FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Celebrate the Empty Nest!

with Barbara Rainey, Susan Yates | September 15, 2008
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Have your kids all left home? If so, then it’s time to celebrate! Those are the sentiments of Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, today’s broadcast guests. Barbara, a mother of six and the wife of Dennis Rainey, and Susan, the mother of five and wife to pastor John Yates, reveal what they felt as their children left one by one and compare that to what they experience now as they renew old hobbies, travel, and enjoy quality time with their husbands.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Have your kids all left home? If so, then it’s time to celebrate! Those are the sentiments of Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, today’s broadcast guests. Barbara, a mother of six and the wife of Dennis Rainey, and Susan, the mother of five and wife to pastor John Yates, reveal what they felt as their children left one by one and compare that to what they experience now as they renew old hobbies, travel, and enjoy quality time with their husbands.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Have your kids all left home?

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Celebrate the Empty Nest!

With Barbara Rainey, Susan Yates
September 15, 2008
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Bob: There comes a day when the children are gone, and the house is empty, and you begin to feel a little aimless.  Susan Yates says that's the time to get a group of women together and to celebrate.

Susan: And I think the key word is "entrance."  You're celebrating your entrance into a new season.  It doesn't mean that, oh, everything is wonderful.  It means that you're entering a new season that will have challenges, and you need other women to talk alongside you in those challenges.  You need other women who will be honest with you about, yeah, it's lonely, and, yeah, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with my life at this point – but here are some possibilities.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 15th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Is the empty nest really something to celebrate?  We'll talk about that today – stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  You've received an invitation to go to a wedding, right?

Dennis: I have.

Bob: Received invitations to go – have you ever been to a wedding shower?  You know, guys don't typically go to showers, but …

Dennis: Oh, yeah.

Bob: Where the men …

Dennis: Have you escaped those?


Bob: I have managed to become ill on most of those days when those showers are occurring.  You've received invitations to go to baby showers.  Have you gone to any of those?

Dennis: I have.

Bob: I'm sorry.  Have you …

Dennis: I think it was ours, as I recall.

Bob: Then it's okay, because you got to take the stuff home, that's all right.

Dennis: That's good.

Bob: How about – have you gotten any invitations …

Dennis: Is this a game show?

Bob: No.  Have you ever gotten an invitation to an empty nest party?

Dennis: No, but I think it's a great idea.

Bob: Well, you know …

Dennis: It's not original with you, I want our listeners to know – he completely pilfered …

Bob: I did.

Dennis: He pilfered that from the new book, "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest – Discovering New Purpose, Passion, and Your Next Great Adventure."  Susan Yates and Barbara Rainey, my lovely bride, and our friend from Washington, D.C. join us on the broadcast.  Susan, Barbara, welcome back.

Susan: Oh, thanks.

Barbara: Thank you, glad to be here.

Bob: And the last time the two of you were here, we talked about the empty nest and talked about some of the adjustments that you have to make when you reach that time of life and some of the challenges and the emotions that can go with that.

But this time we want to talk about charging into it with some purpose and some intentionality, and you guys really believe that this season of life can be exciting.

Susan: It can be the best season, so far.

Barbara: Absolutely.

Dennis: I think the first empty nest party occurred in Proverbs, chapter 31, the last three verses.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: I think I just made a discovery – "Many women have done excellently, but you surpassed them all.  Charm is deceitful and beauty if vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" – there's the beginning of the party – "Give her the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates."

Bob: That's a good objective …

Dennis: It sounds like a party to me.

Bob: It does sound like a party.  Have either of you actually heard of somebody having an empty nest kickoff party where August or September of the empty nest season they gather all their friends together and celebrate?

Susan:  We haven't heard of it.

Barbara: Not yet.

Susan: But we've designed one, because we're ready to do it.

Barbara: And we think women should celebrate the advent of this new season just like we celebrate with all kinds of parties – weddings and the arrival of babies.  We celebrate our kids' graduation from high school and college with all kinds of parties, but we haven't taken the time to think about what it would mean for us to have a party to celebrate our entrance into a new season.

