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