Many of my friends this fall have watched the last of their offspring leave home for college or work and not all of them are coping well with the loss of that daily contact. I have been thinking about this for a long time, but particularly recently watching my friends grieving this time of transtion in their parental lives. It is a significant time. Below is part of a letter I wrote to a friend of mine and I hope some of you who are struggling or soon to be struggling with ENS will find something helpful buried within it:
If it is okay I will just share with you what I have been thinking about Empty Nest Syndrome and the difficulties that time of life entails. This is what I have learned, am still pondering and I hope there is something here that is helpful for you at some point in the process of letting go of your own children in the sense of freeing them to live their own lives:
We all attempted to teach our children to be independent, able to stand on their own two feet and cope with life away from our constant guidance, but we also have to be taught by the Lord and by the experience of their leaving that they will (eventually) be able to do exactly that. The lessons are as much ours as theirs and we are not the most willing students sometimes.
We begin to learn the rules of Parenting Part Two: discerning and practising when to step back while they are floundering with the realities of adulthood and when to step in to save them from their own ignorance based folly. Whether or not they accept it at the start of their newly adult lives, they will always need us to remain, although sometimes very much in the background, praying for them and doing our best to decipher what role is best for us to take in their struggles to complete the process of growing up.
We will learn that sometimes, no matter how well we instructed them at home, no matter how much they truly do know, no matter how righteous they try to be, they will make glaring errors in judgement, finances, education and career choices and we will remember that so did we. They will have romantic relationships of which we do not approve and so did we. If they do not experience the exact mistakes that we made, they will experience their own and, like us, they will choose how to correct the errors and mitigate the pain as we have done in our own lives. Sometimes they will begin to choose wisely and sometimes they will not, just like us. Sometimes they will learn their lessons and sometimes they will not, ,just like us.
The thing that we as Christian parents can know, can trust, can be fully assured of, is that the God to whom we have ultimately entrusted our children will love them with a far greater and knowledgeable love than even we ourselves are capable of. He will be their perfect heavenly Father, making up for our own parenting mistakes, drawing close and pulling back as He deems necessary as they live their own lives, just as He has done for us.
Sometimes we will cry out in despair, wondering how God’s hand could possibly be involved in what is going on in their lives. Sometimes we will rejoice mightily at His obvious involvement in the good things they are experiencing.
Parenting Part Two involves as much or even more prayer by us for our now grown children. It requires a maturity from ourselves even more so than from them as we step away and revel in all the good things they do, a patience and trust in the Lord for the things we can’t agree with as they go through their lives.
We can experience the joys and fears of watching them spread their wings and fly off to new horizons, we can trust that as human beings we have done our level best with God’s help to give them all the tools they need for eventual success in their own lives.
They leave us, yes, but knowing a warm welcome is always waiting for them should they need to return home temporarily to regroup, or even just to visit with a view to some free meals and laundry services.
When they seem to be failing we can still turn to God as we have always done, we can provide the voice of reason when they will let us do so. We can pray them through the harder lessons that can only be learned through failure and we can leap for joy with every lesson learned, either easily or with difficulty.
As parents we can support each other in prayer, with laughter and joy and occasionally with broad shoulders as we watch our kids making their way through their lives in times of feast and times of famine. God has entrusted us to raise our children, we have done our best and now it is up to Him.
The nest isn’t really empty….not the real nest of family relationships. It has simply been remodelled.