Bob: But here's what I'm wondering – is a mom, particularly, who has just sent her baby off to college or off to the military or off to the job.  The house is empty, she is there.  If you scheduled an empty nest celebration party in those first 30 days …

Dennis: Well, as Barbara what would it have been like if she would have scheduled one.

Bob: Would you have been ready emotionally to have your friends come over and celebrate with you and throw a party and have cake and talk about how great this season is going to be or what?

Barbara: Well, I wouldn't have been ready to have hosted one myself, but it would have been good for me to have attended one, and I think the idea is that women who are a few years into it, like Susan and I are, if we would host one for the women that we know, or we would host one jointly or however you want to do it, but the idea is, is that we would be celebrating just like those of us who have a baby shower for our younger friends who are having babies, we are celebrating their entrance into this new season, so women who are a few years ahead of us in the empty nest, if they had had some kind of gathering to say let's celebrate and talk about this new season, it would have been very good for me to have attended something like that with some other women.

Bob: Guys don't have to come to this, right?  Yeah, it's probably better if we stay away.

Susan: Probably better.

Barbara: Probably better.

Dennis: I was going to ask – who is coming and then what are you going to do?  So it's going to be other women …

Susan: It's going to be other women, and I think the key word that Barbara just said so well is "entrance."  You're celebrating your entrance into a new season.  It doesn't mean that, oh, everything is wonderful.  It means that you're entering a new season that will have challenges, and you need other women to talk alongside you in those challenges.  You need other women who will be honest with you about, yeah, it's lonely and, yeah, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with my life at this point – but here are some possibilities.

So what you're really celebrating is a new company of women.  You are reconnecting, you are looking forward to the season to come, but you aren't avoiding the pain.  So it's really more about getting women together to say, "Hey, we're onto something new that is going to have some great specific things down the road.  But, in the meantime, let's just share where we are."

Bob: It's kind of like you guys have been in a 25 to 30-year pledge class, and now you're in the sorority.

Susan: You're initiated.

Bob: You're in the sorority.  This is your initiation party, and to say there's – really, ladies, there is something here that's good.  You're feeling lost but, trust us, there's something here that you're going to find that is worth celebrating.

Barbara: And you will identify other women who are in your same season, and one of the things that Susan and I have discovered is that oftentimes women begin the empty nest, and they feel so alone because they don't really know for sure who else is in the boat with them.  And so to go to some kind of an event and meet other women who are also new empty nesters, it provides a sense of community.  And you've got someone you can call if you're discouraged one day.

Bob: If you were hosting one of these parties, and you were going to buy a mom who is, right now, new in the empty nest, you're going to buy here the empty nest, gift, okay?  I mean, just like a shower gift or a wedding gift – you're going to buy the gift that says, "Here, congratulations.  Welcome to the empty nest."

Dennis: Airplane ticket for Barbara.

Bob: And we'll assume they already – she already has a copy of your book, so that's off the gift list.  What would you get – airplane – what – you want the airplane ticket?

Dennis: I want her to go with me.

Barbara: Oh, that's it.

Bob: We talked about that last time.  We talked on this subject.  There is still some bitterness and resentment.  We're going to recommend counseling for you.

Dennis: The kind of gift I'd bring an empty nester …

Bob: You're not even invited to this party.

Barbara: It's women only, sorry, dear.

Bob: So, Susan, what gift would you bring?

Susan: I think, you know, if you know the women that you're celebrating, a woman might just like to take a hot soak in a bathtub, you know, your favorite bath salts, because now you have time to pamper yourself.  You haven't had time to do that, and usually you've had a kid or two trying to crawl in with you.  That would be just one very practical gift.  Barbara, what would you think?

Barbara: You know, I don't know because it's not as clearly defined as a baby shower, where you bring items or a wedding shower where you give gifts that people need.

Dennis: I know exactly …

Barbara: You do?  All right.

Dennis: I'm not going to do the airplane ticket again.

Bob: He's not invited, and he's already making up the gift list.

