The Empty Nest and Your Marriage

This past Sunday evening I was listening to the choir sing at church and watched my youngest child and daughter, Aubrey, singing.   I was struck by the fact that I had less then forty Sundays to enjoy her ministering in that way.   She’ll be in college a long way from home in less than a year.

For the first time in thirty-four years it will be just Paula and me in our house.   That won’t be a bad thing.   It’s a natural and good part of life, but it’s easier for the kids than the parents.

I remember the morning I left for college.    After packing my friend’s car I stood hugging my Mom and grandmother.   Suddenly my grandmother (who was younger then than I am know) began to weep uncontrollably.   Mom had tears streaming down her face, too.  I couldn’t understand why.   This was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.

Between her sobs, she finally said, “Go on, son, get in the car, I’ll be ok”.    It didn’t make sense to me then, but it does now.

They had been looking forward to this with a sense of not only me beginning a new stage of life, but it was a sad time for them, too.   The apron strings were being fully cut.  They weren’t just saying goodbye to an eighteen year old, but in that moment they remembered all the years before that, too.   My lack of experience and immaturity kept me from seeing that then.    But I know it well now, as does Paula, my wife.

Aubrey with my Mom at a Ladies Retreat in Tennessee.

It’s ironic that the most important aspect of a successful transition to an empty nest has nothing to do with your children.   It involves your spouse –  making them the most important human relationship you have.   Not just in the future but all through the years of raising your children.

Someone said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”.

Of course, there are seasons when your children demand your full attention, but even in those days it is important to make time for your spouse.

I remember when our children were babies; they demanded a lot of attention – for several years.   I remember when finances were low and it was tough to do special things for just Paula and me.   There was been more than one Christmas when we didn’t get anything for ourselves so we could care for our kids.

I remember busy seasons of Little League baseball, basketball, and soccer games.  Ballet and gymnastics lessons were a part of that.   Throw in youth activities, camps, and retreats at church and it made for a full schedule.

We did this seven times – and would gladly do so again.

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary with the kids in June, 2004.

Yet, I knew my bride was the most important earthly relationship I had; I wanted to invest time, energy and resources into our marriage.   And we have done that, pretty consistently, since we were married in 1979 and through our years of parenting.  It has been challenging sometimes.   Finding time, money and baby sitters was an issue, but it was worth it.    Usually it didn’t cost a lot of money, just being intentional and creative.

Investing in our marriage was not only good for us in those early days, but it was good for our kids.    Next year we will be able to profit most from those investments.

When God gave Adam a companion to meet his deepest needs for human fellowship he didn’t give him a child, brother or friend. He gave him a wife.  When a husband and wife are married they are a family, even without children. Having children extends their family.

One day you will be living alone with your spouse.   It will arrive quicker than you realize.  If you would enjoy a sweet time in your empty nest years you need to be making consistent investments of time with your spouse during the parenting years.    Small investments over time yield a great benefit.

Recently Paula and I celebrated the first time we met 40 years ago.   I wrote her a long letter and recalled a lot of memories and expressed my gratitude.   One of the things I shared was some dreams and goals we have to look forward to.

A parent’s job is to give a child roots and wings. Both are important.  For them to “fly away” successfully and for you to enjoy your time alone with your spouse you must have made deposits in your relationship with your spouse.   Parents, too, must develop “roots” in their marriage so they can “fly” in their empty nest years.

Years ago Paula and I had visited with some dear friends in Atlanta.   They’re like an older brother and sister to us.    They have raised three great boys, now men, and now their sons have children.    One of the reasons we enjoy being with them is the strength of their marriage and their mutual respect they have for each other.

As we left their home after a wonderful visit and drove away, Paula took my hand and said, “Rick, when we get older I want us to have a marriage like Tom and Renelle”.   (Their boys were out of their home and we still had children in our home). 

I agreed with her.   We talked for a bit about the qualities they had that helped them have a strong and happy marriage.   One of them was they prioritized their relationship with each other, but didn’t neglect their sons.    They enjoy their empty nest years because they did things right in terms of valuing each other, even during parenting years. 

Our close friends, Tom and Renelle Perkins.

Next year our empty nest season will become a reality.   We will see how we have done in preparing for it.

“Don’t put your marriage on hold while you’re raising your kids or else you’ll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage”. 

_________________

Here are the other posts dealing with “The Empty Nest”

Preparing for an Empty Nest

Preparing Your Child to Leave Home

Enjoy Each Era of Your Child’s Life

Release Your Children Gradually

 

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Posted in Children, close family, Empty nest, familiy issues, family, Family Issues, Growing marriage, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Release Your Children Gradually

In a way I’m not fully qualified to write this as I still have a child at home.   On the other hand my wife and I have experienced six of our kids leaving.   My baby girl will be leaving for college in less than a year.   Then, we will officially wear the title of empty nesters.

