28 February, 2014 / General

How to stay married when the kids leave home


‘At this stage in our lives,’ my friend Sarah said cheerfully, ‘loads of couples split up.’ She went on to explain that, having gone through those intense early parenting years, we have now a reached a point at which our kids don’t really need us any more (apart from to ferry them around and hand them money). ‘So,’ she concluded, ‘people often decide there’s no reason to stay married.’

To me, this seems terribly wasteful. You’ve weathered those baby and toddler years, existing without sleep or proper nutrition. You’ve bickered over whose turn it is to stand in the park for three hours, in the pouring rain, and spent romantic evenings sand-blasting dried Weetabix off high chairs. Surely you’re now due some fun together? Deciding to split up now would be ludicrous. If we were going to do it, it would have made a whole more sense when we were ashen with sleep deprivation, and never went out. Why divorce now, when we have the opportunity this summer to take our first child-free holiday in 17 years?

Sarah reckons we’re in a ‘danger zone’ now because the glue that held us together – ie, our offspring – will soon disappear. Off to college they’ll go, leaving J and I miserably sipping sherry and occasionally rousing ourselves for a game of whist. Well, that’s not going to happen. I may be jinxing things by even writing about this, but I have a plan, and it feels very exciting. Here it is.

Staying together when the kids leave: my strategy

– Talk to each other. Admittedly, this can be scary. What if the only thing we can think of to say is, ‘Did you put the bin out?’ or, ‘What’s this thing in the fridge?’ We may have to practice getting the conversation flowing again. Drink might help.

– Try to be rational. Looking back, when our twin boys were babies I wasn’t quite myself. J only had to make an innocent remark for me to fly off the handle or run upstairs screaming. ‘This is a nice ham salad,’ he once had the audacity to remark – my cue to throw a small velour sleepsuit in his face and start sobbing (my reasoning being that a ham salad couldn’t really be ‘nice’, and that his comment was really a thinly-veiled criticism of my domestic abilities).

Thankfully, we are now living in more rational times, and should therefore get along better. Plus, most argument triggers are child-related: who’s being too  strict/soft, why don’t they help more in the house and whose fault is it that they don’t, etc. Remove teenagers from the equation and what is there left to fall out about?

– Get out of the house. Although we haven’t needed a babysitter for years, we still tend to forget that we can go out, pretty much whenever we want. We need to remember that teenagers are capably of cooking, putting a wash on, walking the dog and taking themselves off to bed. No one needs to be tucked in. J and I no longer need to be perpetually on call. We are free!!

And that, I think, is the crux of it. We were only together for two years before I got pregnant, and it feels like there’s a whole lot of catching up to do. Cinema, restaurants, fancy bars and even weekends away… there’s so much we can do, the choice is boggling.

My only real worry is that, by the time we’ve decided, everywhere will be shut.



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