Dennis: Well, I just know that in this season of life, a woman coming out of the childbearing and childrearing years has undoubtedly given up hobbies.

Susan: Right.

Dennis: And has set them aside.  And so what I'd do is become a student of who that person is and what their hobbies were or are or what ones they'd like to see emerge, and give the gift of a free lesson, as in Barbara's case, to a watercolor – maybe a watercolor weekend where she goes and gets some training from a very gifted artist or a class on an ongoing basis for three months, six months, perhaps.  But try to add something back into their lives that is something of interest to them.

Bob: And along those lines, it could be that what you reintroduce them to is the opportunity to have a deeper relationship with Christ, because, once again, a part of their life has been consumed by kids.  They can re-explore, re-examine, and go deeper in their walk with Christ, can't they?

Barbara: Mm-hm.  And part of the way we sort of envision this and, again, we've not been to one of these, so it's an open-ended idea, but one of the things that Susan and I envisioned was not so much that people would bring gifts to an individual woman as much as it would be a group of women who are in the same boat who get together and share and talk about, maybe, as Dennis mentioned, what are some of the interests you've set aside while you were raising kids that you might like to pursue?  And it would be a session where everyone sat around and had coffee and tea, and we shared thoughts and ideas. 

But another question would be, what is something that you always wanted to learn, and you've never had time to pursue that because you've had kids?  What kind of a class would you like to take?  And so it becomes more of a sparking of ideas between the women in the room where they fuel each other, and someone says, "Oh, I hadn't thought about that, but I've always wanted to do this," and the ideas can begin to grow there as a group.

Susan: In our chapter where we talk about celebrating the empty nest, we give sort of three prototypes of events that you can have, and we go into great detail as to, one, is a true party, how to decorate, what kind of favors to have.  And that would be a party that you might host in your home with someone else.  And one of …

Bob: Would the favors include those teeth he likes to wear?


Our listeners need to know that this is one of your favorite things, is those really bad teeth that people wear, right?

Barbara: Yeah, fake teeth that you like to wear.

Bob: You buy those all the time, don't you?

Susan: Just to fool you, Bob, just so when I walk in, you look horrified.

Bob: So I'm just thinking a party where the woman shows up for the empty nest, and everybody in the room's got on those bad teeth.

Susan: And, actually, we suggested if they wanted to come in costume, they would wear their worst carpool outfit that they worse taking their kids to school over the years – from pajamas to who knows what.

Dennis: I knew that's what it was going to be – pajamas.

Susan: It was going to be pajamas, yeah.  But you can go to extremes.  If you're creative, and you want to have a party like this and decorate it with a roadmap, have different flyers on possible new ministries and missions that different women would bring and share.  If you want to do something that's not quite so labor-intensive, we suggest hosting just a coffee or going to your local coffee shop, inviting a bunch of other empty-nesters.

And Barbara and I did do this before – as we were doing research for the book, but the same thing applies to making it an empty nest celebration party, where you would simply sit around and share.  You know, where are you in this, what are some of the challenges, and what are some of the things you're looking forward to?  And what would be a pet project or a gift that you have or something that you want to explore that might be a new venture, because one of the fun things that women do is we stimulate one another.

And so what the party does is it makes you feel not alone, it gives you a sense of community, but it begins to spark you for looking for the next positive adventure or vision or mission that God has for you.

Dennis: That really brings up a gift that I would encourage the husbands to bring their wives as they enter the empty nest.  You want to have this party and then the husband slips in the back door, Bob …

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: … and then surprises his wife with a trip to Hawaii to go to our Weekend to Remember – this could be like a week long where you end up at the conference or maybe start out your week by attending the conference but take some time for just the two of you to get away and refresh your marriage.  You all talked to some couples who found all kinds of creative ways to celebrate their marriage as they moved into the empty nest, and it's not the true celebration party that you're talking about here, but you ran across those as you did the work.

