By Sheryl Kloehr
I remember the first time I was pregnant. The atmosphere around felt charged with excitement for the arrival of our first baby. As the evidence of my ‘bump’ became more obvious to where we felt comfortable in sharing the good news, it was then that a newfound discovery hit me! In all the planning and preparation for what would be our first son, I experienced around halfway through the pregnancy a moment where I wondered… how is this precious child coming out!?! At this rate of growth, how could I possibly give birth naturally?!? Yes, I acknowledge how fearfully and wonderfully God designed our bodies to be so resilient, but at that given moment, the rapid-fire of thoughts and fears overwhelmed me! I tried to calm myself with thoughts like – “millions of women have gone before me and given birth to babies, even twins, triplets and more – I can do this!”, then again, “why didn’t a fellow mother warn me beforehand?!” Well, the day would come and happily though painfully my son made his entry into the world… lingering longer than desired, yet a bundle of soft, peaceful cuteness appeared before our eyes!
Fast forward twenty-two years and my firstborn decides to pause his business, take a corporate job upon finishing his Master of Business Administration with highest honors, get engaged, move out of state, get married all within a couple of months… and during COVID-19! What!?! My son gave me the ‘pink slip’ without even asking if I wanted to be released from my ‘Domestic Engineer’ job! Am I not still ‘essential’?!!
Did I miss the warning signs of transition? That similar emotion like when I was pregnant would rise up within me once again. There was a fight within to avoid the force of change that was surrounding me. Did anyone consult me on how to adjust gracefully? Did anyone see what that does to a mama’s heart? How was it that my ‘job’ of being a full-time mother was coming to an abrupt halt? I had seen a few friends already experience it and I was sad for them, but WOW, it brings a whole new element of understanding when walking through it yourself! For this, I pause to apologize to those who’ve blazed the trail before me, and I didn’t reach out at all or enough to check on your well-being. Forgive me. I get it now!
How can I best describe this new experience called “Empty Nester”? If you worked in the field of teaching, you earn tenure so you cannot be easily fired. If you work for a small to mid-size business, you typically are not set out to pasture to retire until you choose retirement oftentimes. This was not that feeling. This felt more like the corporate world who was forcing early retirement when I was still energetic and able to keep being a mother. Who said I was ready to share that place of significance in my son’s heart and life? I’m still a work in process of becoming a better mother, but in a short time frame, my role had shifted and someone else had taken on some of my tasks.
What’s next? When I listen to some women, there’s an excitement for new adventures to be explored with their husbands when their last child leaves the nest. I see their thrill of exploration on social media. Internally I do not fully understand it, but I try to appreciate their point of view to help me transition each time I walk by the empty bedroom. I reflect on how much I loved the school activities that created friends in the sports stands or gatherings on field trips. I was the unofficial photographer for my sons’ elementary classes, creating scrapbooks for each student at the end of a school year. Yes, I was all in on creating memories for us to never forget the good times!
Can there be ‘good times’ while your heart is aching for that missing person who no longer needs your help and support like once before? To identify the feeling… it’s like a sliver in your finger that you keep rubbing accidentally but you can’t pull out because it broke off at the surface and it’s just a consistent agitation you feel each time you use that part of your finger. Have you experienced that?! Unpleasant, right? It’s not a constant sore, but you recall it frequently and brings pain each time to shift your thoughts towards it. Well call me “Drama Girl” maybe, but there are those moments when reflecting on fun memories followed by sadness of times gone by. I’m grateful but know I must move forward, thanking God for the amazing life my son has led and pray God’s leading and favor continues to go before him.
Have you walked through this path of an empty nest? Maybe you are anticipating what is ahead. Some of you are rejoicing in the future and seeing it as relief while others are sad and preferring to avoid thinking of the moment your son and/or daughter moves out and starts a new chapter in their life apart from you. Bummer! Or you may be dancing and helping to show them the exit door. Whatever your story is, may we each learn to trust God in the process to navigate our hearts through the emotions that come with the empty nest in a way honoring to God and our grown-up kids.
In the midst of reflection, I have learned to enjoy the moments as I’m in them. I try to stay present and not look back for long periods nor look so far into the future that I get distracted or off course in the day-to-day responsibilities. We can drown in our emotions however and let them take us down a path that could be unhealthy for us and with our grown adult children. We have the hope of knowing that God says:
“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.” Psalm 37:23-24 NLT
This passage is hopeful for our children and us as parents. We have the opportunity, no matter how we parented, to look to God in prayer over their futures.
This Empty Nest Series is designed as a safe place of identifying that the transition is inevitable. But even so, let’s take the ride together as we pull down the convertible top and let our hair down to go in style, fun and grace to release our children in a caring, loving and thoughtful way with God’s help. As I like to describe some experiences, it’s “painfully good”. For some there is the heartache, for others, there’s relief and joy, and yet in all the ways you express this stage in your life, the nest is about to or already is empty and what you do now is just as important as when your children were living in your home with you. We will explore God’s viewpoint through Scriptures that can shed light on ways to move with kindness and understanding. Join me on the journey to laugh, cry, reflect and thank God for the privilege of being a mother!
We can partner together to press forward to the good things God has in store for each one of us! How? I’d love to hear your feedback as we explore different aspects of the empty nester syndrome you’ve experienced or are currently in or will soon face. How do we manage the empty nest well? As I have had to consider the emotions attached to it and wanting my words to be seasoned with grace, I have found several keys to keeping me focused and moving forward. Hopefully, these can encourage you. And if you have other suggestions to add to my list, be sure to comment. For now, we will list them briefly and then expand on them in our Empty Nest Series:
1. Recognize change is coming.
2. Be grateful
3. No fear. Trust God.
4. Extend grace.
5. Pray into their future.
6. Celebrate them. Celebrate with them.
7. Be Ethel the Encourager, not Debbie Downer.