Recently, I sat with a friend who uttered the tear-filled words, “I am no longer a mother.” She explained that her children had gone to college in different states, her nest was empty, and her heart felt saddened by the radical change. Given that most of her daily life revolved around children for almost two decades, it came as no surprise that she needed time to grieve the loss.
Many Christian women who no longer have children at home find themselves in the same place. The reassuring news is that motherhood is not a short-term commitment—it’s a lifetime covenant. Mary the mother of Jesus was present throughout his ministry and mentioned among those who witnessed his crucifixion. In fact, one of the last things Jesus did before his death was to ensure that his mother was recognized and taken care of (John 19:25–27). If Mary is our model, motherhood is not limited by age or proximity.
Although our homes or “nests” might seem empty when our children leave, the act of parenting extends well beyond the childhood years and well beyond our own walls. As we seek to reimagine our nests—especially with the holidays around the corner—we might do well to consider these four insights:
1. Think of your nest as open, not empty.
The term “empty nester” sometimes carries connotations of hollowness, hopelessness, and loss of identity. But those who have raised children and launched them into the world carry special wisdom, knowledge, and grace. We are full, not empty, and the hard-won wisdom of our years is a tool that God can use as we evangelize and disciple those around us. As the writer of Job says, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).
Furthermore, motherhood goes beyond the children that we physically birth and includes the many others that we’re called to care for and love—our friends’ kids, our Sunday school students, our colleagues, friends, and neighbors. In other words, our nest is not empty—it’s ever extending to those around us.
2. Find a younger mother to invest in.
Scripture invites older generations to be influencers of the younger generations (2 Tim. 1:5, Titus 2:3–5, Heb. 13:7). When we see our nest as a growing space rather than an empty one, we recognize the need to make room for other women who need our support. As Levina Musumba Mulandi writes, “Titus 2:3–5 tells us that the older women are called to participate in the transformation of younger women. ... This model has the power to transform not just individuals but also our communities and cities on this side of eternity.”
Years ago, I had the privilege of being part of a MOPS group that assigned each mother a mentor mom. The mentor usually had a child in middle school, at least, and was older and wiser than the young mother mentee. To this day, I’m still in contact with the mentor I was assigned to. Whether I talk to her daily or yearly, I know that her wisdom will speak to my motherhood journey and direct me back to God.
As you navigate your own empty nest, seek out a young mother you can pray for behind the scenes, one who can receive your words in the light of wise counsel. As Proverbs tells us, “Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14).
3. Rejuvenate relationships with your young adult kids.
According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, even though young adults are individuating from their parents, they still seek out intimacy. They desire deep relationships, and when they’re not able to satisfy that need, they often experience isolation and loneliness.
In other words: Although our young adult children may be geographically distant from us, their hearts still yearn for closeness. They want to be seen as adults, not kids, so the relationship dynamics will naturally shift. But when we embrace our children as adults and meet them where they are with compassion and discernment, the doors open for deeper connection and also deeper spiritual discipleship.
Here again, Mary the mother of Jesus offers an example. Arguably, she “parented” her adult son by being present during his life’s transitions into ministry, adulthood, and death, when she stood at the foot of the cross (Luke 2:19).
Our kids, too, need us to be present—even at a distance.
4. Think beyond the nest.
Some Christian women choose to pause their career when they become a mother and restart it after their kids leave home. I witnessed this with my own mother. As a young parent with little funds or extra time, she was unable to complete her nursing degree when I was born. The year I graduated high school, however, she started working full-time while completing her degree. I watched her pursue a passion that had been buried for years, and this in turn gave me the courage to remember that whatever I laid down while my kids were young could be picked up later in God’s timing.
Erikson believes that the central challenge of those in middle adulthood is finding something worth investing in, also known as generativity. Generativity involves intentionally leaving your mark for the next generation through volunteer work, a second career (like my mother’s), a hobby that benefits your community, or other acts of generosity. In keeping with the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20), this generative time allows us the opportunity to expand our nests beyond our homes and spread the gospel to those we come in contact with.
As Scripture attests, God delights in every detail of our lives. No matter our age, we can flourish and bear fruit that will bring glory to God. As the psalmist tells us, those “planted in the house of the Lord … will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green” (Ps. 92:13–14).
With God’s eternal purposes in mind, we can trust that he will watch over our children as they mature and also watch over us as we seek to open our nests to others.
Victoria Riollano is a mother of six, author, speaker, and psychology professor who resides in the DC metro area. For more on her ministry, Victory Speaks, find her on Facebook or at victoryspeaks.org