Peter and I have been together in June for 17 years. For the first 2 years before we got married we ran 2 homes. For the next 12 years we raised 5 children and lived on 3 continents, the last child leaving home in January 2014. We are still responsible for a 17 year old, but he's been in boarding school in the UK since August 2013.
We are in our 3rd year of being child free on a daily basis apart from the holidays, but this September sees us free of school fees and responsibilities for anyone else other than ourselves and the cat and dog.
So what are we going do?
Sadly over the years, we've heard many friends and acquaintances say once the kids leave home, their marriage will probably be over as they're only together for the sake of the kids. If we'd ever said 'for the sake of the kids' we never would've had the experiences we've had as a family and the been able to take up the opportunities we've worked so hard for over the years.
Of course there have been times, especially over the past 3 years, where only having one another for company has been hard work and with family and friends so far away, it's just been the 2 of us against the world and often the 2 of us against one another when things have gone wrong.
There is little if no interference from the outside world in our marriage, we've made our own life choices and while this has freed us to make the decisions we have made, on reflection it could've gone so horribly wrong, but it hasn't and it stands us on firm ground now for our future without kids.
When we first got together, raising 5 kids between us from our previous marriages, we often wondered if we should 'for the sake of the kids' do things differently, but decided, one day they'll leave home and it'll just be the 2 of us, so we should do what is best for us for the future. The doesn't mean to say we didn't give the children a second thought, it meant we did what was right for us as a family unit, be it in the UK or abroad and we sorted out the problems as and when they arose, rather than worrying about the 'what if's?' and never doing anything.
We are the best of friends, through choice and because we have to be. We've dropped everything to fly back to the other side of the world, spent months apart, either with Peter's work or with a crisis back in the home land.
We've made huge sacrifices for one another, job satisfaction, career opportunities and the financial implications of paying school fees and travel costs for the kids to visit us. But we don't regret any of it, we may on reflection wish we'd done things differently, chosen better with accommodation, for access to work or safety and security.
We know many couples who live almost separate lives due to the demands of families and work, live on different continents and make alternate trips every month or so to see one another, but that's not something we feel would work for us.
I will be in the UK for a large proportion of time this year. March and April and flying back late June on a one way ticket, to support and guide the teen through his last few weeks in school and help him prepare for a life time of work ahead of him. We currently have no idea when and where he will be living after school finishes, as we are all waiting for news of his apprenticeship. Peter will be joining me in the UK in April and again in September for a few weeks, I may look into getting a temporary job now I am no longer working in Dubai, to bare some of the financial costs of running 2 homes, but I will be returning to Dubai on a permanent basis by October at the latest.
So what then? that's most of this year taken up. 17 years has flown by. Peter turns 60 this year, so a maximum 5 years left of work out here in Dubai, but we could leave early, maybe move to another country, maybe take early retirement. There's likely to be problems and issues with this 'what will I do for the next 5 years, not working, on my own all day every day?' There is no sign of grandchildren on the horizon, like so many other expats I know of are waiting for, their chance to move back to the homeland to watch and help the next generation grow up, while their husbands remains living overseas. We're the type of people and our kids have said the same, that they hope when their kids come along we're still living abroad so they can come for cheap beach holidays or even send the kids out to us for a fortnight during the holidays, rather than having us on their doorstep 'interfering' :-)
If you still have kids at home, you may feel that being child free is such a long way off and that you have no idea what you'll do when that times comes. Don't get me wrong it wasn't easy dealing with the kids leaving home and 'empty nest syndrome' but with time, things change and it just becomes the norm, in the same way life changes for everyone after having kids, you look back, you reflect, you wonder if you could've done it differently, you'll even wish for those days back again, even if right now you're moaning about sleepless nights or raising teenagers.
Peter and I on the surface of things don't have much in common, different TV shows, I don't like watching movies, we have different tastes in food and we both have our own ideas of what makes a good day/night out. We are each our own people, but we do like spending time together, just sitting in the garden, exploring places when we finally decide where that place will be, going out to eat, picking restaurants where we know we'll both find something we'd like to eat on the menu. We go for long walks in the desert with the dog, we both like to travel, although often on our own rather than together. We can go a whole weekend without leaving the house, we're comfortable just being around one another, we don't need things to do to occupy our time.
We accommodate each others needs, it all sounds a bit boring, but when we are apart, even during the day when Peter is at work there are plenty of phone calls between us and messages. Some of my female friends say they'd feel stifled if their husbands called them several times a day, they'd feel like they were being checked up on, but for us, it is the norm.
It works for us, our relationship, we'll not worry about what we're going to do, this time next year, next week, something will crop up and add to our adventures. It probably won't be an easy ride as we really don't know what is ahead of us, but together we're working towards our future, day by day.