After schlepping boxes up three flights for our youngest child in college, we relished the comfort of the air-conditioned car. Our daughter hugged and sent us on our way eager to finish settling in her freshman dorm room.
Tears flowed for the significance of this day. Our nest was empty. Thirty years of active parenting was over. How would we handle the quiet house? What would we do with all the spare time that wasn’t consumed with our children’s activities? What would we talk about now?
Can you relate? It’s baffling when you’ve spent decades focused on caring for kids and attending their endless school activities, managing their heartache, and training them to know God, to suddenly stop. The day-to-day rhythms change significantly. We’re left with extra time, conflicting emotions, and uncertainty.
It’s natural to feel unsettled during a major shift in your family. Going from active parenting to distance parenting is a colossal change. You and your spouse need grace for each other as you grieve and learn to connect to each other without your kids. It’s especially difficult for the couple who didn’t maintain their bond while the kids were growing up.
There’s hope, though, because all you have to do is move toward each other. It might feel a little awkward at first, but with repetition and intentionality, you can reconnect and build a beautiful empty nest.
Here are three next steps to take together:
Surely there is grief when all of your children leave the nest. You knew it was coming, but the silence is deafening, and sadness rumbles below the surface, tears waiting to spill at the most inopportune time. The best way to handle grief is to walk through it. Allow yourself to feel sad and process your loss both in prayer and with your spouse, but don’t get stuck in melancholy. This is the natural course in families. God has incredible gifts for you on the other side of grief.
Instead of focusing on your spouse’s differences, build a bridge to one another by finding commonality. The fastest way to rekindle the spark is to find something you love to do together. Go for a daily walk, cook together, try a sporting event, go antiquing. Find joy in being together.
This is the season where you willingly focus on each other. Start talking about your dreams and wishes. Draw each other out.
My hubby recently started asking me this question every day, “How’s your heart?” This gives me the opportunity to verbally process anything that weighs heavy. In turn, I ask him the same question. I feel seen and cared for when we have these conversations, and so does he.
We are four years into our empty nest, and we relish the freedom. Yes, we miss our kids, but we understand this is God’s plan for our lives. We often say to each other, “We can do anything we want.” If we feel like cooking a lavish meal, we will. If we’re tired and want a bowl of cereal for dinner, we’re free to choose.
As we have processed our grief, found shared interests, and relished daily connection, we enjoy peace and contentment in our empty nest.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he admonished the Christians to behave a certain way, and it certainly applies to our marriages:
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” – Ephesian 4:2-3 NLT
You need an extra dose of humility and grace towards your spouse as you learn to be a couple again. Instead of criticizing or correcting, practice patience. Let love cover your irritation and take steps to build each other up.