Susan: We did, and we have one set of friends that actually do this every year.  They celebrate their marriage, they are trying to do this in a different state every year – where they go, around their anniversary, to a different state and repeat their marriage vows.  And I thought that was a very creative way.  You know, they're hoping they'll reach 50 years of marriage and usually they engage a local pastor who will walk them through it, but it's a way of cementing the covenant.

And John and I did that, as we mentioned on an earlier broadcast, right after our youngest got married, we went away for a little vacation that was just a week and went to a local church and re-celebrated and said our marriage vows again, and it also – it gives you just an emotional boost that, hey, this is another new beginning for our marriage.  There's just something about putting another layer on that covenant that you made, and that's what it feels like.

And, for a woman, I'll just say this as a woman – for the husband to do that, it reassures her, "Man, I want you for the rest of your life.  I don't care if you are 50 or 60 or whatever.  This is exciting."  And we women, at this age, because we've experienced loss, need to know from our husbands emotionally that they are excited about us, and that's what that does.

Dennis: So it doesn't have to be to Hawaii, it could be to the Parsippany, New Jersey Weekend to Remember.

Bob: Idaho, all right?  It can be to Sioux Falls.

Dennis: Or the River Walk down in San Antonio.

Bob: The idea is wherever the two of you can spend some time together in a setting that the two of you like, and I think what's really critical here is you're talking about a season of life, entering into a season where if you aren't purposeful and intentional, the natural drift is going to be toward discouragement and depression and wondering about worth and purpose.

So you better do something proactive to remind yourself of what's true, and what's true is, God's still got a lot of use for you.  In fact, there may be opportunity for usefulness now that you haven't had for a long time, right?

Susan: Right.

Bob: And there's a season of life here that has purpose.  You just – you have to remind yourself that that's true, because you're not feeling that way when this happens, are you?

Barbara: No, you're not, and so you need – that's one of the reasons for this celebration is that you need something to mark this transition into the new season that makes it seem significant because the natural tendency is to just slide into it and to feel a sense of loss, to feel the loss of identity, to feel that your life doesn't really matter anymore.  And that's so not true, and so to celebrate it and to mark that transition in a significant way makes the future seem that much more important.

Bob: Do you think a woman who approaches the empty nest feels like life's over, and it's all downhill from here?

Barbara: Oh, I think a lot of women feel that way because I think they have felt so important in the lives of these children, whether it was one or two or five or six or more – there's such a fulfillment that moms get from their children because their kids need them so desperately for so long, and they really don't stop needing them even when they're teenagers.  It begins to wane as they end their teenage years, but some of those needs can be pretty compelling even through the teenage years.

And so there's that feeling that you are really important to these people.

Bob: Right.

Barbara: And then when those people leave, you don't feel so important anymore, and so I think that a lot of women do have that.  I think that's why the loss is so great.

Bob: So part of the celebration and the getting together with other women is to say, again, what's true, and that is life's not over.  You may have 20, 30, 40 years, 50 years, still.

Barbara: That's right.

Bob: And God has those purposeful and intentional, and rather than thinking it's all downhill from here, let's make it meaningful from here.

Barbara: Mm-hm, well, we need someone to remind us that God still has a plan for our life is really what it boils down to, and one of the women we quote in our book said that specific statement.  She said, "As long as we have breath on this planet, God has a plan for how He wants to use us." 

And so I think by celebrating the beginning of the empty nest with some kind of a party or a weekend away with friends, whatever it might look like, we're saying, "Okay, God, we want to discover what's next.  We want You to show us what's next."  And that is an exciting adventure, and that is an exciting prospect, and being with a group of women can help us look up to that and be excited about the future.

Bob: Okay, I'm calling Hallmark, and I'm going to get them to design some empty nest invitation – empty nest party invitations.

Barbara: Well, or even a card would be a good idea.

Susan: You know, I wanted to add one thing to that because as we do this, it will have a real positive impact on our children, because particularly the last child that has left who is technically the cause of the empty nest, if that's when it hits you full in the face, tends to feel a little bit responsible for your emotional state.  And we don't want to put on our children the burden of our happiness.

