The “Empty Nest”
The life stage known as “the empty nest” generally refers to when the last of the children move away from home. This time of transition for both parents and children can be difficult as new situations, new problems and new opportunities arise that have not been faced before. The empty nest transition can be dreaded, but it can also be welcomed. Just as Ecclesiastes 3 illustrates for us, life is made up of seasons and while some people like change of seasons, others do not. Very often, the empty nest transition comes with a feeling of loss, and thus grief comes into play. Parents and couples would be wise to think about this transition ahead of time so they are not broadsided by the unforeseen.
A quote from author Jamie Hall, who authored the book It’s My Turn: Finding Identity and Purpose After the Empty Nest, provides encouragement: “If the Holy Spirit lives inside you, He will help and guide you as you look for purpose after your children leave you with an empty nest. …It is no accident that you are exactly where you are at this particular time in history. God created us all for a purpose. We need to ask God to help us discover why He put us here and then be willing to accept our assignments.”
There are several resources to consider to help equip individuals as they approach this season of life:
1. Learn from the experience of others. Ask others who have gone before you and experienced this well and not so well stage of life regarding parenting and marriage. Informal interviews were conducted with a variety of individuals who have walked through this phase of life and their responses are recorded the ACCFS resource Testimonies from Empty Nesters.
2. The Empty Nest webinar offers wisdom on this topic from the marital point of view. Couples are encouraged yet challenged to prepare for the implications of this transition, especially in the areas of identity, hopes, and connection.
3. A series of books and other resources are listed below, each approaching the empty nest topic from a slightly different angle. Descriptions are included.
Empty Nest, What’s Next? Parenting Adult Children Without Losing Your Mind
Author: Michele Howe (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2015)
This is a book written by a mom who gives tips to empty nesters, tips to children who leave the nest, ideas about parenting grandchildren, dealing with children’s in-laws, reinventing goals at midlife, watching our adult children go through crises, dealing with interruptions, and being hopeful. Two phrases of the author stand out: “Make up the difference,” (a prayer), and, “But God,” (a reason to banish worry).
Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Next
Author: Jill Savage (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019)
This is a book written by a mother who, along with her husband, launched five children into adulthood. It is written from a faith-based perspective, and each chapter ends with three similar sections: “Truth for Today, Take the Next Step, and Talk with God.” An appendix identifies “Junk in the Trunk,” some 50 plus items that can interfere with a mom’s marriage. Furthermore, this book has a Discussion Guide that can facilitate small group discussion.
Empty Nest: Strategies to Help Your Kids Take Flight
Author: Marci Seither (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2014)
This resource has a chapter for single parents, “Parenting Solo,” as well as one for couples, “Coping as Couples.”
10 Great Dates for Empty Nesters
Authors: David and Claudia Arp
This book is designed to be a dating guide for couples in empty nest. The first part of the book contains the readings on specific topics while the second part of the book has exercises, questions, and date night tips for a given date night.
Empty Nesting: Reinventing Your Marriage When the Kids Leave Home
Authors: David H. Arp, Claudia S. Arp, Scott M. Stanley, Howard J. Markman, and Susan L. Blumberg
This book teaches practical communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving skills in the context of empty nest. While there are some chapters in the book specifically about the challenges that arise during empty nest, most of the material and skills shared can be applied at any phase of marriage.
Websites and Other Resources:
Focus on the Family Broadcast, “Preparing for the Empty Nest Years,” by Marci Seither, broadcast on August 21, 2020. In this interview, Seither notes the need for parents to regard their children as stewards of them, not owners.
AARP: How to Cope With an Empty Nest. By Sarah Elizabeth Adler, August 22, 2018
Preparing for the Empty Nest – Focus on the Family Article, 2011