No one warned me. No one told me that after training our children to sleep through the night, after helping them learn the ways of kindness and the value of hard work, after teaching them the joy of reading and the delight of knowing the living word, after determining to most gladly spend and be spent for their souls, no one told me that the hardest part of mothering was still ahead — the part when they leave.
The hardest part of mothering, for me, has been emptying our nest well. It’s not that I hadn’t looked forward to it. What mother doesn’t long for nights of uninterrupted sleep and days free from the responsibility of keeping little ones safe and happy? Who doesn’t anticipate dates without making babysitter arrangements, cooking and doing laundry for only two, flowing conversations between you and your husband without the guardedness of what little ears might hear?
Ray and I had invested ourselves deeply and wholeheartedly in raising our four children, hoping to one day send them out to serve our kind King in whatever ways he asked of them. In those days of intense parenting, I admit that I did look forward to a more moderate pace of life. When the time came for each one to go to college or to take their final leave of us as they married, they eagerly stepped out into their future. We had, by God’s grace, prepared them. The problem was, I hadn’t prepared me!
Hang on to Him, Not Them
“I had to learn to hang on to Jesus more tightly, as I let each child go.”
I hadn’t prepared myself for the loss of their precious faces around our dinner table, the absence of our daily interactions of care and love for each other, their unavailability for our prayer times after family devotions. As we shopped and packed for college for each budding adult, I found myself wanting to say, “No! You can’t be eighteen already! We just brought you home from the hospital last week!” And I kept worrying, “Have I done enough, said enough, been enough?” I was scared for them, and I was scared for me.
That fear made me want to keep them close. Who would guide them, correct them, support them?
So, I had to preach to myself what I had told my children countless times: Your soul will find true rest in God alone. Don’t look to any other thing or person or achievement for your ultimate happiness. Only God through Jesus Christ will satisfy your deepest needs. Cling to him. Often I have looked to Psalm 62:1–2, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
It is unfair to our children to give them a more prominent place in our hearts than Jesus Christ. That is too massive a responsibility for them to carry. I had to learn to hang on to Jesus more tightly, as I let each child go.
As Discipline Ends, Let Devotion Grow
Like most young moms, my days were full of parental training and discipline. I insisted that my children obey me the first time I asked, so that in their adulthood they would obey God without argument or delay. I taught them to make their beds and tidy up their rooms to prepare them to keep a home someday. I wanted them to see that good nutrition and healthy play honored God because their bodies were made to be the very temple of the Holy Spirit. I helped them understand their sexuality and anticipate what a happy marriage could look like for them in the years ahead.
But now the training time was over. I would never discipline them again. So it was time for something new — a deep devotion. I took on a new role as their chief encourager and head cheerleader. I got to step back and trust them to make important life choices without my motherly interference. Deeper devotion meant freeing them, rather than guilting or goading them into my preferences.
I had had my own chance to choose — a college, a career, a husband. Why rob them of the privileges we had been training them for since they were tiny? Now it was their turn, and that meant bridling my tongue.
Talk Less, Pray More
“Now, we talk less and pray more.”
When the kids were younger, my parenting was Show and Tell. I would show them something and tell them why or how we were going to do it. Now that they are adults, I just show them, as humbly as I can. I try to model — imperfectly, but still I try — the kind of parent God wants them to be to our grandchildren.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t talk about situations, people, choices. It just means I talk to God about it, rather than (or at least before) I talk to my child. In my prayer notebook I keep a page for each member of our family, with requests and heart-cries and Bible verses I am asking God to fulfill in their lives. I bring to him my fears and concerns. Wouldn’t parental guidance be better coming from their heavenly Father than an earthly parent? His counsel is perfect.
Ray and I are nearing our seventies. Soon our lives will be over. We are praying that God will help our children “pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul” (1 Kings 2:4). We have freed them to serve the cause of Christ in their generation, hopefully without any subtle pressure from us about what we think that should look like. So now they can seek God personally in what to study, whom to marry, where to live, how to spend their money, their holidays, their energies. That means we talk less, and pray more.
Empty Nest, Full Life
Although my nest is empty now, my life is actually richer. As my responsibilities at home have lightened, I’ve been able to serve more at our home church, especially in our children’s ministry. I’m freer to meet with young women and encourage them through conversations and personal care to keep close to Jesus, and to love their husbands and children. I have more time to minister outside of our local church as well, as I travel to speak. The energies once needed for my own children can now be offered outside our home for the glory of Christ.
“No one told me that the hardest part of mothering was the part when they leave.”
And our kids come home frequently with their own children. What fun we have! We get to eat, play, read, and pray together. There is nothing sweeter. And in between visits, I stay connected with cards and gifts, with phone chats and visits to their homes. We want to keep influencing the coming generations to set their hope on God (Psalm 78:7).
Yes, this has been the hardest stage of mothering for me, but also the most glorious, and it can be glorious for you too. To see your kids love the Lord, marry godly spouses, and invest their lives with eternity in view is worth everything. Ray and I find ourselves echoing David’s question to God, “Who are we, O Lord God, and what is our house, that you have brought us thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18).