by Joy Trachsel
My nest is empty! How can that be? For the past 30 years, there has been a child or teen in our home. There has always been a bookbag by the front door, heap of towels in the bathroom and an array of cars in the driveway.
As we approached this new season, I would put up a good front and brag how excited I was to become the proverbial "empty nester". I relished in the future of being spontaneous and abandoning the phrase" what will the kids do." The idea of not having to cook every night and looking forward to the occasional dinner of Captain Crunch seemed freeing and cheaper. I pictured myself rarely doing laundry and always being able to watch "my show".
This fantasy quickly ended the day we unpacked number 4 and assembled our last dorm futon. I remember pulling away from the campus wishing the newest coed at Case Western would stop growing up. I realized at that point...this was our new normal.
As the days went by, I felt like I was finding my way and adjusting fairly well...until...we ordered take out. I almost lost it with the delivery person when it hit me that the order was much smaller than normal. Or the day I went grocery shopping and didn't need the full cart, but one of those cute little baskets was enough. It felt odd not having to navigate the squeaky wheeled cart but walking the store looking like Dorothy as my basket dangled from my arm.
I began to realize that many, many moms have walked this journey and survived, so I quickly became a student and asked lots of questions. Their stories were often humorous and at times tearful. There was a common thread in the midst of the varied responses...they survived and were still smiling. They didn't fill the void with another child, cats, shoes or cute puppies (that thought crossed my mind). They relied on God.
Number 4 has been gone for almost two months, and I have adjusted to my "new normal". I haven't joined an empty nest support group, turned into a cat lady or stalked him on snapchat. What I did do, was pray and ask God to reveal His plan.
To everyone that is about to experience this new season, I offer you the following advice. Stay away from animal rescue shelters and be encouraged with the following:
1) Let your self grieve. It is okay to acknowledge that you are not okay. Allow yourself to be emotional about your children growing up. We did our jobs by keeping them alive and now it is time for the world to benefit from our hard work.
2) Take this time to evaluate your marriage. My husband and I spent time taking an inventory of our marriage and setting goals. We began to quickly see the benefit of it just being the two of us. In the past six weeks, we have visited a winery, planned a camping trip, tried new restaurants and attended a Browns game.
3) Make sure you fill the void with appropriate things. My husband and I both have fulfilling jobs that we enjoy very much. It would be very easy for us to become workaholics. We had to set professional boundaries and keep each other accountable.
4) Ask God how He wants you to use your extra time and resources. Just because our schedules looked a little more free, it didn't mean that we should say "yes" to everything. My husband and I saw this new season as a time to redefine our ministry commitments. We decided to continue to serve as we did before, but to seek an opportunity to intentionally serve together. For example, my husband has always volunteered in youth ministry with each of our children. His passion for youth doesn't have to end.
5) We can now be more intentional with each child. What a blessing it is to visit with each of our out of town children more often and pour into them alone. Don't get me started on the grandchildren!
6) Let your children know that you are fine. I often forgot that as my world began to look different, their world was changing as well. Just as I needed to know that they were fine, they needed to know that mom and dad were okay as well.
7) Don't rush into the remodel. I once heard how upset a child was when she saw how quickly her parents dismantled her room. This may vary from family to family, but we have always decided that our children had their room until they officially moved out on their own.
Each day comes with new observations and adjustments and I now welcome this new season. Change can be hard but change can also be fun. Embrace each day and praise God for His plan.
That's all for now. It is time to go seek the next adventure and maybe cook dinner.