My baby girl, Aubrey Caroline. She brings great joy to my heart.

This principle is crucial to enjoying the empty nest phase of life.   And it is one we have striven to practice in our parenting.

The secret to successfully releasing your child is that you have been gradually releasing them from childhood.  Letting go of the rope a bit at a time is an important strategy.

In the Bible children are compared to arrows and the parents to the archer.    An arrow cannot fulfill it’s purpose unless it is released from the bow.

“As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” (Psalm 127:4)

To release an arrow without a specific objective is a waste.   An archer that is serious about his craft will polish the arrow and protect it’s quills before he points it to the target.

The metaphor is clear.   Raising children requires focus, intention, preparation, protection and the ultimate release of one’s children.   Parenting isn’t easy.   It’s the most difficult thing one will ever do.

But it is also the most rewarding. 

When my children married (or left home) my role changed from being in the chain of command to that of a counselor, an advisor.    Until that time we tried to release them by degrees, hopeful they would learn responsibilities we taught and modeled that would help them as adults.

Often people release their children too soon and to the wrong things.   To do so will bring regret and consequences.    Let me mention three mistakes that are most common today we make as parents.

Releasing them to dating when they are 13 years old.   I chose the age of 13 arbitrarily.   It’s a time when parents allow dating when they’re unprepared.  Pressure starts early for your child to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

It’s a mistake to release your child to dating at a young age.   I can’t think of any positive outcomes.   I can think of several negative results when it is allowed.

Premature dating has caused a lot of damage to young people where the scars extend even to adulthood.  Children need to be prepared for marriage, not having boyfriends and girlfriends.   The focus should be on friendship, etiquette, serving, extending courtesies, how to hold a conversation and other areas that will contribute to a successful marriage later on.

If you decide to not release them when they’re not ready, you will be bucking the culture and will be misunderstood, but it will save a ton of heartache later on.

Your child may become frustrated, angry and protest when you establish boundaries in this area, but I believe you must if the empty nest would be a blessing.    To be honest, though I believe this and practiced it in our family, it was still a struggle sometimes.   To take such a position is swimming upstream culturally.

Of course, at some point there will be that special someone that will be discovered along the way.   I believe this best happens in the context of a group of friends rather than trying to find “the right one”.    Especially in the early teenage years.

Serious, long-term dating inevitably leads to the next mistake.

Releasing them to go steady when they are 15 years old.   Again, the age I’ve used isn’t as important as the principle.   Dating leads to “going steady”, which simply means the two will refrain from seeing others.   It is sort of a pre-engagement time.

When I was in school some kind of symbol was exchanged to indicate the girl was “off the market” – like a class ring, a letter jacket, or another personal item.

This mistake usually leads to possessiveness, jealousy, frequent fighting, and sexual activity.    The couple will typically break up and get back together several times because the relationship intertwined their emotions when they weren’t fully prepared for such intimacy.

I’m not denying that young people cannot have feelings and like someone; I am saying that there is an emotional immaturity in that time of life.   Focusing on one’s own needs and failing to understand that love is more than an emotional feeling.

This is not genuine love and cannot survive the long-term relationship which is required in marriage.   There’s a reason the divorce rate is so high and this is one of the culprits.

Maturity is a worthy goal, not having a steady to date.

Also, when sexual activity begins it tends to continue until intercouse.   God didn’t intend for the body to stop at a certain point when necking and petting are initiated.     When the glands are active it’s almost impossible to stop from the next step of intimacy.  

God designed sex as a good and precious thing within marriage (Hebrews 13:4).    I often taught our young people that “sex is God’s wedding gift”. 

Going steady will likely lead to sexual compromises before marriage.

Releasing them to the world when they are 16 years old.   I think that parents get tired around this age and begin to settle for less than God intended.   Parenting is spiritual warfare and it is worthwhile to battle for the hearts of your children.

Beside Nehemiah 4:14 in my Bible I have written, “I will fight for my family”.  

The verse reads, “…fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses”.  

There are three battle grounds that each generation often disagree upon in a family – clothing, friends and music.    We need discernment in each area as parents, but we must not give up on what is right just because we are tired.

Another idea in this season is that “everyone sows their wild oats”.    While we all have sinned and made bad choices the inevitable result of sowing wild oats is the reaping of a wild harvest.    Part of the wild harvest influences not only the young people, but empty nest parents from choices their children have made.

