With two grown-up daughters, Cathy Madavan shares advice and wisdom on navigating the huge transition that occurs as children leave home
I realise not all women reading this are parents, but empty nesting is a big topic and a significant emotional transition for so many women – and one we don’t often talk about.
As both of our daughters graduated this year (one delayed by two years due to COVID), I sat applauding their efforts and wondered who stole the time from us: how did our two little girls, with their pigtails and hair bobbles, turn into such confident young women?
And have we finally arrived at the moment where they will pay for their own optician appointments and mobile phones?! Empty nesting is a huge shift in seasons for parents and a mixed bag of emotions. I offer up here some of my reflections so far.
1 Look forwards as well as backwards
I am the proud owner of 25 years of memories – where the sound of children, homework, music practice, chatter over dinner and the odd tantrum (theirs and mine) filled the home.
Now the girls are living away, it is easy to feel that something is missing from the house. But while it’s good to cherish the memories (and parenting is so much easier in hindsight!) it is essential to look forwards too.
There are new memories to be made and new opportunities ahead, with friends, a partner or spouse (if you have one) and also with your children. It might look different, but go ahead and plan some fun in the diary!
2 Your children still need you
I rather naively assumed that once children set off for university or started work, this parenting lark decreased. In some ways it does. But it turns out that, even at this stage, when they need you, they really need you.
So, when their relationship goes awry or the job doesn’t materialise or their housemate behaves like a muppet, you are on duty and honestly you are just glad if they turn to you – even if it’s probably at the most inconvenient time possible.
3 Parent with elastic and not string
This is a phrase from Katharine Hill from Care for the Family, who advises those of us with older children to parent with elastic and not string.
In other words, if we hold on too tightly, pulling them back constantly, eventually – like a taut string – the tension will snap. But if we allow them to stretch or to ease away from us (even though they are still connected), then they will also feel free to bounce back when needed.
Giving up control as parents can be hard (understatement), but no young adult likes being micromanaged, and we have to learn to let go and trust their choices (and to be there to pick up the pieces when it doesn’t work out).
4 Communication matters
It was easy to show affection to the girls when they were young and snuggling up for bedtime stories or coming out of school clutching their latest masterpiece.
It takes far more intention now – sending some flowers, posting a card, texting a memorable verse or giving them some encouragement, as well as offering to help when possible. Your children still need to know you love them, and you get to be their greatest long-distance cheerleader.
Suddenly the diary isn’t governed by school holidays and revision timetables and the house isn’t plastered with toys anymore. I mean, it’s not all bad news, is it?
This time of transition is an ideal time to reassess what the next season could look like for you; what hobbies, passions and relationships would you like to invest in more? What might God be saying to you about your own calling and potential?
We might still be busy with work deadlines or other caring responsibilities, and of course we will want to visit our kids, but could this be a time to re-prioritise your own wellbeing and the passions God has laid on your heart?
Maybe you could you serve somewhere new, recalibrate your marriage or meet up with friends more regularly. You’ve probably put others first for a long time, and that’s good. But an empty nest might give you an opportunity to rediscover yourself, and the things that you love.