walking on the beach

Great Expectations

Quiet Time, just me and you

Great Expectations: What you thought your life would look like – the evasive Empty Nest.

When we got married at 21 and started our family the following year, I often heard the comment, “You are so young! You’ll have an empty nest by the time you are 50, and have the time and energy to enjoy it!, usually spoken by older women who obviously did not have an empty nest in their 50’s. Well guess what? I am pushing 60 and have yet to have an empty nest! Can you relate? One thing or another seems to be getting in the way of this elusive “empty nest,” but before we go any further let’s define what we are talking about, so we can all be at the same starting point. Women surveyed answered the question, What is an Empty Nest? like this:

My home after the kids have made their own home

Kids out of the home and financially independent/self-sufficient

Time for just my husband and I

A nice clean house that is too quiet

Time for Me

A time to travel.

Peace and Solitude

Most, if not all of the responses, pointed towards having your own space and your own time to do whatever you might want to do. This is the message we hear from society – you work hard while raising your family and then you get rewarded with your own space and your own schedule to meet your own desires. Our expectations for this season are a shift in responsibilities, a freedom to restructure life independently, but increasingly, this is not happening. Let’s explore a few reasons why this might be occurring.

Did you know that the most recent generation of young adults is known as the boomerang generation? That’s because they may leave home initially to seek independence or attend college, but for many reasons they return home, whether to save money to get married, or to pay off college debt, or to live with mom and dad while they search for a job in an increasingly difficult job market. The last year or two has especially brought young adults home in droves as the Covid-19 virus shut down schools, jobs, and increasingly isolated virtually everyone. Suddenly what had been empty nests became very full. Studies show that of young adult children in the 25-29 year old age range, 41% live with or have moved back into their parents home. Between the ages of 30-34, the percentage still remains at 17%.

On the other side of the coin are those who find themselves caring for elderly parents or family members. Typically in their 50’s and 60’s, they have been coined the Sandwich Generation because they find themselves sandwiched between caring for the generation they are raising and caring for the generation that raised them. Usually the first step is to help parents while they remain in their home, then when death of a spouse or disease happens, they may attempt to care for them in their own home, or find themselves responsible for finding care or assistance for them in a home or community. Studies show that almost 60% of those caring for elderly family members are women, who spend roughly 3 hours a day caring for the parent, and lose on average 90 minutes per day of work time and/or vacation time. Again, during the last year or two, this became increasingly complicated due to Covid-19 and the fear of disease and or the increasing isolation due to Covid-19 protocol which made an already hard decision, even more difficult.

Other scenarios for why the nest is not empty or expectations are unmet are many. Financial insecurity tops the list, followed by a child with a disability who may never leave home, grandchildren living at home – temporary or permanent, health struggles, death of a spouse or divorce and more. Any or all of these scenarios can leave us feeling drained, overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful. Burnout is common among women in this age group. What can we do about it? Where can we find joy and purpose in an increasingly demanding world? Especially when our mindset says it’s “Me-time.”

Let’s look to the Word of God to see what Jesus says about it. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells us the two greatest commandments; in fact everything else hinges on doing these. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul and all of your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mt 22:37-39. So maybe, it’s not about me? Maybe the Empty Nest was never meant to be about our wishes and desires. Maybe our mindsets need to pivot away from self and over to service? Perhaps this time was meant to be shared with others? The commandments are pretty clear – Love God, Love my neighbor, and love myself, in that order and with those priorities. Do you love God first and foremost, spending time with him in prayer and study of the word? Do you love him with ALL your heart? All your soul? All your Mind? Do you love your neighbor? (that elderly parent you care for or that 28 year old on the sofa who just can’t seem to become independent?) and lastly, Do you love yourself? Do you find the time to take care of yourself? Self care is such a buzzword and feels selfish, but if we don’t take care of ourselves, we will be no good at taking care of others.

We will continue to explore all of these questions as we dive deeper into What Empty Nest? Be encouraged, dear sister, You are not alone! I serve along side of you and look forward to finding Joy and purpose in what God has given us to do during this season of our lives.

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