Dealing with the empty nest
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
When my daughter first left for college, I began to quilt with a group of women, most of whom were considered empty nesters. We enjoyed the comradery as we met each Wednesday to sew on our various projects. It seemed we were all working on projects for our children. It was true, we no longer had to feed them, we no longer had to sit up waiting for them to come home, but, by golly, we were going to stitch them something. It gave us a chance to tell stories about things our children did while they were growing up and to cherish the adults they had become.
Sometimes our children would need to return home to regroup, rethink life's plan, and we quilters talked about how that was going, too. It was tempting to view our homes as safe and predictable, and the outside world as a scary unknown.
During holiday seasons, I slept better just knowing my daughter was under our roof again. I'd stock the fridge with goodies, and my husband and I would yield the comfortable couch for her television watching. I was a mom again, and it felt so nice.
But when my daughter was out of college and living on another coast, I really had to examine my role as mother. Did providing money to support her or sheltering her in my house really define being a mother? When she needed a car or a new apartment, she was too far away for me to use my worldly wisdom and guide her past the perils of the promises often made by used-car salespeople or search for housing and used furniture when she needed it.
I seemed to go from being the "have another piece of pie" mom to a worried, anxious mom, anticipating each phone call with a subtle dread of bad news. I suspected that the expression "No news is good news" was probably originated by an empty nester. Our kids only called when the news was bad. When things were good, they were too busy being happy to call us.
The Bible held a lesson for me during this time. One verse I found helpful compares God's care to the way a mother eagle cares for her nestlings. It says, "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him..." (Deut. 32:11,12).
There's a legend that says an eagle gradually removes the feathering of its nest until the nest is only sharp twigs and is so uncomfortable that the eaglets will then try to fly. But just in case it takes them more than one attempt to learn the ropes of eagle flying, the mother eagle is able to catch the young bird on its wings and place it back in the nest. The mother doesn't refeather the nest. She just allows the bird opportunities to continue to strengthen its skill and experience until it is finally able to go on its own. Whether or not this actually happens, I see this as a sort of "tough love" lesson for eagles, but with a backup plan.
I had to pray, and still have to pray, not to get in God's way when it comes to parenting His idea (and we are all His idea, all beloved children). To allow our children to turn to Him for comfort and daily needs, to trust that God will provide the wings to assist anyone who is learning something new, plays an important part in letting go of personal responsibility about our job as mom.
I needed to let my daughter try her wings buy her car, find her apartment and furnishings. If her only criteria for buying the car were that it be small and baby blue, who was I to interfere with her reasoning? Wasn't God going to guide her? Was I the only person who could effectively do this mothering job?
I still long to do for her the little things moms do. But just as my daughter has found mothering on larger scales, I, too, have found opportunities to express my nurturing qualities to others. My quilts are just symbols of love. Their stitches don't bind people, but our turning to one Father, one Mother, to define our occupation keeps us from struggling when facing an empty nest.
Mother. God; divine and eternal Principle; Life, Truth, and Love.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)