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Empty Nesting from a Dad’s Point of View

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by Jim McNeer

Ephesians 6:2-4 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

The last couple of years have been strange at our house. Kim and I have now sent off to either marriage and/or college all three of our children. Yes, we have hit the “empty nesters stage” of our life. As everyone who has children can imagine, the transition has been challenging at times and one thing we have learned is that all relationships have to be redefined with each change. Just as your kids are all different, your relationships with each one are also different. Your children are not children anymore and that is not something that is easy to get used to.

In some ways, the idea of an empty nest appeals to us both; but it has not had total appeal as we have both had to make some big adjustments with all that has gone on. As the dad in this journey, I have tried to remain the ‘Strong One” and keep that stone face but that only works for about a minute and then you realize you are sad, too. I have talked to other dads who have gone through this major life change and tried to determine exactly why we as dads have problems with having an empty nest. I am quite sure I don’t know any more than anybody else but I am in a good place now so here is what I’ve learned.

You know there is an actual thing called empty nest syndrome, yes it is an actual sickness or at least it can be. What it is are the feelings of sadness, loss, role adjustment, fear and changing relationships that happen when a mother and father send their last child out on their own. Every parent has it in some shape or form and like anything else, it can beat you if you let it. Typically, moms have it worse since most moms spend more time with their children than dads do.

I have personally noticed, though, that dads today also have very close relationships with their children. Where we live, here in the Delta, dads take great pride in being a bigger part of their kids' lives as they grow up. To me, that speaks volumes to our values that we have as parents. I know in my case, I have always tried to be a dad that listened and was involved in everything I could be involved in with my three.  That being said, God has always blessed me with a career that allowed me the flexibility to coach, and be at all the functions and not miss out on what was going on in the lives of my kids. I personally think that today's generation must be more focused than any other in recent times on father-child relationships. Our world is running from God and it is our job as parents to try to instill in our children the love of Christ and get them off on the correct path of life. When they leave, it helps when you know you have done your job as well as you can.

So seeing your child leave is tough. You wonder if you did well enough in preparing them or if they are going to make it on their own or what if something bad happens, can they handle it? Yes they can, and we are still there as parents no matter what.

What I have seen and personally dealt as being the biggest challenge of being an empty-nester dad and husband is not necessarily the separation from your children but the realization that you must now alter somewhat your marriage relationship when only you and your wife remain. Kim and I have had a lot of fun doing this and are perhaps enjoying things about our relationship that we never have before. It has been 26 years today since we said I do and I would not change a thing. God blessed me for sure. Being a sports fan, I like to say that I out punted my coverage as I truly don’t deserve what I have. 

Tips for Fathers Surviving the Empty Nest Experience

Recognize that change is a reality. It is going to happen and you can’t stop it. The worst thing we can do is try to avoid the idea that change does not happen. Doing this causes more and, most of the time, much larger problems. We need to remember that moving into the empty-nest stage of life is a major change, but it is one that has both positives and negatives. Accepting the reality of this new transition and knowing some of the changes to expect is helpful. Be prepared for this change by getting ready early. Talk to each other, pray about it and hit it head on. Don’t let this change take you down.

Be sensitive to your wife’s needs during this time.  Yes, I said be sensitive. Moms can have a pretty emotional reaction to their own empty nest experience. As the father and husband we must be aware of the changes she is experiencing and help her make it through this transition. Together we are better. Staying positive and offering an ear to listen is what is needed. Remember men, we are by nature fixers, but this is one we can’t fix. We need to listen to what is needed from us and act when the time is right. Love your wife and love the time you have with her.

Start doing more stuff, together. Kim and I, well, we are champions at this so far. We really enjoy traveling and that is what we have done. As most of you can tell since we are absent a lot, we have taken advantage of the freedom to go and do. I tell people all the time that we are dating again but with more money. Don’t sit back and feel sorry for yourself and wonder what to do. Get out there and enjoy each other and have fun doing it.  Sit down together and make a list of things you have dreamed about doing and start doing them. Also remember that together can mean everybody, kids, grandkids etc. Your kid getting married does not mean that you lose a kid, you just gain some more. Right now we are McNeer party of 7 and loving the time we have with them. We are eagerly looking forward to grandkids but we know that is some time off or at least we think it is.

Focus on your relationships. Focus on strengthening your marriage with your wife and with Christ. Spend time daily in prayer. It is so important that we pray daily for each other as a couple and as a family. We need to continue to see through the word the strength and knowledge to remain strong and still be that family leader. Continue to build your relationship with Christ, after all he is the reason you have enjoyed raising your kids and he is the one that will continue to bless you.

Stay connected to the kids. You also can't just decrease the time you spend on your relationship with your son or daughter; you have to continue to work on that relationship no matter the distance. Even though the kids are gone they are still your kids no matter how old they get or how far away they are. Remember to talk to them and remind them that you love them. You never stop being a dad, the roles just change. As I said earlier, stay in touch with your kids. We have all sorts of ways to do this and we must take advantage of them. We have email, Facebook, text, facetime, phone calls, etc. that we can use when they are not close. Exchange photos or videos back and forth. We do this all the time and it gets pretty funny. Send care packages to the college kids; they will appreciate the extra touch.

Take better care of yourself.  This one I think really hit home for me. If you are like me, you have put a lot of things on hold for yourself as you have cared for your family as the dad and husband. I have personally felt this and am now trying to work on making myself a better healthier person so I am able to enjoy life. With some additional time now, it's smart to create a little more time for yourself. Get your exercise regimen back; maybe play a little more golf or travel a little more. It's a great time for refreshing, and you deserve it.

Empty nesting can be a challenging time for a father, but being prepared and having a game plan for making it through this natural transition can ease the pain and help you find new opportunities for growth and service.

Have Fun and Go Get Em

5 Verses that help me remember that God is still in control:

  • And with all his abundant wealth through Christ Jesus, my God will supply all your needs. — Philippians 4:19  
  • You have done many things for us, O Lord our God; there is no one like you!
    You have made many wonderful plans for us. I could never speak of them all—
    their number is so great! — Psalm 40:5
  • I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray.
    I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you. — Isaiah 46:4
  •  We know that in all things God works for the good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28
  •  Your rule is eternal, and you are king forever. The Lord is faithful to his promises;
    he is merciful in all his acts. —Psalm 145:13

4 Comments

Jim, we are always saying what a good time you and your wife have together! Thank you for modeling what you encouraged! Thankful for your family!

Jim I feel your pain. Your kids will always be your kids and nothing can change that. I have to look at "empty nesting" in a totally different way. Just be thankful that they are just "away" and not gone forever. Losing my son to ALS was the hardest thing I have ever faced. He took a piece of my heart to Heaven with him and only my unfailing faith in God has been my refuge. Now I focus all my love on my other precious son, my amazing grandchildren and now my adorable great grands!! It just keeps getting better and better with each generation. You and Kim will soon adjust and will look forward to 'play dates' with your grandchildren!!

Jim, Geogeanne and I have been in this stage of life for several years also and it is a time that is filled with adjustments. Thanks for you comments.

The empty nest is far from the Kelly picture right now, but I really enjoyed reading your post!! I look forward to "dating" Reid again!!

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