Finding a second wind
Just as every family is unique, so is the transition to this next phase. Take, for example, Christine and Rod Cleveland of Norman, OK, who have been married 31 years and have four children. Their youngest child left home two years ago, but the loss didn’t hit Christine right away because he attended a state university in their town. However, the reality of their departure sunk in about six months ago when their two sons moved to Texas.
“I cried and I’ve been through it,” she says, but now she's eager to talk about her resurgence. “Empty nesters need to dream even bigger than they did in their twenties,” she says. Christine believes that her generation can add more value than the one before it due to the time and energy freed up by not having kids in the house.
Christine, a beauty sales entrepreneur, is using her time to exercise, eat more healthfully and read leadership books to better guide her team at work. “I don’t want to deteriorate,” she says.
After years spent caring for others, a renewed interest in one's health is a positive way to refocus energy. Grote points out that the same focus should be applied to health-related financial planning, too. For example, becoming an empty nester should trigger one to look at long-term care insurance, he says, particularly since the cost goes up each year for two reasons: the increase in age and value of the monthly benefit.
Christine's positive outlook also extends to her marriage. She thinks the relationship is easier now than when they were young, and Rod agrees. He partly credits their success to pre-marital counseling and ongoing marriage counseling through their church. The couple has long believed that in order to raise happy children, their marriage should be top priority.
“It’s not a bad idea for couples to have a marriage counselor on speed dial during this stage,” Grote says. “Empty nesting can put marriages under new stress. Tuition bills and related expenses are coming in and, at the same time, the children are asking for parental support for rent, groceries and entertainment.”
The Cleveland family stays connected through a group chat, titled “Team Cleveland,” where one daughter might post photos of her new baby or the other might post what she baked that day. And, Christine plans to keep their season tickets to their hometown university football team games as an open invitation for the entire family. “I think if parents find a common love with their adult kids then they can keep making priceless memories,” she says.
Like the Olivers, not much has changed financially for the Clevelands due to having several kids in college at the same time, but their motivation hasn’t slowed. “I wish we would have done a better job financially planning,” Rod admits. “I wish we would have seen more windfalls. My advice to others would be to plan in your thirties, and in your fifties you’ll really appreciate it. Luckily, Christine and I are still active and learning."
Christine thinks about selling their home and running her business out of a smaller beach house. Rod is considering getting his master's degree in public administration, and he wants to turn his home-construction hobby into an income stream.