The “empty nest” stage of life can be difficult to navigate—it’s both a time of celebration and a time for mourning the change. In this article, Ben Wiles offers 3 tips to help new empty nesters navigate the season of life that lies ahead.
The bags were unpacked and the dorm room was set up. As we said goodbye to our youngest son and drove away from the university where he is an incoming freshman, the full realization of the moment hit my wife and me.
We were now “empty nesters.”
We knew this day would come, but that was a surreal moment. And each night that we come home from work to an empty house we are reminded of our new life situation. Even the dog knows something is different. Things are strangely quiet and calm(er). There is a lot less laundry to do now that our two sons are away at college and starting their own lives. We don’t have to buy and prepare as much food either. And every night as we head to bed and pass by their empty rooms, knowing that they are not coming home that night, or the next, it settles in just a little bit more. It is a new day and we will need to adjust to what that means for us.
As a pastor, I walk with people through all phases of their lives. I am present with them as their kids are born, go off to kindergarten, graduate from high school, and move away to college, not to mention all the other stages of life that we all go through beyond that. And, strictly from observation, I can say that different people react to the “empty nester” stage in different ways. Some people can’t wait for the freedom that comes with not having to keep up with their kids’ schedules and deal with the challenges of raising a person who is transitioning from childhood to adulthood. They love their kids, but for them the “empty nest” is almost a cause for celebration. Then there are others that mourn the entrance into this stage because of the loss of the very things just mentioned. In the worst cases, the two parents have forgotten how to be together without kids, so the empty nest stage exposes underlying marital issues and has even led to divorce “now that the kids are grown.”
Love it or mourn it, the empty nest stage is certainly a part of the process of life. And there are some things you can do as you approach and enter this stage that will help ease the transition. Consider these suggestions for “thriving in the empty nest stage” of your life:
1) Properly prioritize relationships
A healthy person is going to first of all be whole and at peace in a proper relationship with God. As a Christian, it is my firm belief that this relationship is made possible by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and the presence and power of His Spirit at work in your life. If you are not whole and intact in solitude with Him, you are not going to find that anywhere else or from anyone else. If you are married, then from that foundational relationship I just described, the second most important relationship is the one you share with your spouse – NOT your kids. That’s because your kids are going to move away eventually (remember that’s why we’re having this little conversation), and when they do move away you don’t want to be standing there looking at your spouse and thinking “who are you?” This means taking time to be with your spouse even while your kids are growing up (date nights, etc.). And NEVER allow your kids to come between you and them. Don’t undermine your spouse and don’t keep secrets from them.
Of course, much of this is what you need to do long before the empty nest stage. But make the adjustment as needed even if you are already an empty nester.
2) Plan for family gatherings
On this point, you should know that they will be back. And they will probably bring friends with them when they come. But as they get older and move forward in their education and career, your kids will be less and less able to come home. So you are going to have to be more intentional about family gatherings. Plan events that bring everyone back together to make memories. It could be as expensive/complicated as a big family trip or something as simple as a family “pajama day” during the Christmas holidays. Be creative and have fun!
3) Dream on
Life does not end when your kids move out, no matter how old you are. One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning and experiencing new things. What goals and dreams have you put off until your kids were grown? What travel plans have been on hold? What are some things you have wanted to study or what new skill have you wanted to learn? It’s time to dust off your dreams as a “grown up” and as a couple.
The good news is that there is life after the “empty nest!” Keep living, keep loving, and keep dreaming. You can find joy in watching your children become the adults God has created them to be while you find joy in continuing your own journey as well.