For the Empty Nester
We have been in the empty nest category since 2013 when our youngest child started college and moved across the continent. It’s a tough transition. As a parent, you invest so much of yourself into that role that you feel like a huge piece of who you are has suddenly stopped existing when the last child leaves home. There is a time of loss, grief, and identity re-evaluation (possibly crisis, for some).
I definitely have felt the pangs of empty nest off and on over the past several years. I have been surprised by how long the feeling can linger, then go dormant, and then resurface with a vengeance. I never want to camp in the grief, but sometimes my thoughts take me back to those happy days when those I loved most were under one roof at bedtime, and I cannot avoid getting wistful about it.
Those annoying words of older women who used to look at me with my three very young children in line at the grocery store have come back to haunt me…”these days are going to fly by and you’re going to miss them!”…“enjoy it now, because it will be gone in the blink of an eye!”. “That’s ridiculous!” I used to think. But oh, it’s true. Once that season of life is over, it really is over.
So how do we close the lid on our chest of keepsake memories from parenting without losing such a huge, important piece of ourselves? Sometimes I just have to peek in there to remember that time in life for a few moments. But after I’m done reminiscing, I need to look ahead. If there’s no new purpose or goal, no new place to look, then the memories become a sadness. If there is still a lot to do, and a new definition of what you are about, then those memories are sweet and enjoyable.
Becoming a grandmother has helped me. Knowing I have new young lives to care about and nurture in my role as “Grandma” and “Noonie” gives me a new place in the world. But even if there are no grandchildren, there is opportunity to fill one’s nest anew. There are young people who have no family or only have a dysfunctional family who need someone solid to rely on and to invest in their lives. There are those parents of young children who need encouragement from a seasoned veteran. There are older people who are alone or who are having their world become smaller and smaller, and they need the love and time you can give. Adopting new people into your life is a meaningful way to fill some of the void that is left by adult children who have left home.
If you are married, it’s an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with one another. If it became dull or strained in any way during the child-rearing years, then the empty nest era is a great time to fix that. Finding time for one another daily is an important way to stay connected. Sharing meals and conversation face-to-face, enjoying activities together, and finding common interests helps to reconnect husband and wife on a deeper level than they were able to have when they were busy raising a family.
I see many of my friends in this empty nest stage of life who have flourished in their giftings. They are developing as artists, crafters, musicians, cooks, hobbyists, outdoor enthusiasts, and experts in various activities. Some are taking trips either purely for travel or for doing mission work. Some are volunteering on a daily or weekly basis. Some are deepening their skills within their career and are advancing into experts in their field. Some have answered the call to take care of their elderly parent(s) and have become caregivers in the home. I honestly admire each of them and wish that I could do all of the things I see others doing, but I can only do what my life allows for me to do, and I need to be ok with the limitations that my body and “giftings” (or lack thereof) afford.
The empty nester does not need to feel empty in their soul. The house is quieter, but quiet does not have to translate into emptiness. The individual has the opportunity to reach out to others, to new experiences, to new roles, and to new purposes. If you refuse to launch into an undiscovered part of life, you will surely experience the empty nest as a lonely place. If you offer your time and your home to others to be welcomed, refreshed, and cared for, you will continue to experience the feeling of connectedness and belonging. Those of us who teach ourselves to fly away from the nest to see new views and to wonder at all there is beyond what we had in the past will experience renewed joy in life. When the desire is to explore, learn new things, love others, and to make a difference in the world, we will find our empty nest filling up with new eggs to be hatched.
Christian believers are not exempt from feeling the pain of loss from their role as a parent of children in the home. They are not exempt from having to re-examine their purpose and their value as seasons of life change. God speaks in many ways to us about knowing how to navigate our changing roles in life and our purpose throughout. He has a plan for us in each stage of our lives, and we must actively move through those stages with Him, not defying our new season, nor pouting that we are in it, but rather embracing the journey with faithful expectation that He has good plans for us even when something deeply good is over. He will bring something new if we don’t close ourselves into the room of our past. He will walk beside us as we step out in faith that we can be more than what we once were, and He will help us learn to find joy and purpose in whatever He has for us next.