Understand clearly that I’m not assuming that there will be perfection in your parenting or in your children.   It’s ridiculous to even assume such a proposition.   I wasn’t a perfect son to my parents nor have my children been perfect.    That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be mindful of God’s design and work toward it.   God’s way is the best way. 

The problem is that we have allowed culture to define and influence our parenting philosophy.   God designed the family and tells us how to operate it in His Word.  The Bible gives us clear instructions in the area of parenting, but we often settle for less than God intended.

For example, many parents are happy and satisfied if their kids aren’t on drugs, stay out of jail, and land a good job.  This is a good thing, but these alone are missing the point of God’s intention in parenting

God wants our children to mature not only physically and intellectually, but also spiritually and emotionally (Luke 2:52; Psalm 128).   He gives parents the tools of His Word and grace to accomplish this.    We are to be active participants in this process.

And it’s a painful process, failure often marking both the parent and the child.   A lot of failure.

Let’s not allow the world around us to dictate the terms of how we parent.    We have made some surrenders and are paying the price – both children and parents. 

It is a more pleasant and peaceful empty nest when we take care of our children as they grow up.   This means releasing them gradually and intentionally.

When Esau married he was forty years old and he made bad choices about whom he married.   It had an effect on his parents in their later years.

The Bible states that Esau’s family was “a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah”   (Genesis 26:35).    It’s more difficult to enjoy the empty nest when adult children are bringing problems back into your home.

Better to work hard on the front end and middle part of parenting teenagers than to experience the grief from grown children that have been released too early to areas for which they weren’t prepared.

When my oldest sons were playing Little League baseball I was watching practice early on a Saturday morning.   The coach’s son was a rebellious, cocky boy.   He didn’t listen to anything his dad would say as he coached and was never corrected.   He made it miserable for everyone, even his teammates.

As I observed the display of neglectful parenting on the field, the lady sitting next to me introduced herself as the coach’s wife and asked me who my boys were.   After pointing them out, she said, “I wish my son would listen to us the way your boys listen to you.   I guess some parents are just lucky”. 

I sat there stunned and wanted to reply, “No, ma’am, my wife and I aren’t lucky.   We have worked very hard to get our kids to pay attention and respect authority.   I would suggest that your problem with your son isn’t a matter of fortune, but rather that he has lazy parents that refuse to discipline him”.  

Though I didn’t say it, it was true.   Sometimes I wonder what happened to this young man.    He’s in his mid-thirties.    I hope he has given his heart to Christ and God has transformed him.   If things haven’t changed he is reaping the consequences.

However, his parents may be reaping consequences of not being diligent and intentional in raising him, only now as a man the cost is much higher.

I almost didn’t publish this post because it exposes my children to criticism from mistakes they have made and my wife and I from our own failures in parenting.   As they grow older the opportunities to sin are more frequent and consequences from bad choices are more destructive.

As a caveat, I readily confess that Paula and I have had our challenges in parenting and my children their own challenges.   I do know we were sincere and intentional and hopefully that has helped our kids and limited the potential sorrow of the future for either of us.

But that doesn’t diminish the truth of the post.

The effort in the early years will pay off not only for your children, but also in your marriage when it comes time for them to leave the nest.    God has not only given you truth from the Bible to do the task, but also His mercy and grace – and we need all three.

 

Posted in Children, close family, Empty nest, familiy issues, family, Family Issues, Happiness, Hope, Humility, Legacy, Marriage, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Special Family Get Togethers

Last night I attended a wedding rehearsal dinner for my nephew and his soon-to-be-wife. I watched my sister, her husband, their twelve children along with dozens of their friends enjoying companionship, celebrating the wedding of a loved one and friend.

I watched my nephews and nieces as they interacted with people and remembered when each of them were born. I thought of times we all shared – vacations, summer camps, and most of all, Christmases.

I watched my sister and brother-in-law as they took in the occasion, lost in their own thoughts.   “How quickly the time has gone by with our son and the rest of our children.  It’s going by too fast”.

I watched the two grandmothers, my mom and my brother-in-law’s mother, as they talked and caught up with their lives.  They had their own memories and thoughts.    Both of them turn 80 years old within a year of each other.   I can’t fathom the depth of their emotions at the time.

When we get home from this trip we will have driven over 2000 miles, but I would do it again. These family times are sacred to me. There may be times when I miss some of them, but I don’t want to.    Several years ago I missed my nephew’s wedding because of pneumonia and I still hurt from not being there.

One of the most important lessons my parents taught me was to be there when friends and family are hurting or celebrating. I saw them faithfully practice it, especially my Mom.    If at all possible she will be at the birthday party, the graduation, the funeral, or the anniversary celebration.

