While doing the pivotal work of figuring out which spaghetti sauce to buy in aisle 8 at the grocery, I turn when a voice to my right says, “Well, hello, Kristen!”
I smile when I discover it’s a good friend I haven’t seen in a while. After hugging her and exchanging pleasantries, I ask, “Hey, isn’t your Bella starting kindergarten soon?”
Her face falls ever-so-slightly. “Yes, and Kristen? I am not okay that my youngest — our baby girl — is starting kindergarten!”
I smile sympathetically, knowing full well the bittersweet stage this is. I smile because I know that fifteen years ago, I said the same thing when my own daughter, the youngest in our family, headed to kindergarten. It felt like a definitive end of a season for our family and the turning of a page towards a new chapter — one I wasn’t ready to embrace.
It felt like parenting’s first leap of letting go.
Last August, I experienced another, bigger leap of letting go when we dropped that same baby girl, our Faith, off at college. That wasn’t our first rodeo at sending a kid to college. However, it was our first rodeo doing it with the baby of the family. And, unlike her older brothers, she chose to go to school out-of-state in Texas, and that fact brings another new-to-us layer to this transition.
When I returned home to Colorado after taking our daughter to college for the first time, I timidly walked into our entryway. Because it felt right as rain to do so, if not a little nonsensical, I called out “Hi, Faaaaaith! I’m home!” as I’d done many times before. Naturally, silence from the empty house answered me. And naturally, I dropped my bags, hung my head, and cried my eyes out.
And I secretly wondered if my best years were in my rearview mirror.
Today, exactly one year later, I find my emotions have simmered down a good deal, and I don’t get nearly so teary over our baby bird flitting from the nest. Oh, it still happens from time to time because I do miss my kids’ daily presence. But the last year has shown me several encouraging truths that have helped me through this transition.
So, if you find yourself about to open the door to an empty (or emptier) nest or it breaks your heart just a bit to think about this impending season, I share the following to comfort and reassure you too:
1. The way you feel right now won’t be the way you feel forever. Your kiddo launched — it’s okay to have some sadness mixed into your emotions. Go ahead and feel the loss. One day, though, you will walk by your kid’s bedroom and not burst into tears. A new normal will set in and feel like home to your heart too.
2. You’ve probably missed teaching your kids stuff, and that’s okay. Listen, we all have! While teaching and mentoring opportunities will continue to arise, it’s also true that if a lesson is important enough for these kids to learn, they’ll learn about it in the school of life. Whether we’re the parents of 2-year-olds or 22-year-olds (or older kids still), God fills the gaps and gets our children where they’re supposed to be.
3. Your way of communicating with them will be different but good. I’ve read that “doing life” with adult kids is like learning a new dance. You and I are likely to step on our kids’ toes (and vice versa!) as we learn the new steps. Yet, with open communication and an ever-ready willingness to apologize, you will get the steps down while enjoying their company.
4. Find your friends. Moms with grown kids need mom friends with grown kids — or friends who are sympathetic and understanding to this life stage. Period. Find them, make time for them, and feel like your pants fit better after talking with them.
5. Your kids will always need you. No, they won’t need you exactly as they have before, but you can bet your kid’s tuition payment that they’ll still need you (and not just for money). Their needs will just look different in this new season.
While it’s possible for a sentimental gal like me to romanticize the past, this last year has shown me how it’s possible to experience the future more fondly than I anticipate. And it’s no wonder, really, when we consider Ephesians 1:18:
“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.”
If you’re in the same life stage as me or within spitting distance of it, take heart: God promises us a wonderful future. Eventually, the changing nest will feel less new and more familiar. There is much good to look forward to in the years to come.
In the meantime, it’s my prayer that the Lord shows you tailor-made signs of His goodness here today. And tomorrow, may He show you that sure as the kids will bring their laundry home, good things exist beyond goodbyes.
If you’re the mama of a recent graduate who’s flitting from the nest, Kristen has written The Changing Nest: A Devotional for the Mom of the Graduate just for you.