By Barb Leaman
Every spring many people view online eagle nest cams to watch eggs full of potential little eaglets. If the eggs make it, soon the little eaglets peck their way out and are faithfully taken care of by both mom and dad eagle. The hope is that they’ll make it to spread their little eagle wings and fly on to their next phase of life. There’s a term that’s been coined to describe the human home once the last child is moved out-THE EMPTY NEST. It sounds formidable-THE EMPTY NEST. I’ve been thinking about that phrase since the passing of my first Mother’s Day without our one and only child living with us.
My husband and I have one daughter and she moved out last autumn. She’d gotten a wonderful new job a couple towns away and while she still lived at home for a couple months, her intention was to move to where her job was. She found a cute apartment there and little by little, started moving things in. It was so much fun shopping with her for new furniture and all the many little incidentals needed for her first place. She and I spent some mother-daughter time travelling to a mall for more of those incidentals on the day she was to move into her new home fulltime. There were tears (OK, only mine) on the way home from this fruitful day of shopping as the impact of having our child, who for most of her days had ended up in her bed in her room in her home with us, sleep elsewhere for the rest of her life. It was always our and her intention to move out, but it was painfully bittersweet. In tears that last afternoon I received a positive answer when I asked “Did we do OK?” The following week while out at a Chinese buffet she kept exclaiming, “I have my own apartment”! Her excitement was obvious; she was ready for this.
In the days that followed my thoughts turned to questions like-did her father and I faithfully show her what it means to love and serve God? Were we good enough examples of what it means to be committed to Him, love and be loved by Him, always willing to serve Him, that He is our priority? Ours was not a child-centered home. Glenn & I always tried to put God first, our marriage second, and our child third. The world might be appalled at that, as I’ve seen many child-centered lives. The sun rises and sets on their children. But those of us who trust God and His Word know that putting a child after God and marriage makes for a much happier and secure child, because our foundation is sure. Matt. 6:24-25 tells us that a house does not fall when built upon the Rock. Parents who do their best by the grace of God to make Him their priority, wanting to please Him by keeping the covenant of marriage pure and steady, usually produce a more content, secure child who learns through example that God is the sovereign Authority. When our daughter left our home, my husband and I didn’t have to reintroduce ourselves to each other because we weren’t so consumed with our child only that we lost touch. But she knows that she was deeply loved by God and her parents.
Do I wish I’d done anything differently in raising her? Of course! As a young mom I thought I was going to break her! Believing that one cross response was going to devastate her forever! Was she colicky because I was an inexperienced mom? I wish I’d shown her more grace when at times I tried to change her behavior instead of her heart. I wish I’d been that mom who let her child pick out the plaid shirt with the polka dot skirt and sneakers to church because they felt beautiful in them. There were times I gave in to being annoyed when tired. But I often apologized and prayed for God to help me be a better mom to this amazing gift. I took God at His word in Romans 8:28 when He promised that He uses everything for our good as His children, even the imperfect stuff. Our daughter learned that we were all sinners and we offered apologies and hugs and forgiveness along with unconditional love.
But praise God, there were things we did right. There is a manual for raising children and it’s called The Holy Bible. Our heavenly Father has been faithful and He gave my husband and I the desire to bring our daughter up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). We didn’t let other events take priority on Sundays and Wednesday nights, but took her to church where she heard the Bible read and taught and lived out. We encouraged her God-given gifts and she uses those gifts serving in our local church. She pays her bills and has a nice savings account today as God’s Word tells us we are to be good stewards of all we have. Even when our daughter was little and only received a dollar a week, 25 cents went to long term spending, 25 to short term spending, 25 to spend then if wanted, but the first 25 cents went to God that she willingly clinked in the offering plate. We decided her allowance wasn’t performance-based. She lived in our home-she helped take care of it-that was a given. We didn’t shield her from the world, but used worldly occurrences as learning opportunities about what God’s Word says. Instead of provoking our child to wrath as is also mentioned in Eph. 6:4, we tried to deal with her by being consistent with our expectations and discipline done in love.
The hardest thing for me about raising a young child was having to keep an eye on her all the time. My heart goes out to young moms who are exhausted trying to keep a watchful eye on the little ones, keeping them safe while meeting the needs of their husbands, homes, serving in their church, and many other responsibilities endeavoring to be that Prov. 31 woman. God would often remind me from Ecclesiastes that for everything there is a season and those years of motherhood raising children were for just a season and one we would someday dearly miss. This reminder had me enjoying our daughter at every age, even now as she has spread her wings to fly. The assurance that God cares for even the tiniest sparrow when it falls, lets me trust Him with her safety now that I don’t know what she’s doing every second of the day, where she is-things that I knew better when she was living with us.
Will our daughter continue to live out what we taught her? We hope so and pray for continued growth, but now that she’s out from under her parents’ watchful eyes, we will learn more what is really in her heart and that’s a good thing. Isaiah 55:11 says “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but will accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” We continue to pray for her, entrusting her to God, trusting Him when He promises His Word won’t return fruitless.
People often ask if we miss her. Of course we do. Every once in a while my husband will look around and ask where did that little blonde headed kid go who used to hang around our house? But it’s fun being invited over to her apartment for dinner and games. We’re excited about this new phase in her life, the independent adult phase. She’s in God’s hands, she always was. He’s been faithful and I trust Him with these empty nest years. And I really try not to hint about boyfriends, marriage and grandchildren, when this nest won’t be as empty once again! The nest will never be empty anyway. My husband and I will continue to live and love here, happy to visit and be visited by our “eaglet”, entrusted to us by God, who spread her wings and is now soaring on her own!
So parents take heart! Take it from this empty nester - the hard work it takes raising children to know and love God more and more everyday is worth all the tears, late night water requests, messy bedrooms, loads of laundry that never ends, are we there yet, waiting while your teen is driving alone with a new license moments. Rest in our Creator who loves our children even more than we do-He’s got this!