I know my sister, Melanie, and her husband, Bill, were grateful for the gift of a precious spouse for their son. They had prayed for her for a long time – and now it was coming to pass.

I know Bill and Melanie were grateful for the influence of the parents of their soon-to-be daughter in law. As my nephew gets older I know he will appreciate them even more, too.

I got to see all of these and many more very special things that make these occasions incredibly important. I’m just the uncle, but I’m so glad I was able to be here. It was good for my soul.

Christmas time is a huge event in our family. My Mom (Dad passed away in 2008) has twenty-one grandchildren. For many years all of them were able to come for Christmas. Then, one by one they began to get married and have their own children. They have job responsibilities and the families of their spouse to consider on holidays.   Now, it’s unusual to have everyone there at the same time.

A few years ago all of Mom’s grandkids, spouses and great grandchildren were there for Christmas, all piled together in a den. It was loud from spontaneous laughter and excited conversation – and a lot of fun.   It was that way all week.

Mom was sitting by me on the couch, observing and not saying anything. She reached over and took my hand and said softly to me, “Rick, when I’m gone will you promise that you will keep this going with all of the kids?”

I knew I couldn’t fully make that promise as she was the reason most of them came home, to see their Nana. I knew my kids, Melanie’s kids, and Hoss’s kids would soon have their own traditions and I had to respect that.

But I think I saw the gist of her question. She was saying, don’t let this die when I’m gone.   Keep having special times like this.   This brings great joy to my heart.

And from that perspective I assured her that I wouldn’t let family events die.

I’m glad we made the trip.   We’ll do it again if we able.    Even if it’s 2000 miles.

 

Posted in close family, closeness, Family Get Togethers, Family Issues, friendship, Grandparenting, Gratitude, Happy marriage, Joy, Legacy, Marriage, Opportunities, Parenting, perspective, Wedding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Enjoy Each Era of Your Child’s Life

As I write this it is the last night of our vacation.   In the morning we will get up early and head home.    This will be different though because it will just be my wife and I in the car.

This morning our daughter and her husband and their three children left for home, a thousand miles away.  A few days ago my youngest son flew home to return to work.   Our other five children couldn’t come because of work.   The crowd has diminished from eight to two, now.

Tonight the condominium is quiet.    Soft music is playing while I type and Paula reads beside me.   My heart is full after making some new memories to recall in the coming years.

We will be home late tomorrow night after a long drive.  Two days later my youngest son, 21 years old, will move out of our home to an apartment in town.

Then, it will be Paula, our baby daughter, and myself.   In a little over a year our daughter will be leaving for college.   Finally, we will officially be empty nesters.

It’s not a bad thing, just part of the cycle of life.   For us, it has lasted longer than some as we have seven children.   Most of our friends our age said goodbye to their last child a decade ago.

Paula and I were talking this week about the fact that this has been the longest trip we have taken alone since we had children 33 years ago.    Now it’s time to get acclimated to a new season of life.

In previous posts I’ve written about how to successfully prepare for the transition to an empty nest.

This means recognizing that releasing our children is inevitable.

Also, it involves recognizing God’s ownership of your children.

It requires being intentional about preparing them to leave home. 

This post deals with enjoying each era of life your child experiences; after all, each era is different from a parent’s perspective, also.

Children have the potential to bring us joy.   Regarding children, the Bible states that “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them…” (Psalm 127:5)

I’ve loved being a father.  I’m not saying there aren’t struggles and hard times in parenting.   It’s the hardest thing you will ever do.   But don’t let the difficulties and challenges rob you of the joy of it all.   Each season has some sweetness in it.  

Once the years with our kids are gone, they cannot be repeated.   We ought to enjoy them while we can.  This means being attentive to the present, weighing and appreciating the mundane activities of life; being grateful for the special moments of joy.   Remembering them helps to balance the frustrating times.

Perhaps this is why grandparents are so patient with their grandchildren.   They have learned what is most important and have learned from their own mistakes in parenting.

Most of us learn to parent effectively after our children are almost grown.   Because of that we make a lot of mistakes.   One of these mistakes is missing the sweetness of the present.   Don’t keep waiting for a better day to appreciate your child.  Today is precious.

I made mistakes in this area.

Last year I took Aubrey, our youngest, to get her driver’s license.   We had carefully researched to make sure we had all the proper documents, but one of them was incorrect.   I was frustrated and after a couple of calls finally got the information.

She passed the test easily.   I had purposefully taken Aubrey to get her license because I knew what a rite of passage it was.  I wanted to share it with her.

