Now That the Kids Are Gone
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Author Jill Savage talks about the freedom, and the challenges, of the empty nest. Savage remembers being surprised at how hard it really was to adjust to a quiet house. Hear some sound advice from a mom who’s been there.
Now That the Kids Are Gone
Bob: There is a day coming for all parents when there will no longer be kids at home. Jill Savage says, as those days approach, you should anticipate a certain amount of loss in your life.
Jill: I was keenly aware of all of the last times. I can even remember one time, when Austin was a senior—I don’t remember, he was struggling with something—and I went into his bedroom and sat on the edge of his bed. We processed whatever it was. I walked out of the room and thought, “Is that the last time I’m going to sit on the edge of his bed?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 26th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How can we be better prepared, as moms and dads, for the transition that comes when our kids are no longer under our roof? We’re going to talk with Jill Savage about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. A little survey to start today—
Dave: Here we go!
Bob: “Which was harder, emotionally, for you?”—you have three boys, who are all married—“Was the day they went to college harder than the day they got married? Which of those two days was the harder emotional day for you?”
Dave: I know what it was for me.
Ann: I know what it was for me, too.
Dave: I bet it’s different.
Ann: Mine was the day they got married—
Ann: —because, as a mother with sons, I felt like there was a true goodbye taking place; because their wife needed to be number one in their lives, which is exactly what they need to be.
Bob: How it’s supposed to be.
Ann: Yes, but that means I’m not. [Laughter] What was it for you guys?
Bob: Dropping them off at college?
Dave: Yes; I’m not sure exactly why. I remember our first son—oh boy, remember that?
Dave: I just bawled my eyes out.
Dave: Then the same thing—my second son went to Moody, downtown Chicago. We drove out, and I remember looking in the rearview mirror and seeing the skyscrapers in Chicago. It hit me, “I’m putting my son in the middle of a major city!”
Then my last one was the last one, so you just felt like—for me it felt like, “We’re done.”
Dave: We weren’t, but it felt like it.
Ann: What about for you, Bob?
Bob: There’s a transition that happens when you drop them off at college; it’s a pretty significant transition. I remember—as we drove away from dropping off our oldest, Amy, at college—and we were both in tears for about 45 minutes; finally, I said to Mary Ann, “What are you thinking?” She said, “I’m thinking she’s where she’s supposed to be. God’s going to take care of her.” Mary Ann said, “What are you thinking?” I said, “I’m thinking we have seen more of her in the last 18 years than we will ever see of her for the rest of her life.” Mary Ann said, “Don’t think that!”
I said, “Well, that’s true,” because, all of a sudden, I wasn’t aware of what was going on in her life every day; and our relationship changed. The marriage ceremony was much easier for me.
Dave: —and me! Why is that?
Bob: Because they’d already left, in my way of thinking.
Ann: It could be because we [Dave and Ann] have all sons, and they would never come home again in the same way.
Bob: I did have some friends who told me that, about six or seven weeks after their last child had gone to college, they got a call one night from Domino’s®. Domino’s said: “We just wanted to check in. Is everything okay? We haven’t heard from you.”
Dave: No orders! [Laughter]
Bob: So they were just checking up because things had changed. [Laughter]
Bob: We’re talking about the empty nest experience. It’s kind of a stage to reality for us as parents. Jill Savage is joining us to talk about this. Jill, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jill: Thank you! It’s good to be here.
Bob: We were just talking about the fact Jill has been here before, back in the aughts—back in 2002 you were here the first time—and then back, 2011. She’s an author and a speaker; lives in, as we like to say, “just outside of Normal,” right?
Jill: Yes, yes; Normal, Illinois.
Bob: —just on the edge of Normal, Illinois.
She’s just written a book on the empty nest experience; it’s called Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Next. This is the stage of life you are in. When did you become a full-fledged empty-nester?
Jill: Two years ago.
Bob: At the wedding; right?
Jill: At the wedding, yes, of our youngest son. You know what’s funny, though, it didn’t hit me hard at the wedding. I really did okay. My husband and I—he was the youngest of five; so at this point, we’re going, “Freedom!” [Laughter]
We go into January, and February, and March, and April, and May, and June, and everything’s great; we’re rocking this. I get to August; and in August, all of a sudden, I realize that I, for the first time in over 20 years, have nobody to get ready for school. That’s when it really hit me hard. I found myself literally standing in the school—you know, the aisle, where you buy all your school supplies—and I’m crying. [Laughter]
Ann: Jill, I relate to that, because I still feel it in the fall—like, “Oh, remember when the kids were going to school…” Yes! So it didn’t hit you till then, though?
Jill: No; I mean, I had one small time where it hit me shortly after the wedding, where I realized I went to grab my son’s favorite cereal in the cereal aisle. Then it kind of hit me there and went, “Oh! I don’t need to buy this anymore!”
Bob: “Nobody eats Captain Crunch at our house!” [Laughter]
Jill: Right. And he’s not living far away, so it’s not like he’s going to stay the night at our house and need cereal. I was a little teary in the cereal aisle; but yes, it really hit me hard in that back-to-school season.
Dave: When you say, “hard,” was it really sad; or was it sort of, “Oh, it’s too bad”; or was it really—
Jill: Oh, it was really hard, because I loved that part. I loved getting my kids ready for school; I loved sending them off to school. I loved the organizational side of things—I loved making sure that they were equipped to do what they could do—I loved that piece, and I truly grieved it—the loss of it.
Bob: Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, who wrote a book on the empty nest—I remember them saying the day that their kids moved out—the day that they were facing the first August with no school supplies to buy—they felt like they’d been fired from the job that they had been doing for years. They weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing with their life now.
Ann: It feels like an identity crisis—because we’ve known our role, we’ve known the future the next few years—and all of a sudden, we’re faced with: “Wait! Who am I now?”
Ann: I remember telling Dave, “This is the saddest thing, because I have just gotten really good at being a mom. [Laughter] I am in my prime right now, and now they’re all gone!”
Jill: Right. Yes, that is so true! I think that that is the hardest part. So often, we think that then we’re done being a mom; we’re really not, but our role does change. That’s really why I wrote Empty Nest, Full Life, so that moms would have the tools to be able to make that transition but, also, so that they would have a vision for what this next season really looks like.
Bob: Both moms and dads go into the empty nest; but I think we go into it differently, in part because dads still have what they’ve been doing day in/day out. Moms may be working outside the home, too; but there is something about the mother/child connection, and the nurturing aspect of that, that when you’re unplugged from that, a big part of what you were created to do and be feels like it’s gone away—it’s to your point about the identity crisis that Jill said.
Dave: Well, Jill, we’re reading your book, Ann and I. Ann says to me: “What did you feel like when our oldest, CJ, didn’t need us? He came home and”—literally, driving over here today, she said—“I felt like I’m not needed anymore.” I felt like: “I did my job!
Dave: “He doesn’t need me?—great! That means he’s a man and he’s doing his thing.” It’s a totally different perspective.
Dave: Have you seen that with men and women?
Jill: Yes; so you’re going, you know, “I did my job!” and you’re really excited about that. I think a mom may even think that; but she goes [sounding mournful]: “I did my job. [Laughter] I mean, I worked myself out of a job, and that was what I was supposed to do; but I don’t like it!” [Laughter]
Bob: I’m asking both of you this, as moms. Did you start thinking, when your kids were sophomores in high school—your last one—were you starting to think: “I’d better get ready for the empty nest; I better, emotionally, prepare. There are things I need to do,” or did it blindside you, because it just happened, and you hadn’t been thinking about it ahead of time?—Jill?
Jill: Boy, that’s a good question. I mean, I definitely knew that it was coming with that last one. I would say I really wasn’t thinking about it. Here’s what I was thinking about—I was thinking about: “This is the last time…blank,” “This is the last time…blank.” Whatever it was, I was keenly aware of all of the last times. I can even remember one time when Austin was a senior—and I don’t remember, he was struggling with something—and I went into his bedroom and sat on the edge of his bed. We processed whatever it was. I walked out of the room and thought, “Is that the last time I’m going to sit on the edge of his bed?” I was doing a lot of that. I think I was thinking about that more than I was thinking about, “I have to get ready for the empty nest.”
Bob: Is there anything a mom, who has high school kids—the last child in high school or they’ve just announced the date for the wedding; and she’s starting to think, “The empty nest is on its way,”—is there anything, if you were coaching her today, you would say to: “Get ready for the emotions that are going to hit you,” and “What the next chapter’s going to be like so that you can transition in smoothly”? What coaching would you give to her?
Jill: Well, you know, really it comes down to how I wrote Empty Nest, Full Life. My coaching that I would give her is: “Find clarity on what it is you need to hold onto and what it is you need to let go of,” because that was the hardest part. For me, I was kind of holding onto some of the wrong things, and I was not realizing what I needed to grab hold of; so that would be a place.
I would also encourage her to find her stability in God’s truth. We try to find our stability in this world and our circumstances, but they change all the time; and we have to have something that is that firm foundation.
Bob: It seems to me like one of the things a mom needs to be doing, as she gets ready for these years, is to be thinking about: “There is going to be time available that used to go toward kids—toward my relationship with them/toward my activities with them—that’s going to be empty time.” You should be thinking about: “What’s going to fill that?” and “What relationships are going to fill it?”—not just what activities but—“Who is it that I want to be connecting myself to and spending more time with that I just haven’t had the time to do that when I was focused on my kids?”
Jill: I agree, but I think a lot of us almost go into that with more of a fear. It’s almost like, “Well, who am I going to spend time with?”
Bob: —and “Who would want to spend time with me?”—yes; right.
Jill: Yes; in fact, I start the book out—you know, first chapter, we talk about the lies that we believe; because those lies affect our relationship with our kids, they affect the way we think about ourselves; they color our perspective. I think, a lot of times, those lies do keep us in fear rather than being able to launch into this wonderful, new—what I call—“encore” season of life.
Dave: What’s one of the lies that keeps us bound in fear? There are a lot of them; what’s one of the predominant ones that you think of?
Jill: “I don’t have anything to offer,” “I’m not enough,” “I’m not blank enough,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not anything enough.” All of those keep us bound up from being able to really live out our calling. Man, the enemy just whispers that into our ears over, and over, and over again.
Bob: “I don’t have anything to offer,” is kind of a riff on: “My work here is done.
Bob: “I have completed the task that I had,” and “Now, I just have this gap of however many years left—maybe two or three decades left—and I have nothing to do.”
Part of going into this next chapter is to figure out: “No; God has a plan for me in this chapter. How do I live that out?”
Jill: Yes, exactly! You know, the Scripture that I share leading into that second half of the book, which is the hold-on part—“What do I need to grab hold of?”—is from
Isaiah 43:19. I particularly love how it reads in The Message version: “Be alert. Be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” Oh, I just love that!
That is the excitement that I want women in the empty nest season of life—and those that are approaching it—I want them to experience that kind of an excitement, because there [are] all kinds of possibility in front of you.
Bob: I love the way you’ve laid out your book; because the first half of the book is about the things you have to learn to let go of, but then the second half of the book is: “What do you need to hold onto?”
Bob: It’s about the second half of the play and about what God has for you in there. There’s some exciting stuff for people in their empty nest years. It’s not just: “Get the motor home,” and “I’m out spending my grandchildren’s inheritance”; right?—you’ve seen those bumper stickers? [Laughter] But God has a plan for you in the years when your kids are gone. Our churches and the kingdom needs people, who have experience and capacity, to get in the game and to get to work; right?
Dave: Yes; and I would love to hear, Jill, your perspective; because you wrote about it. One of the things to let go of, that I’ve struggled with more than I thought I would be, is let go of guilt. I can even see myself, sometimes, driving down; and I look at a ballfield that I coached with my sons, and some of it’s, “Oh, those days are gone.”
Dave: But the other side is: “Oh, I didn’t seize some years/some seasons, and now here I am and it’s gone.” Talk about that—letting go of the guilt. I think it’s a real deal.
Jill: I think every parent has to realize that we will look in the rearview mirror of our life and we will be able to identify places that we would do it differently today.
Ann: Our kids may identify them for us. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s happened, too!
Jill: Yes, exactly. We need to know what to do when that happens, because we may need to absolutely—we need to own it and say: “You’re right. Thank you for sharing your heart with me on that. I certainly couldn’t see it then, but I can see it now.”
But I think that—in those moments, where we want to look in that rearview mirror and we kind of want to beat ourselves up, or we allow that to feed us the lie that we don’t have anything to offer because maybe we can only see how we messed up instead of how we did well—we really have to look at that and we have to say: “You know what? I did the best with the knowledge that I had at that time. Would I do it differently today? Yes, because I’m 20 years older; I have the benefit of wisdom from the years.”
I think, at that point, we have to realize, “I did the best I [could] at that point in my life with the knowledge and experience I had, and now I’m going to exchange guilt with grace.” I think that is really key. God’s grace is a beautiful gift to us, but we also have to learn how to give that to ourselves.
Dave: I would add—I think you can also have the perspective, “It’s not done.” I mean, they’re not in the house; it’s different. I had a conversation, I think last summer, with two of my sons. We went out to play golf. I’m thinking: “This is going to be great! We’re going to play golf, and this is going to be fun!” We end up having lunch after. They had talked to each other, and they wanted to talk to me about some failings in my relationship with them. They shared them over lunch.
You know, here this beautiful golf day becomes—you know, all of a sudden, we’re laughing—and then, all of a sudden, they start. I’m like: “Oh, boy. It’s one of those, ‘Oh, we’re in it.’” I think they’ve talked about this, and this has really hurt them. It’s adult-to-adult men now. I just remember—and there was some of the guilt—because you hear it and you’re like, “Oh, I missed that,” “I missed this.” Yet, at the same moment, I’m like, “I’m really sorry, and I will do better.”
Ann: You said that to them.
Dave: I felt like: “We can still have a relationship, and I can still meet some of these needs you had. I didn’t meet them the way you wished I would have then; but here I am, still your dad. Different world—you’re married and a husband and father yourself,” but they still have that need.
Dave: It’s really: “I want to be seen. I want to be known.” I can love them and know them in that way.
I’ve felt, since that day, it’s like, “I’m going to do this better.” Again, I’m not going to be the parent—I’m not going to rush back in their life—but I’m going to have a relationship, that I sort of missed, now.
Jill: Yes. You know what? In that moment, you are at a “Y” in the road; because you could have blown it.
Jill: You could have absolutely blown it and responded defensively, and then you would have had a bigger problem on top of whatever they were bringing to the table. Boy, those are moments, where we really have to have a humble heart, and to be able to look beyond, maybe, the words that were on the table and even the way the words are spoken to the heart.
That’s one of the places, where—you know, if I look back and say, “I have some guilt…”—I dealt with what I call “perfection infection” parenting. The perfection infection is when we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and we unfairly compare ourselves to others. When it invades our kids, it’s when we have unrealistic expectations of our kids; and we unfairly compare them to others—it puts pressure on them.
I wrote about that in my books: No More Perfect Moms and No More Perfect Kids. That came out of my own journey. I realized my three older kids were young adults in their 20s and my two youngest were teenagers when I started kicking the perfection infection out of my parenting. It became less about being worried about what people thought and much more about me tuning into my child’s heart. That was a transformation in our relationship.
One of the things that I tell parents, all the time, is: “It is never too late. It’s never too late to make it right,” “It’s never too late to make a change in the way that you are interacting with your child.” There are some of us—who are 40, and 50, and 60 years old—wishing our parent would see us in a different way. If that were to happen and they were to begin to change the way they related to us, even as adults, it would be transforming to our relationship with them.
Bob: I think we have to remember, as parents, that even our failings and our mistakes are tools in the hands of God to shape our kids. God is able to bring beauty from ashes and to take the imperfections and the mistakes and use them to shape the character of our kids so that—that’s where the grace you’re talking about comes in. It’s where we can say: “Yes; did I mess up? Would I do it again differently?—of course.”
We’ll all feel that way in the empty nest years; but we can also know God is such a good and great God—He can take our mistakes and failures and use them for our kids’ good. He can take how we messed up and use it for more good than if we’d done it right!
Ann: So true.
Jill: He can.
Bob: Yes; I’m just sitting here thinking, “Is the best time to read this book two years before you enter the empty nest?”
Jill: I think it definitely is appropriate at that point, because it casts vision and it prepares your heart for what you need to begin.
I would say, also, a lot of moms are in what I call the messy middle; because they may have one or two in college and they still have some at home. They need, particularly, that first half of the book; because that’s really about leveraging your relationship with your now young-adult child—how you do that.
Bob: Letting go is—you do it one at a time. If you have four or five kids, you’re letting go, one by one by one. You have to learn how to do that; that’s what the first half of this book is. The book, again, is called Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Next by Jill Savage. We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy of the book, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; you can order the book Empty Nest, Full Life by Jill Savage when you go online, or call 1-800-358-6329 to order—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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I hope you can join us back tomorrow. Jill Savage will be here again. We’re going to talk about something that happened during the transition into the empty nest years that was traumatic for her marriage. She’ll explain tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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