My husband, Robbie, gathered his army supplies and kissed his mother goodbye. He didn’t know it was their last. While he fought in Iraq, she died from heart complications. A year later, ready to grieve, Robbie discovered his father’s house empty of her belongings.
To Robbie, it felt like his mother disappeared. He wanted to connect with her—eat at her kitchen table, sit in her favorite chair. But it seemed she was scrubbed away. He didn’t understand how his dad could move on so completely.
When Robbie’s father announced he was remarrying several months later, Robbie did not want to befriend his new wife. He still had questions—but mainly, How could you do this to me and my mom?
Years later, when Robbie’s own wife passed away, he finally understood. His dad’s year of widowhood didn’t seem long to an adult son who didn’t face the loss every day. But to the surviving spouse, a year is a black hole of loneliness.
Robbie wanted to love and be loved again; he wanted a partner in life. His sons had their own lives of sports, girls, and friends. So he started dating just weeks into widowhood, and married me less than two years later.
Unique struggles of remarrying in the empty nest years
Our story was due to death, but more commonly, empty nest remarriage happens after divorce. According to Kiplinger, this “gray divorce” defines one in every four divorces.
Many people mistakenly believe remarrying when kids are grown is easier. But adult children don’t need parents less; they need them differently. Parents advise, mentor, babysit, and maybe most importantly, they symbolize “going home.” A parent remarrying can distress an adult child’s foundation.
But children are only part of the struggle. Aging parents, retirement, and health problems add complication to an empty nest remarriage. Then there are issues that all remarried couples face, young and old.
The unique struggles of remarrying in the empty nest years can seem overwhelming. But there is hope for those of us who found love later in life. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
First, adult children struggle with grief.
Grief isn’t only for death. Grief is the result of intense sadness or disappointment caused by unfulfilled expectations. Adult sons and daughters long for the warmth and stability of their parents bonded love. Losing that brings grief.
For your part, have patience and encourage grieving. Don’t tell them to “get over it.” Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Parents can help by feeling empathy and compassion.
In addition, maintain plenty of contact, allow room to talk about their feelings, and show empathy. A single dad I know traditionally went to movies with his adult daughter. When he remarried, he learned the hard way that the theater was best saved for father/daughter time, not his wife. Maintaining traditions are a great way to assuage fears and ease the transition.
Second, remarriage complicates family rhythm.
Parents of adult children are the patriarchs. Empty nest parents are expected to offer their home for holidays and participate in major events like weddings, births, and other ceremonies. But remarriage complicates these events. It begs questions like, “Where will my dad’s new wife sit?” or “Will it hurt feelings if we …” Those questions add tension to already stressful events, compounding emotions and fears.
Remarrying in the empty nest years also complicates and confuses grandparenting roles. Some adult children graciously accept a parent’s spouse as a grandparent. Others find it offensive. My friend’s adult children asked her specifically not to call her husband “grandpa.” That situation can grieve a biological grandparent who expected the role to be easier.
So, what should you do? The biological parent should ask his or her children what they want in these important roles and situations. Then honor that request as best you can. For occasions, sit where they ask. If the name “grandparent” is off limits, maybe try a nickname. I call myself “Bina” to Robbie’s grandson. It’s a derivative of my name, easy to say, but it isn’t a grandparent name.
Third, financial issues are more complex in the empty nest.
With age comes more financial concerns and potential problems. Financial differences are already a leading cause of divorce. Add that to the unique financial pressures of the empty nest like retirement, social security, and growing medical concerns, and this could be a recipe for disaster. One spouse may be wealthier than the other, and adult children may worry about losing their inheritance. There may be concerns about sharing assets with stepsiblings.
Your response? The way assets and possessions are divided after death is a decision for you and your spouse, not the children.
But to keep family from fighting it, settle the issue before death. A little bit of planning goes a long way. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5). The simplest way is to write a will, and have it notarized. Include instructions on what each child should receive and any plans to take care of your surviving spouse.
Focus on the Future
A couple who marries in the empty nest years has little shared past. During my six years of marriage to Robbie, I have been thanked many times for my “service” as his military wife. Truth be told, my part of his service was waiting for him to come home after long Saturdays once a month. His first wife, Kari, was the real hero, standing by Robbie’s side for three deployments, twice to war.
But Robbie and I do have the future together, and that’s where we focus. I know I can count on him to love me when I’m wrinkled and a little more forgetful. He’ll hold my hand during illnesses and the loss of loved ones. And the same is true for me.
Sometimes the troubles of marrying in the empty nest years can seem overwhelming, especially when patience diminishes and everything feels out of control. That’s the time when all you can do is pray. Pray for peace, comfort, and healing. And then leave everything in the hands of our loving Father. We may be out of control, but He never is. And we can find our stability in Him.
Copyright © 2020 by Sabrina Beasley McDonald. All rights reserved.
Sabrina Beasley McDonald has been writing about God’s plan for marriage and family for over 19 years. Sabrina is currently working on a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University. She is the author of several devotional books, including Write God In Deeper: Journal Your Way to a Richer Faith.