Now, because of time pressures from not having the proper documents we hurried home.   I had planned on taking her to a nice lunch, but now I had a pressing appointment.

She was quiet and I apologized to her about not having lunch and told her we were going to have a big celebration that evening.   She said, “Dad, you forgot to take a picture of me right after I got my license.”

Oh, man.   I felt so bad and apologized again for being so insensitive.   (I still feel bad about it).  Even though she told me it was alright, it wasn’t.    I had messed up a special moment for her.   I allowed the pressure of the future to rob her (and me) of a simple, but important memento.    An important milestone was not recorded because of my failure to enjoy the moment. 

The good news is that I had invested in my daughter’s life for almost seventeen years – including lots of laughter, fun, vacations, ball games, catching her tears, and talking about life.    My failure to capture a special moment in her life didn’t derail our relationship because the bulk of our time through the years was so positive.

My baby girl, Aubrey Caroline. The joy of my heart.

The quality of the latter years of your child’s life reflect the quality and quantity of the seed sown in the early years.    If you enjoy and savor each season of your child’s life – you will enjoy the empty nest much more.

The lesson – care for today properly and tomorrow will care for itself.   This includes vacations and getting a drivers’ license.

After all, tomorrow will be here before we know it.

Today my kids are adults; some have their own children.    I’m enjoying this era of life, too.   Being a grandfather.   Watching my children become successful in their work.   Remembering when they were babies as we baby sit their children.   Enjoying helping them with our grandchildren.  Seeing the values that we taught them from God’s Word become realities in their lives as adults.

I have loved being a dad.   And I’ll love the rest of my days still being a dad.   A dad hopefully that is wiser and more joyful than ever.

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Preparing Your Child to Leave Home

In a little over a year our youngest will leave for college.   After thirty-four years of raising seven children our house will be quiet, just Paula and me.   We will still see our children and our grandchildren, too, of course.   But it will be different; not bad, just different.

Paula and I have talked about it some, how our lives will change and some things we would like to do.   I’ll be sixty next year and Paula isn’t too far behind me.   We are looking forward to a new chapter in our lives.

How can we make sure the transition to the empty nest is successful?

Here’s a basic principle: what you do as you rear your child in the early years will determine how you feel when they leave your home.   When the time comes to release them, it’s too late to play catch up. 

Parenting is rewarding, but it is also hard work.    People that enjoy a happy marriage and have children that honor them and the Lord didn’t luck out; they have paid a price.

It’s a price worth paying, too.

The most important area of preparing your child concerns God’s purpose for their life.  If they get this right, most of the other areas come together and work out.

Mom and Dad never talked to me about becoming a preacher.   The focus was not on an occupation, but rather having a heart that loved Christ and walked with Him daily.   As I did this, God’s purpose in terms of occupation just worked out in my life.

I worry about parents who try to “direct” their children into a certain line of work.   Our task is to help equip them to discern God’s voice and to respond.   As long as they honor the Lord in their choices we ought to be proud of them and support them. 

God often uses pictures and metaphors in the Bible to help us understand His truth better. He does this with our role as parents.   Through these pictures we are able to understand our responsibility to train our children in their purpose.

  • CHILDREN ARE LIKE ARROWS

“As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.”  (Psalm 127:4)

An arrow’s purpose has a specific purpose; to be released toward a designated target. An arrow that always stays in the quiver has no function.  There comes a time when it is to be shot towards a clear objective.

The analogy is clear.   Parents have their children for a season and at the appropriate time they are to let them go.

As a father I wanted to be skilled like an expert archer in terms of my helping to propel my children toward God’s plan for their life.   I placed a high value on their spiritual development and gave them tools to help them walk with God.

The truth is, I wasn’t close to being an expert as a dad.   Somehow God’s grace worked in the hearts of my precious children in spite of my mistakes and sins.   But I did point them in the right direction and that was most important of all, for it is God that transforms a child’s heart.

Even though most of my kids are out of our home and are adults I still give them resources to help them in their spiritual life.   I want to bless and encourage them.   When I find songs, books, or quotes I pass them along.  Maybe it will help them as they prepare to release their own children one day.

What is God’s design, his target, for your children? It is your responsibility to point them that way. If they are going in that direction when you release them, the empty nest will not be as difficult.

  • CHILDREN ARE LIKE PLANTS

“…children (are) like olive plants round about thy table”.   (Psalm 128:3)

“That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth…”  (Psalm 144:12)

A garden must be tended and cultivated if it is to fulfill it’s purpose.   Tender plants ignored and left to nature will be an ugly sight to see, if they survive at all.     Such a garden is not a blessing, but a blight.

