Wikipedia describes the empty nest syndrome as “a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.”
Just as a bird prepares a nest out of bits of twigs, grass, and other sturdy ingredients to serve as a home and refuge for its babies, so we moms have built a nest through the years for ourselves and our families. When that nest begins to empty, how do we fill the vacuum?
1. Fill the space with others. Youth groups need counselors and sponsors. Children need adoptive or foster homes. Scores of people around you need others to befriend them and show them Jesus’s love and care. You may lead the pack in social media, but how many neighbors do you know?
2. Fill your empty nest with time for your mate. Plan getaway times and dates often with your spouse. Couples often neglect that time together when years of kids’ busy schedules seem to take priority. Renew that first love and schedule weekly dates and retreats whenever possible. For years, my husband and I have operated on a simple plan: Divert Daily; Withdraw Weekly; and Abandon Annually. Those dates can easily fit your budget. And in this economy, “free” is in, or even bartering. Be creative.
3. Fill it with room for dates with your children still at home. The other kids will feel the loss (sometimes relief) when a sibling leaves, and often need your attention even more. Use these remaining years to cultivate relationships that may have been thwarted in the shadows of an older brother or sister.
4. Fill your moments with meaningful ministry. All Christians have spiritual gifts. Invest those gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.
5. Fill the time with new adventures. Learn a new skill, or pursue a different hobby. For some with more flexibility, that might mean a new college class, a part-time job, or volunteer work. For others, trying different areas of ministry like going on a mission trip might surprise you with a new challenge that fits you perfectly.
6. Fill your hours carefully, and renew your priorities with God. Give yourself time to reevaluate. Be careful not to substitute busy activity for quietness and time alone with the Lord. God wants to fill you with Himself.
7. Fill your mind with happy memories, and let go of the painful ones. Examine any depression in your life. Normal feelings of loss are expected, but long-term despondency may signal the need for professional help. Ask God to show you any regrets or failures you may be struggling with. No mother can ever supply her children with 100% of their needs, and no parent is perfect. Learn the difference between real and false guilt. As you let go of the past and accept God’s forgiveness for true guilt feelings–those actions for which you are responsible–letting go of your child will be easier.
8. Fill your empty nest with prayer. Pray often, specifically, for your children. I thought I had prayed regularly for our daughters during their early years. We had begun praying for their future husbands soon after they were born, and adolescence brought its share of “help!” cries to God. But in their teen years, I petitioned the Lord even more earnestly, and discovered that prayer could travel and touch where I could not go. When God answered those prayers, the empty nest filled with a greater faith in God.
9. Fill the pages of your life with written evidence. Try journaling and/or scrap-booking. As you reflect upon God’s goodness and the changes in your life, write down your thoughts. Your children need your experience, and others need your wisdom. Record daily what God teaches you. You may never publish a best-seller, but someday your grandchildren will receive a heritage far greater than money could every buy. Organize your photos, and let them tell the story of your lives, and the lives of your children in their earlier years. If you work steadily, it will make a great college graduation or wedding gift (digital works great).
10. Fill your nest with the disciplines of rest and exercise. Rest? What’s that? In reality, your life may or may not change drastically. Some moms have more flexibility and opportunity, while others keep pushing their limits daily. If you think you don’t have a choice about your work, schedule, or finances, check out Jill and Mark Savage’s book, Living with Less So Your Family Has More. Your nest may fill up with kids or grand kids returning home to nest–permanently. Regardless of the circumstances, an empty or partially empty nest will affect your emotions. Prepare wisely with more rest and regular exercise.
Empty nest syndrome may affect you as a parent at one time or another. Letting go of your children is not an easy task. You may hesitate to relinquish the control into another’s keeping. But when you can surrender them into the hands of a loving Heavenly Father, He begins to refill your empty nest with a new joy and excitement.
That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19 TNIV).
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