This Empty Nest Thing Makes Me Cry
Our daughter is going to college. Not to the electric chair.
I literally tell myself stuff like this every day. Other days, I just cry. I cry for the end of an era. For the shift in my motherhood. For the empty nest. As my husband and I prepare for empty nesting, I am struggling on a daily basis. I’m a walking “uuugh.” Part of me just wants to hold onto my babies forever and ask them to live in the basement until they’re 30. The other part of me sees that they’re clearly not babies and that would be weird.
I know billions of parents have been through this. Entering into the “empty nesting phase.” Oh, how I’ve dreaded that term. Sad. Dark. Lonely. Empty. Nest. Full disclosure: both of our kids live with us this summer and they both may live with us next summer too. But, as I begin to clear the nest, I’ve got a goal. I want to replace the dread and the tears with something better. Something that I can pass onto my kids. And to YOU.
Good Ol’ Days
I’ll admit the sentimental, nostalgic side of me wants to weep over the end of their childhoods; I’m tempted to cling to the good ol’ days of toddler giggles when they first dipped their toes in the ocean. Or wide-eyed explorations, when my little ones and I set out on the mountain path near our home. Honestly I don’t want to walk that mountain path by myself when our children leave the house. I don’t want to live in a home without kids around. We’ve already gone through our son going off to college. But now, it’s our daughter’s turn. “Ugh,” I moan, while I’m crying in my car, “I’m gonna miss my little girl.” But there’s the catch…she’s NOT a little girl anymore. And I don’t have “kids” in my house. I have adults living here now. And I need to set a good example for their adulthood.
So, instead of lying on the carpet for a 6-month cry, I want to leave a legacy for how we move into new seasons. I want to live this season well. I want to show my daughter how it’s done. How we embrace the new seasons. How she can embrace this new season.
Three Tips To Help You Embrace Empty Nesting
I’ve come up with THREE tips to help me and to help you–as we empty the nest of our baby birds and encourage them to fly:
1. Be An Unselfish Parent
This moment should not be about me. As I’ve thought about looming sadness and parting tears, I’ve realized I’m making this about me. My needs. My feelings. And my feelings are: I wish she could stay forever so I could dote on her like I did when she was little. You see, my daughter’s been like a BFF to me since she was about three (I know child psychologists would tell me that’s not healthy). I’ll miss her daily friendship. I’ll miss her humor and her hugs. I’ll miss our “girly days” filled with shopping, sniffing lotions and potions and sharing sweet treats. I’ll miss her faithfully sitting beside me in church. And I’ll miss our late night talks and binge-watching movies. But when you’re a committed parent, it shouldn’t be about you. It should be about your child. It should be about loving them unselfishly. It should be about using their time in the nest to help them be all they were created to be. And then to let them go live it out. Be an unselfish parent.
2. Be Committed to Their Purpose
This is what I’ve raised them for. All those years in which I held them, corrected them, disciplined them and trained them were for THIS time. Science experiments in the kitchen sink, playtime in the park, bedtime stories, bike rides, birthday parties, vacation bible school, field trips, volunteering in the classroom, service projects, family vacations, cheering at sporting events, attending awards ceremonies–all of this was to prepare them for NOW. What have I been doing for the last 22 years, if it wasn’t to prepare my children for their purposes? To equip my kids to be a blessing in this world? Wouldn’t it be a shame if anguish over an empty nest robbed both me and my kids of the joy of them stepping into their destinies? They’ve got careers to discover and callings to pursue. They’ve got spouses and children in their futures. I won’t let any empty nest woes drown out the purposes I’ve been parenting them for. Be committed to your child’s purpose.
3. Be Committed to Your New Purpose
I pray. A lot. The other day when I was talking to God about our daughter leaving home and the empty nest that I was dreading, it was like He said, “You’ve got new stuff to do.” It was like He parted a curtain to reveal a glimpse of the next season and showed me there are new things that are calling my name. This doesn’t diminish the importance of the parenting I’ve done. This doesn’t mean that mothering wasn’t my primary purpose for awhile. But it does mean, there are other things now. My first book is coming out. The nonprofit that I oversee is working to help more moms in prison, to mentor more moms who are homeless and to support more single moms who are struggling. Now that my kids don’t need me as much, other people and purposes are beckoning. People like my aging parents. And maybe even my husband. If you’re married, empty nest is a terrific time to commit to re-growing your marital relationship. I need to commit to these new purposes.
Try This Perspective For Facing Empty Nest
Finally, I’ve been reminding myself that the fact that our kids are leaving home is not tragic. I know people who have lost their kids to suicide, accidents and disease. I’ve known others who died before their children were grown, so they didn’t get the privilege of seeing their kids off to college or into the working world. I have friends whose children are not able to live away from home, due to certain limitations. So, I count my blessings, including the fact that my husband and I have lived long enough to see our kids safely off to college. And that our children are alive and able to launch into their futures. Empty nesting doesn’t have to feel like a tragic end. We can unselfishly embrace this empty nest, in order to propel our kids into their purpose, and direct ourselves into something more.
So, press on future empty nesters. Personally, I thank God for a full nest and an empty one too.
Jenny Dean Schmidt is a wife, mom and former Emmy-winning TV reporter. She is currently Executive Director of ChannelMom Media and Outreach. She also hosts their weekly, syndicated radio show and podcast. Her first book, Mom, You’re Amazing! is coming out in Fall of 2021.