That’s what happens to our children when we fail to give them time and discipline.   It results in a mess.

Yes, children can be exposed to a healthy environment and taught well and still rebel, but we are to be diligent to put them in a place where they can hear God speak to them.

My second born, Jonathan, got his baby brother, Jake, interested in gardening.   Jon has a nice size garden in his back yard and so he helped Jake to grow some things in a small parcel by the side of our house.

I enjoyed watching Jake as he faithfully tended that little piece of ground.  He tilled it, planted seeds, watered it, and pulled weeds.   One day we enjoyed the benefit of tomatoes, watermelon and other fruits of his labor!

It’s easier to release your children when you have done the hard work up front.   I’m not condemning parents that have failed here.   We all have. to some degree.   I want to encourage younger parents to take seriously the work God has given to them when their children are tender and responsive.

  • CHILDREN ARE LIKE DECORATIVE STONES

“…that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace”. (Psalm 144:12)

Decorative stones in a king’s palace were beautiful and ornate.   They served more than just to provide protection and to support and secure the palace, but also to be attractive.    This required them to be cut and polished, which involved an incredible amount of work.

Stone masonry is not a job for a lazy person.

I remember a family friend building the chimney for a fireplace at my grandmother’s house.   I was fascinated at the level of skill and expertise he had.   Parenting requires both work and skill.

The corner stone is a metaphor for the entire foundation being established properly and securely.   One day the little one you are training will have her own family.   It is ours as parents to equip them for the task, while they are little.

All of these occupations – archery, gardening, and being a stone mason have something in common – they require preparation.   Each could only be successfully accomplished by specific tools and skills.    Objectives were clarified beforehand if they were to be successful.   It wasn’t a haphazard task.

Parenting my children was the most difficult work Paula and I have ever done, but also the most significant.   

After we’ve given them the tools and preparation, it is theirs to follow the path God has given to each of them.

Be intentional today, friend, as you parent your children.   When it comes time to release them you’ll be glad you did.

Truly, present actions determine future consequences.   And these consequences are too serious for us to not give our best.

Our Christmas picture from 2002. Taken on the steps of our altar at church.

Here are the previous articles on how parents can successfully navigate the transition to the empty nest years.

The Empty Nest

Preparing for an Empty Nest

 

Posted in Children, Equipping, familiy issues, family, Family Issues, guidance, Parenting, Will of God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for an Empty Nest

In a little over a year from now my wife and I will be empty-nesters.  My baby girl already has a college in mind and has visited the campus.    It’s about 350 miles away from home.   When that time comes, it will be bittersweet.    Paula, my wife, is already discovering ways and opportunities to visit.

What can parents do to maximize the time when a child leaves home?    Releasing a child confidently requires preparation long before they leave.   In the next several posts I’ll give some practical steps to make this occasion a mutual blessing.

This is Jordan, my third son, and middle child. He is our miracle child, born six weeks early and he had to stay in the hospital for several weeks before he could come home. Big sister and brother, Ashley and Jeremiah, are enjoying having another brother.

The first principle was the most helpful to us as parents in releasing them: to prepare for the empty nest you must recognize God’s ownership of your child.   

Our children do not belong to us ultimately, they are the Lord’s, and He has given us the privilege to train them for Him.

The Bible states this truth clearly, “… children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”   (Psalm 127:3)    The word “heritage” has the idea of an inheritance or possession.  A child is a precious gift from God to parents.   We are responsible to train, direct and love them as He would.

They are also referred to as “his reward”.    We are to see them as a priceless gift, a treasure from the Lord.   Children add value to our lives.   As His gift we are to always realize they are ultimately His.

Acknowledging your child is a gift from the Lord clears up a multitude of problems.

First, it influences the way you view your children.   God gives us children as a blessing.   They are not to be seen as burdens or intrusions in our lifestyle.

Your attitude will influence not only how you feel about them presently, but also what will happen when it’s time for them to leave the home.

Second, it influences the quality of leadership and involvement in your child’s life.    The biblical term for one that has a responsibility to care for the property of another is a steward.  He simply managed the resources that had been loaned to him.   He wasn’t an owner, but an overseer.

Years ago, I was at soccer practice with my boys and a father approached me.

He said, “Are all these kids yours?”  

I said, “Yes, sir.”

He responded with a chuckle and a raised eyebrow, “Well, I’m glad they’re yours and not mine”.

They weren’t misbehaving or being a nuisance; I think he was just reacting to the thought of having to care for that many kids.

I never forgot that exchange.

