I’m not suggesting that you wish away the present, but there’s merit to imagining the joy an empty nest can bring.
For the longest time, whenever my husband’s job required a move to a different house, one of the very first things on the list of must-haves that I’d share with our realtor was this: a bathroom door that locks. It was a small thing, really. But, oh, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was also a decadent luxury. For my husband and me, it was always a bonus when we found a home with both a bathroom door and master bedroom door with functional locks on each. Anyone who shares a domicile with other living beings knows the value of a door with a lock on it and the gift of a small slice of alone time in the midst of an overwhelming day.
When our children were young, I remember dreaming of a day when I’d be able to complete my bathroom tasks without interruption. And, of course, my husband and I eagerly anticipated a day when we could spend some time alone in our bedroom without having to listen out for tiny feet attached to small people who’d forgotten our admonishment to “always knock first.”
However, even with all of this in mind, in those years of parenting young children, I guess I never took a minute to think about the fact that our children wouldn’t be living with my husband and me forever.
One morning, my husband helped me begin to think about the reality of someday living in our very own empty nest. It had been a typical school day routine, filled with making sure the kids were up and moving in the direction of the kitchen. Backpacks were ready, papers signed at the very last minute, and something that resembled breakfast was served. We rushed around each other, one child hopping on one foot while struggling to shove the other foot into what seemed to be an ever-shrinking shoe. Someone else rushed through the kitchen, toothbrush in hand, just barely avoiding a collision with the dog who saw a chance to rush out the back door for an early morning nap on the patio.
In the end, as was always the case, we managed to get the kids out the door just in the nick of time. As I stood in the doorway, watching them make their way down the driveway, my husband stepped up behind me and said, “You know, one day they won’t be with us anymore.”
“Yeah,” I said, not really willing to think that far ahead. After all, isn’t everyone always telling us how fast these years slip by?
“Well,” my husband was saying to me as we stood looking out the front door, “I just want to be sure, when that day comes, that you and I still like each other. I want us to have an empty nest that makes us happy.”
In that moment, my husband’s words initiated a paradigm shift for me. He was right.
Sometimes, at speaking events, I share about how much I love my empty nest. Afterwards, young parents often say, “We can’t imagine …”
I can almost hear them choking back the tears, wondering how they will ever release that child who snuggles his little nose deeply into that special space between that parent’s neck and shoulder. The idea of it makes the young mom or dad catch their breath.
But the empty nest doesn’t have to be something that catches parents off guard.
Because the day is coming for every parent, just as sure as we are breathing, and we can absolutely prepare ourselves for it to be just as fun as having a house full of people.
We pray for our children’s futures, why not pray for our own? Imagine the best possible relationship you could possibly have with your spouse in your empty nest and ask God to make it so.
2. Put your partner first
It’s easy to believe children should take priority in a family, but all children eventually leave. On the other hand, we marry our spouse until death do us part. Our spouses deserve our attention, our concern, our energy, our time, our love, our affection, and our compassion. Sometimes that means the children have to wait. And that is a life lesson that will serve our children well.
Make it a priority to date your spouse. Put it on the calendar and make a commitment to stick to it. Use the time to catch up with each other. To touch base. To gaze at one another. To rediscover this person whom you call your soul-mate, your best friend, your lover.
Together, and on a regular basis, imagine your empty nest. Imagine beyond the nest egg and dream about what you’ll do when you don’t have to sit in the carpool lane, or make sure the door is locked first, or talk to the principal again. Write down your dreams and revisit them together.
Rite of passage
Just before we dropped off our youngest child at college, we made a final purchase. In the lumber aisle of the home improvement store, a store employee was kind enough to cut the long, white tube for us. Before that day, I’d had no idea college students used PVC pipe to loft their beds. As I watched the dust fall to the floor, the gentleman sawed four equal-sized pieces of the long white pipe and handed them over to the eagerly waiting hands of our daughter.
That small gesture—the passing of that [PVC] pipe—signaled the official start of a new season for all of us. After we left the store, we drove to the college campus where we did what we always had done each morning before our children left for school. We stood in a circle, holding hands, and we prayed.
We said the last “amen” and there were hugs all around—especially tight this time—before my husband took my hand and coaxed me out of that tiny little dorm room filled (to the ceiling, it seemed) with boxes and clothes and towels and my daughter standing alone in the middle of it all. Then, we backed out the car, and headed home—to our empty nest.
We were both so excited. Each of us had worked hard to get to this day. Our daughter (and our son before her) had earned good grades, taken all of the tests, applied for the scholarships, and secured admission to a great school. Over the years, my husband and I had worked hard too.
Since the day we dropped off our youngest child at college and returned to begin life in our empty nest, I’ve thanked my husband, time and again, for the moment he stood beside me in front of our front door and inspired me to begin building our own empty nest. In all the years we’ve been together, I still count that small conversation as one of the most important moments of our family’s life.
If you are a parent with young children, I’m not suggesting that you wish away the present. I just think there’s a bit of merit to imagining the joy an empty nest can bring. It doesn’t have to be a trade-off, where your best years come to an end when the children leave the house. Instead, it can be both/and: You can make great memories with a house full of children and all that life involves, but you can also have a blast when that season ends and it’s just you and your partner—locked doors, or not.
It’s true that releasing our children tugged at my heartstrings, and I cried when I left my children at college, just like I cried on the first day of school every year. But if we parent our children and love our spouse with an eye to the future, we just might discover joy in the midst of the tears.
Written by Deidra Driggs
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