Grace Filled My Empty Nest


A couple of years ago my daughter, then 17, decided to fly to Chicago to see her best friend who had moved there a couple of years prior. I drove her to the Louisville airport, walked her in and got her all situated. At the security gate, she waved good-bye and began progressing forward to complete her boarding process. I turned to head back toward home. She had no problem saying good-bye and taking off on a plane to another state without me. But me? Yep, I cried all the way back home, which was about an hour and a half away. Where had that little girl gone, who needed to play with my hair every night (I mean literally every night) to fall asleep? Or what about the little girl that was attached to my leg as I tried to leave her at youth group? That little girl had blossomed into a self-sufficient, independent young woman.

My husband always says, “This is how it’s supposed to be. God prepares us to let go little by little.” I know that logically, but it’s so hard! For so many years, my life was crafted around this sweet girl. Who am I on my own? So many questions rise to the surface when your children don’t need you as much anymore. Will she want to talk to me? Will she ever need me? What do I do with my extra time? How will our family dynamic change when she goes to college? How will my husband deal with it because they were like best friends? Will she be safe?

She left for college this year in August. Thankfully, she didn’t travel too far—just down the road a bit. I have felt grief with her leaving. No offense to the dads, but they don’t seem to get it like the mommas do. The thought is almost too much to bear! No more doctor’s visits to see how much your kiddo has grown. No more breakfast before school or screaming, laughing, silly girl sleepovers. It’s a harsh realization that she has been God’s all along and that she was never my possession, but just in my care for a short time. The time passes by so quickly! I remember when she was little and people would say, “Enjoy it, they grow up so fast!” To myself, I was like “whatever!” But, they were so right!

I have rediscovered myself and learned to be by myself sometimes and like it. I’ve discovered that I’m kind of fun to be with, just me, myself and I. She talks to me—I may not see her every day, but she calls to process things out loud or to share her day or whatever exciting thing that is going on. She still needs me sometimes. It has changed the family dynamic. My favorite thing is when we are all home together around the dinner table talking and laughing. I’ve also learned that you can bribe your college aged kid with food. If you want to see them, just tell them you’ll buy or cook dinner.

I’ve learned to allow myself to feel the loss, to allow myself to miss her for a moment, shed a tear if I need to and then to move on. I thank the Lord for every single minute and allowing me to have that experience that I miss in the first place. We are finding a new normal for our family and looking forward to all the new experiences with our now adult daughter. Grief can hit at unexpected moments, like when you’re at the grocery store and go to pick up their favorite snack or when you just miss making dinner for a family of four and now it’s three. Grief is unpredictable, but I encourage you to just feel it and move on. Try not to stay stuck in it. Ask the Lord to help you to know that before you were their momma, you were your own special unique person and it may be time to rediscover that person again.

Heather Butler is a regular contributor to the Soul Care Collective.
Image attribution: antpkr / Thinkstock


Heather Butler is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been in private practice for over ten years. She counsels couples, families and individuals including teens. Heather and her husband have been married for over 18 years and have two children. Their daughter is 18 and will be attending college at UK in the fall and their son is 13. They are active members at Southland Christian Church and have taught a marriage class there for over ten years.