It is a common attitude of our society to see children as a burden, not a blessing.    Because I knew children are God’s gift and He loans them to us I saw them differently.

I stood in a hospital delivery room in Alexandria, Virginia the evening of March 29, 1984 and a doctor placed my firstborn son, Jeremiah David, in my arms.   The first thoughts I had while holding him were, “God, at this moment I give my son back to You and acknowledge that He is Yours.   Thank you for giving Him to us to love and train for Your kingdom”.

April and myself a short time before her wedding.

Believing they are gifts has kept us from wanting to hold on to what God loaned us when it was time to release them.    Yes, there were still tears as we let each one go, but it was easier knowing this was God’s plan.

Have you ever consciously acknowledged your children are God’s gifts to you and given them back to Him to care for them?    Trust Him to care for His own.   Even after they leave your home.

The lyric Steve Chapman wrote says it well.

“The Arrow and the Bow”

Here is wisdom for the moms and dads that time has proven true,
The day your children learn to walk they start to walk away from you.
For at first you hold all of them, cradled safely in your arms,
Then one day their hand is all you hold, and soon its just their heart.

And there’ll even come the time
If your love for them is true;
You’ll have to let their hearts go free
And let them love someone else not only you

Can the sparrow ever learn to fly if the nest is all it knows?
Can the arrow ever reach its mark by remaining in the bow?
You have to let it go.

 

Posted in Bitterness, Children, close family, Empty nest, familiy issues, family, Family Issues, God's ownership, Parenting, stewardship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Empty Nest

One summer I asked our congregation to turn in questions to which they wanted answers from the Bible.   One of the issues from the pile of questions was “How do we as parents deal with the empty nest?   Our last child will soon be gone from our home and we need some encouragement”.

As I write this, our baby girl is sixteen and will be a senior in high school next year.   Four of our children are married and have their own families; three of our kids live in other cities and we rarely see them.  Only two are with us in the house; it’s just a short while before Paula and I join our friends in having an empty nest.

So, how can one prepare for this moment?   Is it possible to be ready, to some degree, for this departure?

Our Christmas picture from 2002. Taken on the steps of our altar at church.

Here’s the key principle: a successful transition to a new lifestyle without children is largely determined by what you do before you have children and how you rear them in their formative years.  

The bulk of our work is done by the time our children leave the home.   We are preparing for when our children leave home in the years when we are not thinking about it.

Perhaps that is why it is such a great struggle.    We’re not sure we put enough in their hearts during those formative years.    Suddenly it’s their senior year and now the clock is ticking loudly and we hear it.   Each event takes on a greater meaning and our hearts even begin to grieve a bit.  

Ashley receiving her college degree.

My father had a stroke and was physically debilitated in his speech and ability to walk.   I watched him gradually decline over several years and it was difficult.

In the midst of this season a preacher friend and I were talking about it and he asked me a question that clarified my feelings.    “Rick”, he said, “Do you find yourself grieving the death of your father even before he has passed away?”  

I had never thought about it in those terms, but that is exactly what I was feeling.   The countdown was on in my mind even though I didn’t have a specific date, but I knew it was coming.

The same thing happens when our children, especially the last one, leave the nest.   The emotion will vary from person to person, but it will be there to some degree.

The Empty Nest is Inevitable

In the toddler or middle school years parents aren’t thinking of an empty nest much, if at all.  But the time is surely coming when we let go of our children – and it arrives faster than we realize.

Adjusting to the empty nest always involves releasing our children.  Here are four times we must release our children.   All of them are difficult, some more than others.

Release Them to The Consequences of a Rebellious Heart

Most Christian parents work to train their children to serve the Lord; they have dreams for them to continue in the way which they were raised.

When they are little we can’t conceive of them rejecting the truths we have modeled and taught them.   But sadly, it happens.

When it does, at some point we must release them to God and to the consequences of their choices.

God loves your child more than you do and can work in their heart, even when they are in rebellion.   As hurtful as it is, there may come a time when you release them to that in which you never thought they might be involved.

The path of sin brings pleasures, but it also has a bitter end.   The Bible says, “…the way of transgressors is hard.”   (Proverbs 13:15)    It is this pain and sorrow that will cause them to consider their ways.

Remember, the prodigal son did return home (Luke 15), but the father also released him to experience the consequences of his sinful behavior.   The father didn’t enjoy it, but it was necessary.

It wasn’t until the prodigal was permitted to experience the pain of his rebellion that he learned lessons that caused him to become broken, mature and grateful (Luke 15:14-17).

Many parents continually “rescue” their children from consequences and only enable them to go on in their sin.   “Tough love” means letting your child experience the university of hard knocks.   

