Pam and I celebrate thirty-three years of marriage in two weeks. It was just us the first four years. I started my ministry as the pastor of a small country church while Pam finished up her training as a pastoral counselor. We didn’t have much—and goodness knows money was tight. But we were newlyweds and life was great.
Our first child, Katie, was born in 1984. Will followed five years later. And as couples everywhere will tell you, everything changed. From just us—with evenings spent alone and discretion to do whatever we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it–our time, energy and resources were re-directed. Now life revolved around our kids. And we loved it. For the next twenty-nine years our lives were a whirlwind with the kids in the vortex. School. Sports. Activities. Friends. Projects. Vacations. College. Graduations. Careers. Marriage.
And church. As a pastor’s family, our life revolved around church. Many people—including some pastors—think church ministry hampers family life. We never found it to be that way. Instead, my kids will tell you today that the benefits from being raised in a church far outweigh whatever liabilities may have been involved. The people of our churches loved and encouraged our kids every step along the way. They celebrated their achievements and prayed them through their challenges. They knew my kids by name. Katie and Will knew them as well. Bringing up children in church has always been the best way to provide them with a spiritual foundation for life as well as to teach them the blessings of community. It still is.
Katie went away to go to college in 2003. From there she went on to graduate school. She married a fine young man in 2011. The two of them moved far away. Will graduated college in 2012. He’ll marry a wonderful young woman next week. Their lives will take them far away as well.
Pam and I are blessed. We love the people our kids married, and all four of them are godly, skilled and capable adults. I don’t worry about their lifestyles, marriages, choices or jobs. But we don’t get to see them often. We stay in touch, and with cell phones, texting, email and Skype there are some weeks we talk more now than we did when they were in high school. That’s a good thing—there were weeks in their high school years when I didn’t want to talk to them. There were weeks when they didn’t want to talk with me, either.
Now we’ve come full circle. From our early years alone to the packed, hectic years of child-rearing we’re back to where we started. As we celebrate our anniversary later this month, for the first time in a long time it will be just about us. We’re now officially empty nesters.
Here are a few lessons I’m learning about this new season of life. Call them Five Keys to Becoming a Successful Empty Nester:
- Raise your kids in church. A worshiping, serving community provides a framework for understanding God, life and change. It puts marriage and family into a larger perspective and ties generations together in ways that nothing else does.
- Recognize that your marriage is the most important part of your family. Dads and moms who put their children instead of their marriage at the center of their family life aren’t prepared for the empty nest years. When the kids leave home—and they all leave home sooner or later—what reason do you have to stay married?
- Accept the limits of parenting. As our kids grow older we can’t parent them the way we did when they were younger. You can’t treat your thirty-year-old the same way you treated your fifteen-year-old. The parents who try are making themselves and their kids miserable.
- Re-orient your life in productive ways. A dad who’s spent his son’s years in coaching little league baseball needs to find something more important to do than polishing his golf game. A mom needs to move in more positive directions than watching TV while wondering when the kids are going to call.
- Accept the challenges of your new season of life. The empty nest years aren’t just about turning loose of your kids, they’re also about the inevitable changes of growing older. Aging parents. Our own health needs. Retirement planning. Building new friendships. People who successfully deal with the empty nest face these new challenges with faith and joy.