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We're Empty Nesters. Now What?

by on June 11, 2019 4:00 AM


Let’s talk about a very scary subject.

After spending the last 27 years being responsible for not only ourselves and our marriage, but raising three children, my wife and I find ourselves at that watershed moment of becoming “empty nesters.” Yes, we are about to become the parents of three children who have all flown the coop.

There is excitement. There is trepidation. There is curiosity. There is sheer fear. What if, on a positive note, we rediscover a love lost in all the details of being parents? What if, on the other hand, we don’t like spending so much time together? Will we finally take that Alaskan cruise? Will we go see the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta we’ve talked about for years? Will I renew my quest to visit all the major Civil War battlefields? Will we go visit old friends and family we have been meaning to for years? Will my wife take that Master Gardeners class and play more tennis? It sounds almost too good to be true. And it probably will be!

If nothing else, it could be a chance to perhaps watch what we want to watch on the big television and to see the movies we have wanted to see without objection. Maybe we’ll get to schedule our weekends to do things we have had on our bucket lists for years. Or simply lie back and read a book on the patio and not have to attend another kids’ sporting event or activity.

Or will we fall victim to that seldom discussed malaise known as “empty nest syndrome?” We have grown accustomed to every decision we make revolving around the kids in some way. We enjoyed going to soccer, basketball, baseball, skating and golf functions, as well as the built-in social life that came with it. So now what? How will we handle the changes?

According to Senior Living, in the simplest of terms, empty nest syndrome is “grief and loneliness caused when someone moves out of your home. This can occur when a child leaves their parent’s household, or a spouse loses their partner to death or divorce. It can also take place when seniors enter retirement.”

Having children move out from a family home is normally considered a natural event. A good thing. A next step. Therefore, the symptoms of empty nest syndrome often go unrecognized. Unfortunately, the feelings of depression, and a loss of purpose for parents, are often real and can sometimes cause serious issues for parents who are not prepared since the departure of the kids from "the nest" ultimately leads to changes in parents' lives.

In full disclosure, we are not true empty nesters just yet. Our youngest son is beginning college at Penn State just 2 miles away, so I am sure he will pop in more than occasionally. Our oldest, Brianna, is gainfully employed but travels a lot for her job. After renting a rather nice pad in Mount Washington, overlooking the city of Pittsburgh, she decided to move home as she builds up her own nest egg.  Glad to have her around because she contributes in very positive ways to our household and she isn’t around enough to create too many problems. I believe this is a short-term situation (right daughter?), and as her work progresses, she will soon want her own place again. Besides, a recent survey in Fox Business found that living with parents isn’t considered embarrassing until you’re 28. The clock is ticking!

I actually have no problem with our daughter wanting to cut costs, as I am a firm believer in saving money while you are young. I used to give all my graduating seniors from my days as Penn State’s Hockey Coach the book “Your Wealth Building Years,” which is 18-31 according to author Adrian Berg.  While the ages may have changed a bit, given today’s lifestyles and the fact that we are living longer on average, the concept remains the same. Delayed gratification is a good strategy and saving when you are young will create the benefits that will be there when you need them later.

Our oldest son, Jonathon, lives and works in Silicon Valley, so he really has flown the coop, much to his mother’s chagrin. He is happy and loves living in California, so we are glad for him even though we miss him dearly. The good news is that all three of our kids all still talk to us and seem to actually enjoy our company.

So as my wife and I get closer to the fourth quarter of our lives we want to continue to prepare to win at the game of life and start to do all the things we have delayed while we fussed over the kiddos. However, we must also still be prepared for living overtime, given that my father-in-law Smitty lived until 96 and my father is still going strong at 87. Good genes?

I am glad to say we have lived a pretty balanced life, being more frugal than splurging. Neither my wife nor I are very materialistic. I do tend more toward adventure and experiences like travel, going to see shows and live sporting events. My wife enjoys these activities but is also a homebody who likes to fuss with things around the house. Our challenge, like all new empty nesters will be to find that happy medium and to keep ourselves occupied between work projects and our new found freedom from parenting. We know, parenting never really ends, but at least we are about to receive a reprieve.

We are entering the empty nest phase of our lives because our youngest, Ryan Joseph “Bubba” Battista, proudly walked across the stage at the State College High School graduation ceremony on Saturday in Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center. He becomes the last of our three children to do so. He was a terrific high school student, an outstanding high school golfer, and has a group of friends we are so blessed to have had in our lives. He begins college this summer at Penn State in the Smeal College of Business. Ryan, ya done well son, and we are proud of you.

We are so fortunate that our children picked great friends who helped to keep them on the right paths and helped them all to be serious students and avoid any sort of major trauma while in school. To all of Ryan’s friends and their parents, a heartfelt thank you. Zach Martin, David Shoemaker, Max Krasowitz, James Hook, Ben and Sam Krantweiss, Brenden Franks, Jeremy Bullock, Tyler Gulley, Justin Vescio, Ryan Dowling, Shant Kervandjian, and so many others have made our lives easier and more fun in their own ways.

To Ryan’s teachers and coaches, a big thank you for your leadership and mentorship.  To St. Paul’s United Methodist church leaders, members, and SPYF youth fellowship and all the Young Life leaders and members, thank you. To the staff at the Learning Station and Kinderstation, thanks for helping give him a great start. Raising a good kid is a team sport and we have had the honor of being surrounded by great family, teammates, friends, teachers and coaches for all three of our kids.

One suggestion for young couples: host your kids’ friends often. You will have that feeling of security of knowing where they are and who they choose to spend time with. The best money we ever spent was finishing the basement. We have great memories of Brianna’s girlfriends having sleepovers and creating dance routines to the latest Brittany Spears and Spice Girls songs. Jonathon and his friends playing Call of Duty and other video games. Ryan and his friends playing ping pong, knee hockey, and watching movies and sporting events. Where did the time go?

Now as my wife and I ponder life as empty nesters the harrowing question is “Now what?”

My goal is to have my last check bounce. As Hunter S. Thompson so eloquently proclaimed years ago, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

The question is, will my wife want to get in the car if I’m driving.

Some of State College Area High School's newest alumni celebrate graduation.

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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