When we seek God and study His word, our needs are filled so we can love our people from a place of wholeness rather than emptiness. Instead of surviving the empty nest, we just might find ourselves thriving.
My husband and I are now entering the empty nest season (well sort of). Our youngest is starting college in the fall and he still lives at home, but we barely see him. His four older siblings all graduated from college at a similar time in what was a sudden emptying of our nest.
While there are wonderful freedoms we have with fewer people in the home, there is also a solemn feeling of loneliness that can sweep over me when I miss them and realize that my role is lessening in their lives. I needed to figure out a way to manage my emotions and expectations during this new phase or it could lead to discouragement and unhealthy relationships.
First, I needed to clarify the source of my emptiness. Sometimes moms can feel content when they feel needed. But being needed does not necessarily fill the empty spot in our momma’s soul. Once I figured out why I was feeling so empty, I could work toward understanding that feeling, but meet that emptiness in a different way. Maybe the empty nest feelings are stemming simply from missing them. Or maybe because we want to feel like we matter to them more. Whatever the reason, here are ten ways that helped me to combat the empty nest doldrums and thrive in this season, instead:
1. Understand Your Role
My identity is not in my role in their lives. Having been a homeschool momma for 23 years, let’s just say I was used to having my kids around. I was not that momma who longed for them to leave. I enjoyed being with them and experiencing life with them. So, their absence is heightened for me. But I think part of the emptiness is due to wanting a similar role that I occupied for so long.
Realizing that my identity is not in my role helps me to adapt my expectations in the relationship as my role changes. This will mean new patterns of communicating and relating in an ever-changing role.
2. Don’t Take the Change Personally
An empty nest brings a lot of changes. Each child will have different needs and desires for their own relationship with you. Don’t take the changes in your relationship personally. Being grateful for a continued relationship releases the emptiness over what once was and helps us enjoy what now is.
I hear from each of my adult kids every week, but the level of contact varies from kid to kid. My heart can hurt when I don’t feel as needed by them but missing them should not become a place of offense. The changes we experience can be beautiful new avenues in our relationships with our children.
3. Release Momma Guilt
I can feel momma guilt when I have less contact with my tribe, but I can also feel momma guilt when they make decisions that I think are a mistake. Guilt has got to go! We are no longer responsible for their decisions, and our level of reaching out is going to change, too. We might even find that our empty nest season is a busier season than we thought it would be.
4. Relearn How to Relate
Sometimes there can be tension as we learn to relate to our children in a different way. This happens on both sides of the relationship. Sometimes adult kids want their cake and desire to eat it, too. They want to be “mommied” until it impacts their freedom. And moms might want to “mommy” their tribe more than the kids want. Relating to one another becomes stagnant and unhealthy when we relate to them the same way we did when they were children.
5. Choose Gratitude Instead of an Attitude
It can be easy to feel sorry for ourselves when our children don’t remember to be as attentive as they once were. Our birthday might be overlooked, or Mother’s Day might not be as significant anymore. But we don’t want our children to relate to us due to guilt. Expectations can cause us to be bitter, and that hurts our relationship with our adult children. But when we are grateful for the relationship we have with them, we just might find that it grows in beautiful ways.
6. Discover New Hobbies
Writing is a place of worship for me. I enjoy it so much that I actually have to make myself stop so I don’t lose perspective and keep the priorities of my life in place. When my children were little, I served in church and traveled and sang, but my life was mostly centered around them as homeschooling and running an educational cooperative were my main focus. Now working full-time and having my own ministry has helped me not focus so much on the former season of life. My adult children have actually had to adapt to my availability.
7. Reignite Relationships
If you are married, find new ways to enjoy your relationship with your spouse. My husband and I have found that we enjoy just being with one another, and we take several walks a day to also get exercise together. Going on trips is another way that we explore and grow. Working on our relationship is a beautiful way to model a healthy marriage for our adult children, too. And it also takes the pressure off our children of meeting our emotional needs.
8. Form New Traditions
One way I stay connected with my children is by sending a group text to them several times a week. It might be devotional thoughts or prayer requests. You can also form different traditions with each adult child that they enjoy. This keeps the relationship special and forms healthy bonds of affection that help us to keep the lines of connection open. Another tradition I started was writing in a Bible for a year for each of my adult children. This keeps me centered on praying for them and also helps to establish a legacy for when I am gone.
9. Go the Extra Mile
Instead of expecting our adult children to meet our needs, we can look for opportunities to go the extra mile and serve them. It might be helping them move or buying them something they need. When we are present in our children’s lives and it serves them rather than ourselves, our relationships with them thrive.
10. Family Trip
We have a family vacation each year, but I realize that I have to hold it loosely if one of the adult children cannot come. Each year our expectations for the family trip have to be kept in check so we can simply enjoy one another’s presence and also ensure that our adult children have the freedom to make the vacation their own, too.
Our emptiness can become a place of fullness when we let Christ fill our hearts instead of reaching for people first. When we seek God and study His word, our needs are filled so we can love our people from a place of wholeness rather than emptiness. Instead of surviving the empty nest, we just might find ourselves thriving.
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