. While I have gladly resigned from my duties as a watchful warden at home, and I definitely don’t miss dealing with my teenager’s mood-swings or messes, I am taking my time acclimating to my new-found freedom. After almost two decades of sacrificing as a parent (often without much appreciation or acknowledgement) I want to be mindful of how (and with whom) I choose to spend my time and energy going forward.
Ultimately, becoming an empty-nester is a huge change in the status quo for all of us. Let’s embrace it as a golden opportunity to redirect our resources into activities and causes that matter to us most. What will you leave behind as your legacy? Focus on that, and hopefully have a blast while you figure it out.
By Regina A. DeMeo