This year is a significant year in our life as husband and wife. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We are still dreaming for many more years together. Another important event was our daughter leaving home for college which created an empty nest for us.
So often people ask "how is life now?" "Are you sad as no children are home?" "Do you miss them?" "Do you cry?" Yes we miss them. Life is different without kids. But often I have mixed emotions. Sad at the same time happy! Sad that they are not home. But happy that they are where God wants them to be and they can manage their lives without the constant supervision of parents. I know they will come back home but still they are adult children steering their own lives with little direction from us compared to their childhood.
This is the dream of any parent. Children trailing their way to move forward in the path they see as theirs. Moving from dependence on parents to interdependence is indeed an adventurous task for any young adult. It becomes a risky phase if the child was not prepared for this transition.
For parents too it can be a difficult task if they are not preparing themselves for this phase in life. Even though the sense of loss is normal, some parents feel a great sense of loss when the last child leaves home to the extent that it affects the sense of purpose and life. For others it is a constant feeling of regret. (Here I am not taking about elderly parents but middle aged parents. Of course the aged need constant support and care of children.)
How can middle aged parents live without losing their sense of direction and purpose when children leave home? It has to do with certain perspectives of marriage, parenthood, and life. The perspective of marriage is that husband and wife do not live for children or anything else or anybody else but for each other. In the bond as husband and wife, next to their relationship with God comes their relationship with each other. They become best friends and companions as they invest their time and resources to grow in these terms. So when children leave home their friendship still grows.
Second is the perspective of parenthood. Parents need to see themselves as stewards of children not owners. They have been entrusted in our care to their wholesome development. In this process we want to give them space, resources and freedom to grow into the design set by the creator God. Here, dreams of children and their parents about their lives are only secondary to that of their creator.
Third is the perspective of life. Of course parenting is a fulfilling experience. But there are also other meaningful experiences in life which can bring joy to us and to many in our community. This may not be a full time 9 to 5 job, yet being available to others in their time of need. Here the involvement not at all suggests ignoring your family but using the time, energy, talent and resources appropriately to enrich others. Today people generally do this through employment which also produces a monetary reward. Yet the focus here is not money but leading a fulfilling life to bring smile to others who may not be our kin or kith. Then life presents a bigger role than being parents and couples.
When does the preparation for this phase begin? Is it after kids are born? Or after they become teenagers? I think the preparation begin from the day of marriage. On that day begins the commitment to be best friends, enriching children’s lives to fit into the design of their creator, and to encourage each other to have an other- focused life. Thus even after children leave home, there is still opportunity to enrich each other, children, and many others as well.
Young couples begin the process now and empty nesters there is more to it than being empty.