Eight years ago my life totally changed. I became an empty nester. I now know that I was totally unprepared for all the emotions and adjustments that would hit me when life changed so abruptly.
Steve and I had three children: two boys and one girl. I lived the life of a typical “stay at home” Mom, juggling my husband being in the ministry and three very active kids. I spent all my days focused on their needs. I was the driver, the comforter, the fan in the stands, the cook, and the one who made sure their every need was taken care of. I loved my job even though it was exhausting. I would dream of the day I could design a day around me. I knew that was far-fetched, but I believed it would happen one day and I looked forward to it.
Soon, our children started to graduate and leave for college. Both of our boys graduated from high school and headed to separate colleges. It was an adjustment and I missed them, but my life was still full with our daughter. For two more years life was wrapped around her. We enjoyed her activities and having all her friends in and out of the house. Time was moving quickly. She graduated and decided to go to school five hours away. As we left her at Ole Miss, I thought, “This is going to be great! Now it’s MY time!”
I woke up that first Monday as a free mom and had no idea what to do with myself. I had dreamed of this day, but now that it was here, I had no idea what to do. I found myself totally lost and needing someone to care for. My husband was thrilled to be my only focus, but he was pretty self-sufficient so taking care of him was not enough to fill my day. It was a slow adjustment, but I soon filled my day with Bible studies, lunch with friends, and new projects. We were visiting the kids at their schools and slowly adjusting to having grown kids. I began to enjoy it and thought, “These empty nest years are a breeze!”
In time, our children began start their own lives post-graduation. Our oldest son married and moved to St. Louis. It seemed so far away, but I think I was prepared for my boys to move away. He was always very independent and determined, so that adjustment seemed pretty easy. I still had two others that were on the payroll and still needed Mom. Jordan graduated and wanted to live in a big city, so he moved to Chicago and took a job there. I worried about him, but his phone calls assured me he was good. In the meantime, Janae was about to graduate from college. She was dating someone from home pretty seriously, so I knew she would come back to us when she finished. Just as I thought, she finished school and moved back in. I loved having her with us. She worked and was gone all day, but that door always opened around 5:30 p.m. and I knew it would be her. She got engaged a few months after she graduated, and we began planning a wedding to occur about nine months later. She and I had some of the best times as we planned the day she and I had both dreamed of. She and Kenny spent a lot of time with us. They would eat dinner with us most nights and we would sit around and talk and plan and dream with them. The day of the wedding came, and it was beautiful and everything she and I desired it to be. I stood there after the reception so exhausted but so happy for her. My heart was overflowing.
I was totally unprepared for what would begin to happen a couple of days later. I began to slowly fall into a slight depression. I was so embarrassed by it that I wasn’t going to let anyone know. I totally covered my feelings, especially to my husband. I didn’t feel like I could tell him because I was afraid it would hurt his feelings. He had spoken so enthusiastically over the years about how excited he was for the empty nest years. I had no outlet to tell anyone what I was feeling. I didn’t know if this was normal or not. All I knew is, I was no longer needed by my kids. Janae was a newlywed and so happy. She now had a husband to do everything with and to discuss her life with. It wasn’t me anymore.
It took a few months for me to adjust to this new life, and I can tell you now how much I love it. However, we need to give ourselves that time to adjust and not feel guilty about it. I eventually shared it with Steve, and he was so glad I did. He did not make me feel guilty; he simply allowed me to feel. I think that is all we really want and need during these times.
Here are a few things I want to pass on to anyone adjusting to grown kids.
- Please don’t make them feel responsible for your happiness. It’s not their job.
- Do not guilt your children when they don’t come every time you want them to. We have to share our children with their spouses’ families, and you need to give them the freedom to do that.
- Please love your daughters-in-law and sons-in-law. It is the greatest gift you can give your married children.
- You adjust. Do not make them adjust!
- Enjoy your time back with your husband. It’s a second chance to be back to just the two of you!
In addition to what I’ve shared above, I’d also like to provide some insight about the holiday season.
The holidays completely change once the empty nest years begin. We have to stop and rethink the holidays and how it will work best for everyone. Before the empty nest years, you had full control over how the holidays would play out. Now you must consider your grown kids and possibly their spouses and their families. It can still be fun and very meaningful if you are willing to be flexible and accommodating. Here are a few thoughts on how you can enjoy the holidays and your kids can too!
- As you begin making plans for the holidays, ask your kids what would work best for them. Be willing to hear their thoughts and ideas.
- Be open to going to their homes for Christmas instead of having it at your home. I know that is hard, but loving your grown children means you enjoy things on their turf.
- Try having Christmas on a different date so that everyone will have the freedom to have Christmas at their own home Christmas day or be able to go to in-laws’ homes.
- A friend of mine that had married children decided that every other year they would have Christmas with their kids at their home. Then, the next year it would just be she and her husband and they would take a trip on that off year. How fun would that be?
- Some of your grown children want an adventure for Christmas instead of the traditional. Why not give them a trip skiing with the family and that be your Christmas?
- Lastly, we need to adjust to their lives, so please don’t make them feel guilty if they can’t do what you have always done at Christmas.
Remember that Christmas is about giving more than receiving. New seasons of life bring change but it can be a sweet change if we are willing to embrace it.
Debbie Wilson is the wife of Steve Wilson, and they are the founders of Marriage Matters Now. The two of them have been married for 40 years and have spent the last 20 years teaching marriage conferences around the nation. They have three married children and are blessed to have 5 grandchildren. Their greatest desire and passion is to equip couples to enjoy marriage and exemplify God’s love through that relationship.
You can follow their ministry through their website: www.marriagemattersnow.org.