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.
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.
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.
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”