So our kids need to see us moving on and see us having a new vision for our life, because that will relieve the pressure on them to "take care of us" in an unhealthy way.  And the other thing that that will do in a more natural way is it will keep us from meddling in their lives too much.

Bob: Are the kids not going to feel – like, if you've got this big empty nest whoo-hoo party, Mom's now in the empty nest – are the kids not going to feel like, "Well, I guess she couldn't wait to get rid of me, you know, she's got this whole party thing going on?"

Dennis: You know, I'd like to comment on that because I think for most kids they need to know that they need to get on with their lives and with the vision that God has for them, and I don't think that's a bad idea.  It may be a little bit of an exclamation point for the child to realize, "Whoooo, Mom and Dad are moving on," and they do have some transcendent vision and purpose for their life that is bigger than me.  Imagine that.

Barbara: Well, and it may be, too, that the kids aren't even going to know, because they're not going to be around probably when you have the party, so they're probably not going to feel too rejected.

Dennis: Yeah, there's two reasons I'm really excited about what you all are talking about here in your book – one is, you're reconnecting women with women, and I think good things happen when women discover purpose together in the midst of relationships, and then, secondly, I really like, Susan, your idea of going around a room and having friends and people who have known you for five years, 10 years, maybe longer, to affirm what you're good at, and I'd just add to that, you may want to have somebody become a scribe and catch those words, because they can quickly be lost.

And for a woman who is beginning the empty nest years, who is in the mist of this celebration, I think she may want to review her notes from this celebration party.  I bet the Proverbs 31 woman looked at the last few verses …

Bob: You think so?


Dennis: "Charm is deceitful and beauty if vain."  Now, think about how an older woman read that.

Barbara: She reads it with encouragement.

Dennis: "But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Give her the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates."

Bob: Hallmark just called and said, "Can we use that verse on the card?"

Dennis: They can.  They just need to give the English Standard Version of the Bible credit for that.

Bob: And maybe give credit to Barbara and Susan for coming up with this whole idea in the first place.  It's one of the things you talk about in the book that you've written called "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest," and it's a book that we've got available in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I can imagine there are a lot of moms who, in the last few weeks, have become empty nesters for the first time and are starting to feel some of what we've been talking about today.

This book would be a great help to those moms and, of course, you can go to our website, and click on the right side of the home page where it says "Today's Broadcast."  That will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about the book and about other resources we have available for women who are in this season of life.

There is a book by your friend, Dale Burke, Susan, called "Second Calling," where she talked to a number of women about this whole process of reevaluating your purpose.  In fact, the subtitle of that book is "Passion and Purpose for the Rest of Your Life." 

Again, these resources are in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go to our website,, click on the right side of the home page where it says "Today's Broadcast," and that will take you to the area of the site where you can find out more about the different resources we have available.

You can also contact us by phone at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and contact us.  Someone on our team can answer any questions you have about these resources or make arrangements to have the ones you need sent out to you.

One of the challenges that couples face at almost every season of the marriage relationship is the issue of marital intimacy.  It has different dynamics at different stages of marriage, but most couples experience challenges in this area at some point during their marriage relationship.

Not long ago, our friends, Linda and Jody Dillow, spoke on this subject to a conference of couples, and we thought their message was very helpful.  This week we're making the CD that features this message available to FamilyLife Today listeners upon request.  If you'd like to receive Jody and Linda Dillow's message on "The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy," all you need to do is contact us – 1-800-FLTODAY is the number to call.  This is only available by phone, so call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and simply ask for the free CD, "The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy."  We are happy to send it out to you. 

We think you'll find it helpful for your marriage relationship, and it's always encouraging for us to know that you're listening, and that you find the ministry of FamilyLife Today helpful.  So, again, if you'd like to receive the CD on "The Four Flames of Marital Intimacy," call 1-800-FLTODAY and simply request it.  We'll make sure it gets out to you, and we appreciate hearing from you.

Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about taking a timeout, which is something that Susan Yates and Barbara Rainey both recommend to a mom who is headed into the empty nest season of life.  We'll have that conversation tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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