Husband & Wife Articles


Stages of Marriage

How to be content with a (mostly) empty nest

By Daria Sockey

Lent is a spiritual journey. A journey in union with Christ whereby we can grow in virtue, self-knowledge and love. In this sense, the season is sort of like marriage. Although marriage is (hopefully!) less penitential than Lent, it is also a journey where a couple walks through life in union with Christ. My husband, Bill, and I have been walking those hills and valleys for almost 33 years. It’s interesting to reflect on how married life has changed for us over that time.

Daria Sockey

There were the early years: newly in love, delighting in one another, yet also coming in for a few surprises. For example, Bill learned to deal with my hormones. He was bewildered by my periodic, unexplained tearfulness. Sympathetic inquiries of “What’s the matter, sweetheart … Did I do something wrong?” only made me cry harder. “It’s nothing! Just leave me alone!”

Finally he accepted that my tears were not the result of some great sorrow or crisis that I was hiding from him. And he had the genius to figure out that humor, rather than sympathy, was the best response. During one of my boo-hoos, he went down the hall to the bathroom and returned carrying the end of the toilet tissue roll for me to wipe my eyes. The sight of the long trail of tissue going out the bedroom door made me burst out laughing. He repeated that trick more than once, with similar effect.

Early marriage was a happy parade of pregnancies, babies, toddlers, kids. We had seven of them. The big concern was just the daily challenges of child-rearing and, of course, finding creative ways to afford them all. Here’s one thing we learned: articles telling you that it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars — or is it a million now? – to raise a child are best ignored. First, they only breed the fear and anxiety that Jesus tells us we must not have. Second, and most important, these articles and estimates are big fat lies, based on outrageous expectations that would spoil the best of kids.

The more important challenge of raising our children to be firm in their faith took lots of energy and thought. We knew that the culture would work against us on many fronts, and so we had to create a counter-culture. This involved a combination of strategies, which included catechesis from an early age. From the time the children could sit still and listen, we told stories from the Bible, simple lives of saints, and some very basic catechism. We went for years without television. We engaged in a form of self-torture known as the family rosary, enduring the whiners, the tattle tales (Mom! She’s not saying the prayers right!), and children falling to the floor in feigned exhaustion, only to resurrect miraculously once the final sign of the prayer was done.

There were times it seemed that the endless job of raising them right would never end. But all of sudden, it very nearly has. Although two adult kids and one teenager are still living with us, the house seems relatively empty. We are learning the fine art of relinquishing responsibility, not giving too much unasked advice, and channeling our parenting urges into fervent prayer!

It’s certainly more relaxed around the house, if not quite the empty nest. But Bill and me don’t see ourselves becoming sorrowfully bereft parents who won’t know what to do with ourselves once the children are all grown. Instead we’ve embraced a new stage in our lives that allows us to do things that were impossible when the children and their needs seemed to take up every shred of energy.

Bill was recently able to take on a job with a Catholic organization several years ago. It takes him away from home several weeks per month on speaking tours. This would have been out of the question years ago when I was incapable of handling seven kids without his hands-on presence. For my part, what would be empty hours are now filled with a second career as a writer, and, more important, the chance to finally get involved in some works of mercy in an ongoing way. When I was younger, and homeschooling a throng of children, I rarely volunteered for anything. I told myself that my first and greatest obligation was to my family, and that alone left me pretty much exhausted each day. But now I'm making up for lost time, busy with the parish food bank, the choir, and leading a Bible study. It’s no mystery to me now why the stereotyped “church ladies” are mostly over 50. They have the blessed gift of available time.

Best of all, this new stage in our married journey has given Bill and I time to be together without the concerns of child-rearing. It’s given us the opportunity, for the first time in our marriage, to attend daily Mass together when Bill is not on the road. We often pray together in the morning and evening. And we enjoy our grandchildren. We are going through a very different sort of life from those intense parenting years, but in its own way, it is a tremendously blessed stage of the journey that is marriage.