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Empty nesters

Empty Nesters

Should empty nesters retire when the children leave home? I’m not talking about empty nester birds! It’s spring. Adult birds should be busy nest building, egg laying and chick feeding. I’m talking about people like us.

The children are off travelling, working, playing and living independent lives and the parents are the “empty nesters”.  Unlike the birds we aren’t going to do it all again next year! The focus for cash, time and resources has changed from the children to the adults. And by adults I don’t mean our grown kids! I mean us, the parents. The nest is empty. It doesn’t mean our lives are.

Pohatu little blue penguin cheicks ready to leave the nest box
Little blue penguin chicks ready to leave the nest box

Be like a penguin

When the children have grown up it’s a great time to be like penguin parents. Francis Helps at Pohatu says that once the chicks are grown the parents stop feeding them in a bid to get them to leave and go and be grown up penguins. If hunger doesn’t work Ma & Pa Penguin make the nest very uncomfortable and stinky by filling it up with stinky stuff. Eventually the chicks get hungry and leave the nest to make their way out into the wide wild ocean to fend for themselves. Just like our children they become part of a big social network and after some intense social interaction and growing up many come back to the colony to continue the cycle.

Richard was quite taken with the methods of encouraging the chicks to leave. He looked at me and said “so if parents cut off the food and stop doing the laundry the kids leave home?” There was also a bit said about the old saying about pooping in one’s nest!

Children leaving home

Have your children left home or are you still making plans for when they do?   As a parent it is our responsibility to give our children the tools and the opportunities that grow them into independent adults able to make their own way in the world. It doesn’t mean we have to hold their hands and finance their dreams at the expense of our own.

It can be a nerve wracking time with a few false starts. Things go wrong and we just want to put them right. It isn’t easy watching them make mistakes that are bigger than the red T-shirt in the wash with the white pants. We try to explain debt and credit cards, budgets and cleaning out the fridge. The door is open and we let them know they are loved and welcome home. They mess up, they make us proud, they hurt us, they achieve, they fall over, they get up, they grow up and maybe it starts all over again.

So where does that leave the parents? The kids are busy with their own lives. They may be thousands of miles away or involved in jobs with anti-social hours or pursuing interests that take them far away. The empty nesters can feel a sense of freedom but for many it is also a sense of loss. We still want to be there when we are needed but the time has come to get on with our own bucket lists especially if we have been putting it off.

No regrets

It’s time to get on with doing the things we want to and not look back with regrets. So many times we have heard the stories of people who are going to do “it” later – the travel, drinking the best whisky and wine, going to the shows, the restaurants, walking a track, climbing a mountain, getting a make over, jumping out of a plane.  People just waiting for the “right” time and then “poof” it’s too late. The options are gone. One of them got sick, the investment turned bad, the earth shook, someone had a stroke, got dementia, cancer, or some other degenerative disease, their world fell apart, their plans for “later” turned to custard or someone died.

We all know people worried about how much money to hang on to and how much to spend. We don’t know how long we will live, how healthy we will be and what care we may need. There is a fine line between recklessness and sensibility. None of us want to be homeless, in poor health with few options because we have spent the money. On the other hand we can’t take it with us so somehow we need to find a balance.

Now is later

Now is later especially if the nest is empty.  When Richard & I met I was planning the big OE. Instead we got married, had a family, built a business and put travel on hold for “later”.

Blue Mosque with fountain Istanbul
Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

Richard had been to Europe in his twenties so instead of going back to places he has already been,we have embarked on different adventures. He wasn’t too sure about Turkey but actually loved it. He was even less sure about Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria and loved that trip too. So much so that we are going back on a really big adventure.  After that  there will still be lots of places I’d love to go and I hope he’s coming with me.

I have come to the realisation that travel when young is very different to travel now I’m over 50. It’s not necessarily better, it’s just different. Realistically there are things we are less likely to do now that we may have done 30 years ago. Not to mention the fiascos at the airports these days. Conversely there are things that I am sure I have a greater appreciation of now that I would have been clueless about back then. I have a greater appreciation of diversity and more knowledge of the world.

Where to go and what to do

I can’t always think of something on the spur of the moment so I have a “go to” list of ideas ranging from hours to days to weeks to months. They are as simple as walking a local track right through to as complicated as driving the Silk Road.

Last weekend we walked a track that we last attempted just over 10 years ago, not long after an operation on my back. At that time it was wet, muddy and slippery  and I was terrified of landing on my backside so we abandoned it. This time  we romped through it and followed up with a somewhat challenging assault on the Panama Rock loop track.

whitebait in a bucket
West Coast whitebait

Last year after Richard’s mother’s funeral we decided, on the spur of the moment, to take a couple of days off and go to Karamea. We had never been to the north side of the Karamea Bluff despite it being on the “to do list” for years. So on the last weekend of the whitebait season we took Pop’s frame and handle, bought it a new net and headed west. The weather was stunning, the people friendly and the scenery jaw dropping. We managed to score enough bait for a couple of good lunches and a wee packet to bring home. Do we want to do that more often? You bet we do.

white baiting, hunting and fishing
white baiting

So now we have some decisions to make. Do we keep on working or do we retire early?

Being self employed

We are lucky. Working from home and being our own bosses has a lot of positives. The negatives are not shutting the office door and walking away at a set time in the day. It’s too tempting to keep working just doing that little task that only takes a few minutes and then there is another one and before you know it a whole evening has disappeared. It is far too easy to get dragged in to checking and answering emails and Facebook messages late into the night. It means we don’t always appreciate where we live as much as we could.

It is not easy to take leave from an owner operated, let alone home based, business or businesses. It isn’t easy to stop doing what we do every day and just enjoy it.

I don’t know if I would love full time travel so I guess I’m a bit scared of burning bridges and having no way back.  What I do know is I love travelling. There are other things I love doing that I don’t get to do very often if ever.

Should empty nesters retire?

Why not? Is it the fear of the unknown? What happens if the money runs out? How long will we live? Will we be healthy? Why do we do what we do every day? Do we have sufficient passive income to live off? Should we retire or just work less?

Earlier this year while walking parts of the coast south of Sydney it struck me that I felt ecstatically happy. Mostly I am happy but it got me thinking about the stresses of running several businesses and why we do it. I got thinking about whether I prefer ironing sheets or being outside; writing a blog or walking a track; in short why we do what we do. We could make more money working for wages so it’s not the money.  It is time for some serious self evaluation.

Should empty nesters retire? It could well be time for us to fly the nest too.