How to Build an Empty Nest

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The man in the lumber aisle of the home improvement store was kind enough to cut the pipe for us. Until this day, I'd had no idea that college students used PVC pipe to loft their beds. As I watched the dust fall to the floor, he sawed four equal-sized pieces of the long white tube and handed them over to the eagerly waiting hands of our youngest child.

And that small gesture, the passing of that pipe, signaled the official start of a new season for all of us. After we left the store, we drove to the college campus where we did what we always had done each morning before our children left for school. We stood in a circle, holding hands, and we prayed.

We said the last “amen” and there were hugs all around—especially tight this time—before my husband took my hand and coaxed me out of that tiny little dorm room filled (to the ceiling, it seemed) with boxes and clothes and towels and my daughter standing alone in the middle of it all. Then, we backed out the car, and headed home—to our empty nest.

We were both so excited. Each of us had worked hard to get to this day. Our daughter (and our son before her) had earned good grades, taken all of the tests, applied for the scholarships, and secured admission to a great school. Over the years, my husband and I had worked hard too.

Sometimes I talk about how much I love my empty nest, and young parents say, “We can't imagine . . .”

I can almost hear them choking back the tears, wondering how they will ever release that child who snuggles his little nose deeply into that special space between neck and shoulder. The idea of it makes them catch their breath.

But the empty nest doesn't have to be something that catches parents off guard.

Because the day is coming for every parent, just as sure as we are breathing, and we need to prepare ourselves.

1. Pray
We pray for our children's futures, why not pray for our own? Imagine the best possible relationship you could possibly have with your spouse in your empty nest and ask God to make it so.

2. Put Your Partner First
It's easy to believe children should take priority in a family, but all children eventually leave. On the other hand, we marry our spouse until death do us part. Our spouses deserve our attention, our concern, our energy, our time, our love, our affection, and our compassion. Sometimes that means the children have to wait. And that is a life lesson that will serve our children well.

3. Date
Make it a priority to date your spouse. Put it on the calendar and make a commitment to stick to it. Use the time to catch up with each other. To touch base. To gaze at one another. To rediscover this person you call your soul-mate, your sweetie pie, your lover.

4. Dream
Together, and on a regular basis, imagine your empty nest. Imagine beyond the nest egg and dream about what you'll do when you don't have to sit in the carpool lane, or make sure the door is locked first, or talk to the principal again. Write down your dreams and revisit them together.

If you are a parent with young children, I'm not suggesting that you wish away the present. I just think there's a bit of merit to imagining the joy that an empty nest can bring. It's true that releasing our children tugged at my heartstrings, and I cried when I left my children at college, just like I cried on the first day of school every year. But if we parent our children and love our spouse with an eye to the future, we just might discover joy in the midst of the tears.

Questions for reflection:

  • When you look ahead to your empty nest, what thoughts come to mind? (Read thoughts about embracing your dreams of the future.
  • What does it mean to you to raise your children to leave you?
  • How would things change if you started to plan now and work toward your empty nest? (Read more about implementing change.)
  • Sometimes, when we think about change, we get distracted by the things that make us afraid, and we have a difficult time imagining the things about that change that might make us smile. (Read more about fear, faith and change.) What are some of the good things about an empty nest that you may not have considered?
Editor's Note:
This article is adapted from a post on Diedra's site Jumping Tandem. Diedra is a member of