I remember when we adopted twin baby girls that the thought of an empty nest was nowhere on my radar. At this point, I’ve been an empty nester longer than I had children under the roof! How is that even possible? No doubt, many of you can identify with me on this. (If you still have young children, you may think this will NEVER happen!)
If you are already an empty nester, how are you filling the time you once spent daily parenting your children?
Although these days, kids are not leaving the nest like my generation did at age 18 or even in their early twenties like my girls did, most families will experience an empty nest at some time.
Have you ever given any thought to that time? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Something you stopped doing as you raised children but would like to do again?
I never really thought about it until it happened. About the time my twins graduated high school, my career, a God-calling in women’s ministry, jumped from a church to a denominational position, and I entered a huge learning curve in so many ways. Then I was too busy to really think about it much. Now, I have been retired for over four years, and since then, my empty nest looks different than before even though I’d held that “empty” position for over twenty years!
Perhaps this post will help you consider the question “What will you do when you are an empty nester?” before it actually happens! I talked to a number of friends and colleagues to get their insights as well so that you might see yourself in at least one idea shared here or let these ideas jump start your own list of possibilities.
First of all, for those who are married, this is a good place to insert this thought: take time now, before an empty nest, to nurture your marriage relationship. One of my early mentors told me to always put my husband first when we decided to begin a family, and she reminded me of this after we finally adopted. She was widowed early and was so wise to remind me that I will spend many more years with this man than I will with our children. Once they left home, what would be left if our marriage wasn’t strong? Too many women I’ve talked to have no idea how to have a life outside their mothering role and fear the season of an empty nest. (Of course, there are others who cannot wait for the day to get here!)
One of the friends I asked about this topic is in a blended family. She and her husband never knew what life before kids looked like. She said, “It is nice having time to get to know each other and do things on the back end of our marriage that most couples do in the first few years of marriage.”
Before you become an empty nester, look at where you have placed your identity as you have raised children. Perhaps you fear them leaving your nest because you believe your identity will be taken as well. One of my friends said, “I think for me, I had put so much emphasis on the kids that it was initially a very hard time, but as I continued to find my identity in Christ, it became easier.”
Another friend said something similar: “My whole focus was on the kids, and I felt abandoned and lonely and felt like they didn’t need me anymore. You just have to redefine yourself and your relationship with them. It does give you time to take a deeper spiritual journey. And Christian friendships help. I am much more able to reach out to others now that need encouragement.”
Here are a few other ideas a pre-empty nester shared to help you prepare for this new season:
- Be thinking ahead about what you’d like to accomplish with children out of the house—personal goals, relational goals, educational goals
- Stay connected to the parents of your children’s friends as a support and encouragement group
- See your children as a young adult versus a kid. Shift your paradigm of who they are and who you are. Understand your role in their lives now.
Now that you are prepared for this time, here are other possibilities for your empty nest:
- Invest in a younger couple’s marriage. My husband and I have had the joy of getting to do life with a few couples. We’ve walked with one couple for almost three years now. Meeting for dinner and praying with and for them has been the sweetest privilege. And, gratefully, they do not expect us to have done it all right! We are transparent with our issues as we spend time together and encourage our continued growth with the Lord and our spouses.
- Help out a single mom or young couple by loving on their children. Your grandchildren may be miles away, as the children’s grandparents may also be!
- Become a foster parent. Although many young adults are doing this, perhaps you may feel like God is calling you to also consider this amazing and challenging assignment.
- Travel! Where is a place you’ve always wanted to go but were not able to during earlier years when kids were in school and finances were tight? Maybe now is the time to plan that trip.
- Find ways to invest in your own grandchildren. I was working full time which involved a great deal of travel when I became a first-time Mimi, so I was not able to be an “on-call” grandmother much when my grands were young. In this season of retirement, I have made a point to have weekly FaceTime chats with many of my grands so that I can stay in touch, pray with them over our chat and during the week as I know what they need. I always try to include some short spiritual nugget as we talk.
- Go back to school. I was in my fifties, had raised my girls, and was working and traveling full time when I decided to finally go back to school. After stringing my post-high school education out over thirty years, and after what felt like forever, I eventually completed my undergrad degree in ministry. I’d always felt like my earlier years in college had felt incomplete until I did this. Maybe that’s you! Or perhaps there is a course you always wanted to take, not necessarily to earn a degree. Maybe now is the time.
- Make your home space more “you” now that your children have moved out. I love what one friend shared: “I enjoyed tidying up the house so it looked more like ‘me’ and served my needs rather than the needs of teenagers! I loved having a place to park my car.”
- Get that extra sleep you’ve missed for eighteen-plus years! As one person said, “I became more rested upon discovering I slept deeper since I no longer listened for kids coming home.”
- Check out ministry opportunities through your church. After I retired, I began discipling small groups of young women for one year to eighteen months. I already had several weekly and monthly responsibilities at church and didn’t feel like I could add this until I was not traveling so much. This has been one of the greatest ministry joys since retirement.
- Pray for the Lord to show you how to use your gifts, resources, and time for His kingdom, in church (student ministry, young adult ministry, marriage ministry), local community missions, or even international missions. The list is endless. You will be so blessed as you serve.
I want to close our ideas with a final thought. This is the perfect time to invest even more in your own spiritual growth and time with the Lord! During young parenting and later during early morning commutes to downtown or the airport, I always had some sort of restriction on my morning time with Jesus. It was important and nonnegotiable to me to have that morning time with the Lord, but I always longed for more.
Now, in retirement, my morning deck time with Him (and my Yorkie, Mo), is my favorite time of day. And I get to extend it most days as long as I want. Unhurried time in the Word, meditation, journaling, and prayer is such a gift in empty nest retirement days. My friend agrees with this: “Retiring has given me more time to spend with Jesus, and to be more intentional about using the gift of encouragement to others.”
As I mentioned earlier about nurturing your marriage relationship during the pre-empty nester days, nurturing your relationship with Christ is even more important as it touches every other part of your life. You will be able to soar with joy on the best of days and walk in peace and hope on the hardest of days because you know well the One who is your hope.
Chris Adams is an author, speaker, blogger, and women’s ministry consultant. She retired in 2017 after serving over twenty-two years as the women’s ministry specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee. Chris helped pioneer women’s ministry as we know it today and compiled three women’s leadership books: Women Reaching Women: Beginning and Building a Growing Women’s Ministry, Transformed Lives: Taking Women’s Ministry to the Next Level, and Women Reaching Women in Crisis.
Prior to her employment at Lifeway, she was the special ministries coordinator at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, overseeing women’s ministry and missions education.
When Chris is not consulting, speaking to women, or training women’s ministry leaders, you can find her reading, with family, or spending time at the beach. She married Pat in 1971, and they have twin daughters, two sons-in-law, seven grandchildren, seven bonus grands, one great-grand, and a seven-pound Yorkie named Mo.