Celebrating the Empty Nest

How to survive—and thrive—after your kids fly the coop
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As the mother of three growing children, I used to dread the thought of living in an "empty nest." The term sounded so dismal and empty, as if my purpose in life would be over once our children had flown the coop.

Today, I'm happy to report, my perspective's changed. My husband, Lynn, and I have entered our third year as "empty nesters," and we've discovered life can be surprisingly good! There are the unanticipated benefits, such as coming home at the end of the day to find our house in the same order we left it that morning. Or having the freedom to be more spontaneous about when we eat, what we eat, and how long we pray before we eat. We have more time for friends, each other, and God. Despite a period of adjustment, our empty nest no longer feels empty.

Statistics tell us that, chances are, more than one-third of our lifespan still awaits us when we enter the "empty nest." Its arrival shouldn't surprise us; it's hovered on the horizon since our children's births. Yet many of us enter it in a state of shock.

But there are ways we can tweak our lifestyle to help us minimize the emptiness and focus instead on the fullness.

Tweak Your Attitude

Of course, I grieved each time one of our children left for college. I missed their physical presence. I missed having their friends around. I even missed things I thought I'd never miss—piles of junk in the front hall or the constant sound of music I didn't choose and didn't like.

Though some grieving is normal, I knew I faced a choice: I could continue to wallow in nostalgia and dwell on the past—or embrace the future.

As I prayerfully tackled this choice, I discovered a spiritual serendipity. Our empty nest afforded me increased time for prayer. And as I spent more time with God, he transformed my attitude, changing the way I responded to this new season in life. By the time Kendall, our youngest, left home, I had a better handle on my attitude. Instead of planning to grieve this major milestone, Lynn and I took our first-ever trip to England with another couple.

We rented a flat for a week in London, then checked into a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds, where we leisurely roamed the countryside. We slowly began to fine-tune our definition of "family," rediscovering the priority of our marriage relationship. That trip helped us focus on the exciting potential of this new time in our lives.

Tweak Your Setting

After our children left home, I felt the emptiness most at dinnertime, when Lynn and I sat alone at our long wooden kitchen table where most of our family meals had been eaten. The vacant chairs were a constant reminder of our downsized family. So we gave the table to our son, who now lives in an apartment, and replaced it with a smaller oval table with comfy swivel chairs. Colorful new placemats and candleholders transformed the space into a cozy, just-right-for-the-two-of-us space.

I began changing our nest in other ways as well. For years, our need for new sheets or towels fell to the bottom of the list of budget priorities; we had to get the kids' school clothes or update their bedroom wallpaper as they grew up. So Lynn and I simply settled for worn-out sheets and towels.

But now I began investing in us. I purchased some new towels for our bathroom and new sheets and a comforter for our bed. Since we no longer needed the VCR in our family room, we moved it to the bedroom, a much warmer spot in the winter. We converted the kids' phone line to a FAX number, which made working from home more convenient.

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