What to Do When the Nest is Empty

Finding fulfillment when the kids are gone.

by Sharlene MacLaren

For many, the transition from a full nest to an empty one is difficult. After all, you have spent some twenty years in this business of parenting. You have changed diapers, wiped noses, and cooled fevered bodies. You have read children’s books until you could recite them verbatim, played childish games, soothed away tears, listened and laughed, attended school functions, bolstered and encouraged, and worried into the early morning hours. You have even stood in sub-zero temperatures awaiting the coach’s decision, hoping and praying that your son or daughter would make it onto the playing field in the final sixty seconds of the game.

Yes, you’ve done your job as parent. You’ve sacrificed, loved unconditionally, taught your children to cherish God and country, and without even knowing it, prepared them for independence. But how will you cope when that last child leaves his nest to soar to new heights, ready and eager to experience all of life’s offerings? Will you wallow in a murky pool of self-pity or seek out an all-new sense of purpose and direction?

The empty nest can be a tricky thing to navigate, but the following suggestions should help to make your transition less painful.

Transition tips

Congratulate yourself on a job well done! If your child is seeking to better himself through college, job training, or technical studies, you have done something right. A child seeking independence is a healthy child. Be proud of his and your accomplishments.

Do not dwell on regrets. We have all made mistakes as parents, but dwelling on them won’t change a thing. Regret transforms into guilt and guilt into feelings of failure. God wants us to live in freedom, so receive His forgiveness and healing — and then move on.

Do something meaningful with your life. Volunteer at a local charity, the library, a school, or your church. Enroll in a college class or find an interesting hobby — anything that will help take up the time you devoted to parenting.

Make care packages for your child. She will appreciate it, and it will make you feel better. Fill these packages with candy, school supplies, home-baked goodies, phone cards, photos, etc. Don’t overdo the phone calls, letters, and contact, however, or your child may begin to withdraw. The last thing you want to do is create guilt in her over coming home. This is her time to explore and discover; don’t hold her responsible for your feelings of loss and loneliness.

Pour yourself into others. True fulfillment in life comes from selfless giving. Why not use the bedrooms your children once occupied as short-term homes for missionaries on furlough, a needy friend or family member, or an exchange student? You and your spouse will be surprised at the opportunities for service that will open up once you make yourselves available.

Don’t allow materialism to dominate your thoughts. Ask God what He would have you do with the extra money you may have now that your household is more compact. Rather than hoard it all for retirement, consider investing in worthwhile causes.

Perhaps most important of all, rekindle your romance. You have spent years together nurturing a family; now it’s time to nurture your spouse. At first, it may seem awkward. You’ve been together forever, but for the first time in years, it is once more just the two of you. What a joyous time for discussing your future, making plans for an intimate vacation, relaxing in a serenely quiet living room, and resuming your dating days by sharing dinner and a movie or simply enjoying a moonlit walk.

Prepare yourself for grandchildren, the ultimate fruit of parenting. My husband and I have yet to experience this phase of our lives, but our friends keep saying, “Get ready — the best is yet to come!”

Fresh adventure

The empty nest marks the closing stages of formal parenting, yes, but it need not be the end-all for parents entering this new phase of life. Take heart, dear parents: This new juncture is full of fresh adventure and new beginnings. Enjoy it to the fullest!

Note: In some cases, parents, and particularly Mom, will have an especially difficult time adjusting to the empty nest. It is normal to feel a certain amount of gloominess and sense of loss during this time, but if overt sadness continues for a prolonged period, seek godly, professional counsel.