Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Emptying Nest

empty nest I feel funny writing something “empty nest” related. I mean, I’m not even 40 yet and our youngest just turned three. But, as it often is with blended families, we have the whole gamut here in age ranges: 20, 18, 16, 10 and 3.

We’ve had our share of difficulties over the years, some unbelievably hard…the kind that can kill a marriage and rip a family apart. But, by the grace and faithfulness of God we weathered each storm that came our way…unfortunately, not completely intact but still, not completely destroyed either. There is still hope.

Now we are entering into what will be a very long season of nest-emptying. The oldest is moving out by the end of the month. I wish that it was happening under better circumstances, but choices were made and consequences followed as is the way of things. The next oldest, although he doesn’t live with us, is leaving for Marine boot camp (HOO-RAH!!) in September…and going all the way to the other side of the world in California.

All these birdies flying the nest cause me to become quite introspective. As most parents do, I have many regrets. All of our good intentions didn’t always turn out the way we intended. And some of the issues we had to deal with along the way made it excruciatingly difficult to be the parents these fine young men needed. Now, they are about to enter the big, bad world on their own.

They will make their own choices…how much that reflects on us and our parenting skills is not quite clear for me. On one hand, we, as parents, have had set before us the task of teaching them right from wrong and to model how to be a responsible and productive citizen. We should teach them to be compassionate and care for others, to be good stewards of God’s creation, and to have impeccable integrity. When we succeed in those areas, they can learn well…and when we fail in those areas, they learn as well.

Then we have the other hand…

They will make their own choices

And, chances are, at least some of those choices would not be ones we would make. Or possibly choices anyone should make. These young men are perfectly capable of making good choices and being responsible. Whether or not they do is up to them. It’s hard to let go and let them be themselves.

I am fully prepared to be proud of their successes. That part is very easy. But how will I react…or respond, rather, when they fail? I don’t want to sound like I expect them to fail…it’s just a fact of life that people in general make mistakes and fail at things. And when you’re a young adult out on your own for the first time, the world can be a minefield of potential mistakes. How do we respond when they step on one of those and - God forbid – get hurt?

Natural Consequences are wonderful teachers. They do a better job of teaching than Advice From Parents. I don’t know why I get so irritated when the 20 year old asks for advice then does the complete opposite. But then, the nurturing part of a parent’s heart doesn’t want to see their children get hurt and wants to swoop in and rescue them when they do. It’s so fine, that line between helping and enabling!

Really, the best advice I can  think of is to remember that God is in control all the time. And when His children, which is exactly who our children are, mess up, He is there to gently correct and guide and to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted. My job as parent will move from taking care of the immediate here-and-now needs…the never-ending need for food and shelter and clean underwear and food (did I mention BOY at all?) to a 24/7 need for prayer and support. The trick is knowing how support without hindering or enabling. For that, prayer is also quite handy…as long as I listen to what God is saying…

And so…while I would be fibbing if I didn’t admit that I’m looking forward to Number One moving out, since we don’t exactly get along famously, still, there is a sense of unease and a sudden desire to protect him building within me. Regardless of our differences and the list of things that annoy us about each other, he is still my family. I still want to see him succeed. I still want the best for him. And I am still grieved by the circumstances that have launched his foray into the big, bad world.

Number Two won’t be leaving for several months yet, and we still have his high school graduation to look forward to, his open house to plan, and a summer to spend with him yet…unless, of course, he is too busy working. But, at least he’ll be around and we can see him more easily than when he’s a zillion miles away in California.

My mind, which contains the vapors of mistakes made mere years ago, takes those memories of failures and hairs-of-chinny-chin-chins and weaves them into what could become in the months and years ahead for these boys. I don’t want them to repeat my own mistakes, or the mistakes of their parents…but I can’t control them and micromanage their lives. They alone must responsibly use and manage the freedom that adulthood brings.

So, for now, I will plan on spending more time in prayer for these young men. And start making plans on what to do with Number One’s room when he moves out…

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