Dealing with the Empty Nest, with Prayer
Mary Jo and I have recently joined the group of parents who have labored many years to raise their children, then found that they have all “flown the coop” leaving us as “empty-nesters”. It seems to me to have occurred in our case rather suddenly. The last to leave was Jessie as she finished college this May, found a job as a nurse and recently moved into an apartment in the city with her sister Shannon.
As I ponder the situation, I find that it feels rather odd to me. I have been so used to coming home from work to be greeted by Mary Jo and sit down to a family meal. When the children were young, there were usually the seven of us around the table, and even as they grew older we would share a meal with a least a couple of the children, whoever was not working or busy with some other commitment. It was the rare occasion that Mary Jo and I sat down at home to dinner alone. But now, it is just the opposite. In fact, just the other day it was very nice when Jessie stopped by to spend the evening at home and there were three of us at the dinner table.
I think this change in our life is going to take some time to transition into. I can recall couples whose children had already left the home telling us how great it was to finally have time for just the two of them. They felt that they had accomplished their life’s mission, raised their children to the best of their ability, and now they were no longer responsible for them as they were all young adults and on their own. Logically, this seems to be the natural course of raising a family, but when you find yourself all of sudden thrust into this next life stage, it is not always such a smooth transition. At least for me the adjustment remains a work in progress.
All of our children, who are actually young adults now, are out on their own forging ahead with their own lives, and are no longer so reliant upon dad, or mom, to help them out if they find themselves in a difficult situation. Oddly, it almost seems like my job as a dad is no longer needed in their lives. It’s as if I have retired from this position after almost thirty years as a father, similar to when I recently retired from my job as an environmental engineer.
But, do you ever really retire from being a mother or father to your children? I suspect that the answer is a resounding no. I do not believe it is as simple as that once your children are grown and making their own way in life, they no longer need you, and you stop being a parent to them. Even if it seems that at times they do not want your advice or opinion on life decisions they make, I find that I still have that fatherly instinct and my first thought is to “help out” or think of what I can do to help them.
I was talking to my own parents just a couple of days ago as we sat on their back patio enjoying a summer afternoon. They are now both around ninety years old and my brothers and I find that we need to do more and more of the daily chores for them so that they can remain in their home as long as possible. I asked them this question, “Have you ever felt like you stopped being a parent since your kids are all grown with families of their own?” They both answered that even at their age they still feel like parents to my brothers and me. They still felt like they had advice to offer us and even if we did not always heed it, they felt a strong duty to pray for us and all of our family’s needs and intentions.
So if my ninety-year-old mom and dad still feel called to constantly pray for our family, perhaps that is the main duty now for Mary Jo and me for our children. When they do not seek out our advice, and make life decisions which we view as not in their best interest, our job remains as their mother and father to remain steadfast in our love and support, but even more so to pray for them. We pray and trust that our heavenly Father will direct them on the path that only He knows is the right one for them. So we have found ourselves praying novenas for all of the needs and intentions of our family members, along with other friends and loved ones. As soon as one novena is finished we turn to another one and continue to pray. Sometimes that is all you can do, but it is the one thing that you can be certain is the best thing to do.