“For the first few months…there was a hole. There was an empty chair at the dinner table. But, after a few months, we began to get our feet under us and find a new normal.” Mike Linch, Senior Pastor at our home church, NorthStar Church, and his wife Anne recently shared their hearts with us about the new season of marriage they are enjoying together. With two adult children who have recently launched from their home, the Linches have modeled both a healthy family and marriage relationship. We see them enjoying each other in this new season, which makes them the perfect couple to share their journey to and through the empty nest with us.
Like all transitions in life, the progression into the season of life after children can be a difficult one. As parents, our job is to do two seemingly opposite things at the same time. We work to build a family with a tight-knit relationship, while also preparing them to let go. Creating such closeness in our family also leaves our hearts exposed to tremendous hurt when it’s time for our children to leave. We have to remind ourselves frequently that our children do not belong to us. God has put these children in our lives to steward for a season, to teach them about Him, and to prepare them to make decisions on their own that can have a positive influence on the people around them.
Sitting here with a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old, at least ten years from a quiet house, it’s hard to imagine our day to day life without our children. We are in the thick of parenting, with probably the toughest days still ahead. But projecting ourselves into the future helps us keep the long-view of parenting. Mike’s and Anne’s words landed on fertile ground. “Any time something strikes your heart in a teachable moment- teach them while you still have their attention. Pray for teachable moments. They left as a student, but they came back as a friend. We still have parenting moments, but they are moments, not weeks, months, and years.”
As important as it is to parent our children well while they are with us, it’s even more important not to lose our relationship with our spouse in the “divide and conquer” years. Too often, parents spend 18-22 years with their lives oriented around the schedules of their children. Then, when their children are grown, they suddenly find themselves staring at their spouse and saying, “what now?” The Marriage Adventure doesn’t stop when the kids are out of the house. If done well, marriages can thrive in the empty nest. For this to happen, it’s vital to keep making intentional investments in your relationship with each other through the parenting years.
When you and your spouse find yourselves on the other side of that empty nest, there’s no denying you will have some sad days. It’s understandable. After all, you’ve invested two decades of your lives into nurturing these little people from birth into adulthood! Most likely, you and your spouse will process it in different ways. Try to show each other grace and, most importantly, lean into each other. One of the best things you can do is stay connected as you feel your way into a “new normal.”
Mike and Anne said, “It probably took us three months to get in a groove. We had to find new things for the two of us to enjoy. We didn’t want to be the sad, miserable, mom, and dad. It was going to be different, but we knew it didn’t have to be bad.” They looked for things to do that they could both enjoy and discovered that they enjoyed traveling together. They also realized that dinnertime could be different and fun. “We use to sit around the dinner table forever, just talking with the kids. Now, we find ourselves eating outside, in the den, and at restaurants. It’s different but fun.”
To be honest, we have mixed emotions as we peer into the future to imagine ourselves with an empty nest. We prayed for so long that the Lord would allow us to become parents, and now we’re enjoying what we call, “The Wonder Years.” Josie and Colby are at really great stages where they still like being with us. They are old enough now that we can enjoy a lot of activities together that weren’t possible when they were toddlers. They can make their own breakfasts and help with some chores! We love getting to know their developing personalities and engaging in the funny conversations we have at night around the dinner table. We’re soaking it all in because we realize this season will one-day come to an end.
In the not-too-distant future, these tiny humans will leave and only come home to visit us on holidays and when their schedules allow. But God’s plan is for the two of us to still be together. Our challenge, like yours, will be to keep making investments in each other now that will allow us to know and enjoy each other on the other side of the empty nest. And when we get there, we pray we can embrace all the new-found time we have to spend together. Who knows? The most exciting days of this Marriage Adventure may still be ahead!
Enjoying the Adventure,
Daniel & Bonnie