Thriving in the Empty Nest

Thriving in the Empty Nest

My times are in Your hands, so my best response to the circumstances I face is trusting in You. You’re training me to feel secure in the midst of change and uncertainty.”
Jesus Listens, August 28

The empty nest arrived as a harsh surprise for my wife and me. We were so busy preparing our youngest daughter to leave for college and managing our new “adult” child relationships with our other two kids that we didn’t talk about the empty nest. We were not prepared for what hit us.

As we dropped off our daughter at college, we got back in the car to make the five-hour drive home. Periodically, I looked over at my wife, Cathy, and I would see a tear falling down her cheek.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

As she wiped her eyes, she mumbled, “I know it will be okay, but for some reason I have two deep emotions in my heart at the same time: happiness for Heidi, and a deep sadness. I keep asking the question, ‘Now what?’”

That made absolute sense.

A New Phase

Cathy was the sun, and our three kids—now out of the house—were the planets rotating around their mom. Most of the time at home, I was an extra planet doing the same thing. Later we realized Cathy was experiencing what is called “the empty nest syndrome,” where a person experiences feelings of sadness, loss, angst, and even loneliness. Cathy was more in touch with her feelings than me, and in our quiet and less-cluttered house, I tended to put more energy into my work. Yes, we were both experiencing the empty nest syndrome, just in different ways.

About that time, I stumbled upon a scripture that jumped out at me: “Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Isaiah 43:19 MSG)

We began to realize that as we were launching our kids into the world of adulthood, we needed to be alert and present and prepared to launch ourselves as well. It was time for us to reboot, reconnect, and discover our purpose and passion for the next phase of our life. It was a rite of passage for our kids, but it was also a rite of passage for us. As our children left home and their life filled up with new experiences, we needed to follow their lead.

Embracing Change

It was time for us to close a chapter of our life that we had loved and set new goals. We had to embrace positive change while creating new adventures. We know that games are won in the second half, and it was time to put energy into making our second half thrive. We also believed that “significance and well-lived life are not accidental.” Since we had more time and a bit less clutter with the kids gone, it was time to focus, reboot, reconnect and reinvent our life.

It may be time for you to do the same thing. Here are some ideas:

New Adventures

You would love our friend, Isabela. She is an amazing single empty-nester who has had to deal with two major losses within a few years. She found herself alone the first month after her daughter left, spending too much time sitting on the couch, watching TV, and eating cartons of ice cream. But then, she made the shift. She created a list:

  • Find new friends. She joined a church Bible study.
  • Plan new activities. She joined a gym and started playing pickle ball.
  • Connection time with her kids. She invited her daughter on a weekend trip for some retail therapy in New York City, and she invited her married daughter’s family over for a Sunday evening family fun time.

Her life didn’t change overnight, but slowly she began to embrace new adventures, and these brought meaning to her life.

Focus on Your Marriage and Rekindle Romance

One woman said to me, “The kids are gone, the house is quiet, and we are dating again.” The beautiful truth about marriage in the second half is that although it might look different, it doesn’t have to burn out. It’s time to start dating, rekindle the romance, and enjoy each other with the extra time.

Build Replenishing Relationships

Keys to success in the empty nest are strong friendships and a healthy support system. We were surprised that some of our closest friends would be those we found after age 50. You will never regret investing in replenishing relationships.

Yes, you can find deep joy in the empty nest, but it will take putting energy into discovering what your second half will look like. So be alert, be present—God’s going to do something brand new.

About the Author

Dr. Jim BurnsJim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has more than 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are, Doing Life with Your Adult Children, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Have Serous Fun and Finding Joy in the Empty Nest.  

Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve, Andy and Matt; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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