Release Them to Their Spouse

When our adult children are married they establish a new family unit of their own.   The Bible teaches that each person is to “leave” their parents and “cleave” to their spouse, above all others.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”   (Genesis 2:24)

When parents fail to release their child in marriage it strains the relationship between the couple and parents.  While it is wise for the young couple to involve their parents in advice and counsel, parents must accept that their time of primary influence has largely passed.

It’s impossible for our kids to understand how difficult it is to let them go until they have their own children and the wedding bells ring.

Paula and I were conversing about this subject and she surprised me by what she said.   “Rick, it’s more difficult for me to give up my sons to their wife than my daughters to their husband.  It’s because up until then I have been the only lady in their life and now I’m not; I’m in second place”.

Your child can’t have a great home with continual interference.     Let them go.

Release Them to God’s Will

Even the parents of the Lord Jesus were reluctant to release Him to His Father’s will.    After a holiday trip as they were returning home they discovered He wasn’t with them.  For several days they were separated before finally reuiniting.

“And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?  And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.”   (Luke 2:48-50)

Note the emotions his parents had, they were “sorrowing”.   It is a strong word that indicates they would never see Him again.   Jesus was only twelve years old but He already had a heart to do His Father’s will, to fulfill the “Father’s business”.

I believe success as a parent is helping your children to be obedient to the will of God. 

Sometimes that means they may not live nearby, follow in your occupation, or make as much money as you think is necessary.

When I went to college to study for the ministry I was eighteen years old.   I was excited about taking classes and learning how to be effective in serving the Lord.

The morning came for me to leave for Chattanooga, Tennessee and I dropped by my grandmother’s house to tell her good-bye.    I wasn’t prepared for it.

As we embraced she and my mom began to weep.   I was stunned and just stood there, not knowing how to alleviate their hurt.   I knew I wasn’t going to be around as much, but it wasn’t like a final good-bye.

What I didn’t realize is that they had played this scene through their mind for several weeks and now it was finally here.    I was going toward something for which I was excited and they were having to release something that they had loved for almost twenty years.  They knew it would never be the same, but I didn’t realize it.

It was a sobering event for me.

Twenty seven years later Paula and I would go through the same emotional  experience with our oldest.    As we left his dorm we cried all the way home, not because we weren’t happy for him, but because we knew we were going to a house filled with only memories of our son.

It never got easy to walk away from the dorm – later in Chattanooga and also in Jacksonville, Florida.   But we had to release them to God’s plan for their lives.

Release Them to Death

This is an occasion we never think about unless our child has a serious disease or illness.   All parents expect to outlive their children, but that isn’t always true.

When a child dies suddenly the sense of loss is profound; it marks a Dad and Mom for a lifetime.   Even when the cause is a chronic illness that has been over a long period it is still painful.

Years ago I was walking through a cemetery visiting the graves of friends and church members, remembering them and thanking God for their lives.   One area was solely dedicated to babies and two of our pastors had children buried there.

After pausing at each little grave, I walked around and read the headstones of other precious little ones.   I discovered that another family in our church had buried a child there.  It had happened before they came to our church.    I never knew.

We see the profound grief of a father over the unexpected death of his son when Jacob thought his son, Joseph, had died.

“And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.  And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.”   (Genesis 37:34-35)

One can’t miss the depth of his sorrow.

The saddest funeral I ever had was for a nine year old boy.  I didn’t know the family but had been contacted by one of their friends to help them with the service.  

The parents were inconsolable.   It was heart-rending to hear their cries and words to their child in the coffin.   I’ll never forget it.

A year after the funeral a lady walked into my office.  I didn’t recognize her.   I was shocked to learn it was the mother of this little boy.   Her grief had aged her.   She and her husband had divorced; they couldn’t deal with the incredible sadness in their hearts.

The terrible reality is that sometimes children do pass away before the parents.   Though you will never forget them, as time passes God will give you His grace to deal with the grief and hurt.    Part of that healing process is releasing them.    Failure to do so will affect  your marriage and other relationships in your family.

When my daughter, Ashley, was married the song “Arrow and the Bow” was sung as my wife and I and Brian’s parents lit the candle before the service.    This song tells the importance of releasing your child.

 

April, on her wedding day.

These are four unique times that involve our children leaving home.   None of them are easy.   Some are much more painful.   Though there can be great joy in the result of doing so, it is still tough.   

Perhaps there is another situation that you are dealing with in your having an empty nest.   May God grant you His wisdom and peace as you experience this challenging time.

 

 

Posted in Death of a child, Empty nest, Family Issues, Marriage, Parenting, rebellion, Will of God | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment