And When There Are None: Views from the Empty Nest

Parenting is a constant state of letting go.

Parenting Adult Children--View from an Empty Nest

First time we allowed someone to hold them. First time they slept in a different room. First time in the church nursery. With a babysitter. At school.

Granted, some of those times we felt like we dropped and ran, desperate for a break. But halfway through, we couldn’t stop wondering how they were doing. And a little part of us kind of hoped they cried the whole time because they missed us.

Other times, they were the ones that took off. First sleepover at a friend’s. A week at summer camp. A trip around the world—in hopefully less than 80 days. But sometimes it wasn’t less. Sometimes that ticket was one way. And we didn’t know when we’d see them again.

There’s a reason people joke about cutting the apron strings. When it’s our turn, that little piece of fabric suddenly feels like a nine-inch-thick piece of steel.

Who’s got scissors that strong?

After all, we had to push them from the womb. For me, that meant seventy-seven hours for the first child, forty-eight for the next. The twins were faster, but they were both breech. Still naturally born, yet with a whole lot more caution. The last? Tuesday through Friday, but by then I was used to long labors.

Those babies seemed so happy to stay inside then. But once they’re out on their own feet? They’re flying, and we can’t hold them down.

Honestly, we wouldn’t want to.

But when they’re ready to fly the coop? Even though they leave the nest? The truth is, they still need us.

This is just a new stage of parenting.

There’s this balance.

  • Not butting in when they need to do their thing. But being there when they want to talk.
  • Understanding they need to make their own mistakes. But knowing when it’s time to ask questions.

It’s a whole new game.

Yet, maybe not so new. We’ve been prepping for it since they were born. That constant state of letting go.

  • We allowed others to hold them. But we watched carefully to make sure that person didn’t drop them.
  • They slept in a different room. But we kept the monitor on.
  • They went to the church nursery, babysitter, school. But we were always a pager away.

Even then, we had to weigh how close to be involved. It wasn’t always easy.

Like those days they learned to ride a bike. We knew we had to let them get a few knee scratches. But we caught them before they fell in front of a moving car.

And maybe that’s what makes those apron strings feel so thick now.

We see them riding away—but we don’t know what car is around the corner.
Or maybe we do know. Either way, we still have to let them go.

All so they know they can return.

I remember when it happened with my first “child.” She wanted to travel overseas to student teach. By herself. In a giant third world city with thirty million people. Where we knew no one. The place had been in the news more times than we could count as “not so safe.” Many told us to keep her home.

However, that same year, a certain song became an international hit. Meaning it played everywhere. On the radio, in stores, at the gym, on the web. Like God made sure I heard it. The title? “Let Her Go,” by Passenger. If you know the lyrics, you know its meaning.

Yet each time, God gave me slightly different words from the actual ones sung. He flipped it on its head. What it said to me?

For her to know I love her, I had to let her go.

I couldn’t hold my kids back. I had to let them go where the Lord was calling them.

So I did.

And when that daughter came back, I let her go to inner-city Chicago to teach—where a bullet hole decorated her classroom window and, in the first week, just a few blocks away, a woman was shot and killed in a drive-by.

And then I let her go halfway around the world again—where, one day, a huge explosion took out half the city—a part of the city she was supposed to be in. But, miraculously, she wasn’t.

One by one, I’ve had to let my others go, too. God made them for a purpose. He knows just what it will take for them to live it. That’s when we need to trust God the most, having faith that He can handle all the cars in their path.

But they still need me. To pray. To listen. To be available. Whenever they call.

Yes, parenting, much like my trust in God, is a constant state of letting go, and my apron strings are cut. But I’m still their mom. So I want my kids to know, when it comes to this nest, the door is always open, and my phone is always on.

a huge thank you to Luke Brugger on Unsplash for the featured image

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8 thoughts on “And When There Are None: Views from the Empty Nest”

  1. David Daghfal

    Why is it whenever I read your posts, I end up in tears? Thanks for making it real.

  2. Mine haven’t left the nest yet. But we’ve been letting go for a long time now. Sometimes parenting just hurts and is so hard and I can’t find the office to give in my resignation.
    So watching you from afar is an inspiration.

    1. Ah, friend. Parenting is hard! And yes, it hurts. One of these days I’ll write my post on the picture my son drew of me. I call it “angry eyebrows.” (*sigh*) Praying for you, that the Lord would hold you today with His mighty right hand–that He would give you the words, the strength, and the grace you need to get through each moment.

      If there’s something specific I can pray for, I’d love to do so. Message me through the contact form or Facebook.

  3. Diane Richards Weber

    Elizabeth, your love and honesty expressed in your writings are a breath of fresh air. It is always so encouraging reading your stories. Thank you for making ordinary and sometimes unusual situations come to life and bring hope even in the midst of uncertainty. You are truly a family blessed with God’s care because you are willing to commit your lives without any fear or shadow of doubt to Him. You are a blessing. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I concur with Diane regarding how you express yourself with both love and honesty, always with a nudge of encouragement. You conveyed the push-pull of how difficult it is to let go–but would we want it otherwise? Would we really want our kids to have “failure to launch” and live out their days in our basement? Absolutely not!
    So the very thing we want, the very thing we raised our kids to do–live and thrive independently without us peering over their shoulders–is the very thing we also dread.
    Is it rooted in the fear of wondering if we did our parenting job well enough to prepare them for the world? Or is it a lack of trust in God’s plans for them? Or is it because we’ll miss them and don’t want to lose our connection to them? Or is it because we have a kid who defies all logic and wants to do things “his own way”? I’m guessing it’s a combination of all these things.

  5. lydia

    I love you too Mom! And trust me, we know you are always there for us. It is something I am in awe of and aspire to be able to do likewise…you are always available for us, ready to listen, help, process something through with us, and so forth. Thank you.
    None of us knows the day or the hour, and I am glad I have a mom that is wise enough to know that fact and wise enough to know that the most important thing is that we are in His will for our lives.
    Love you bushels and pecks 😉

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