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Trying to Reconnect With Your Spouse After the Kids Are Gone

It's not as hard as you may think

Illustration of the back of a man and a woman looking out a window watching a figure with a backpack go down the street

Wenji Tang

For the first time, my son is going away on a three-week teen tour. His trip sounds pretty amazing. He will be traveling with a bunch of kids his age, seeing cool sites and participating in awesome activities, from hiking to rafting.

Aside from a handful of sleepovers, my son has never been away from home before. He is almost 16 and will be leaving for college in a few short years. This solo adventure is a chance for him to mature, gain confidence and become more independent.

While this trip is an opportunity for my son to learn more about himself, it is a chance for my husband and I to learn some things, too. As dependent as our son is on us, I realize we have also become dependent on him. We also need to learn how to be independent, both as individuals and as a couple.

For 24 years, my husband and I have been parents. Our three children have been our joy and our priority. When the kids were little, my husband put in long hours working full-time during the week while I was primarily in charge of the kids and our home. On weekends, we divided up responsibilities and conquered — driving the kids to activities, helping with homework, going to school events, etc. Our “me” time and “we” time have been severely limited. Even now, with two already out of the house, we savor our time with our son and have given up many “date nights” in favor of watching his soccer games or having dinner with him before he empties the nest.

But now, for the first time in 24 years, we will be alone, just the two of us. The thought of it is both exciting and daunting. And, quite honestly, I'm not sure what to expect.

I've heard people say that when the kids leave, you can do things you couldn't do before, like walk around naked. Frankly, that is not something I see happening (aside from the occasional hot flash when I may feel compelled to pull off my top for medicinal purposes only). My children's presence in the house is not the only reason I have chosen to stay clothed.

But I do think it will be very different. Without any kids around, weeknights and weekends will be a blank slate, one that should help propel us forward and into an exciting unknown. And yet it's hard to imagine waking up on a Sunday morning and not having any kid obligations.

I'm wondering if we know enough things that we like to do together to fill three weeks. What will we talk about? For so long, our kids have permeated most of our discussions. I worry that I might be kind of boring. 

Have the kids become a conversation crutch? Should I start reading up on sports and finance so that I have more topics to draw from?

It's all a bit frightening.

Before kids (BK), my husband and I used to have an absolute blast together. We were young and in love. Now we are old and love each other, but with less energy. I am looking forward to taking a trip together without having to plan activities around the kids. We like to go bike riding and hiking — activities that have gotten pushed to the side by the kids’ schedules. I think I'll cook more. Maybe fish, because my daughter hates the smell, or a main-course salad, without worrying that there's no meat to satisfy my carnivorous teenage son.

I hope I can sleep in. We used to love to do that three decades ago. I am not sure my menopausal-induced insomnia or middle age bladder will allow me to sleep past 6 a.m., but a girl can dream. I want my husband to bring me coffee in bed without my son saying, “What are you two doing in there?” And hey, I love the idea that we don't need to be doing it in there. We can do it basically anywhere in the whole damn house.

The last time it was just us to worry about, my husband and I were planning a future together. We were making plans, hoping one day we could start a family. Now, we have lived those dreams and have to start making new plans for the future that comes next.

Just as I am preparing my son for his trip with forms and packing lists, I am trying to do the same for my husband and me. We're planning a trip to Napa and bought tickets to a midweek show in the city. I've told everyone we know to count us in for adult-only BBQ's, 5 p.m. spin classes, impromptu happy hours and trips to the beach. During those three weeks, I want to stay active — and maybe a bit distracted — while also embracing downtime for the first time in a long time.

All in all, I'm looking forward to our separation from kids and life as we've known it. I think (make that hope) it will benefit us all. But I'm glad it's only temporary. I'm not quite ready for the next chapter. But maybe, just maybe, these three weeks will help all of us start to get at least a little excited about the possibilities of what's to come.

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