Empty Nesting Is for the Birds

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources


This issue of Clearly Caring is arriving in the mail between Mothers Day and Fathers Day two really big family holidays. My writing assignment for this commentary came to me the morning after my “baby” announced she was moving out.

This move is not an act of rebellion or a reflection of teenage angst against domineering parents at least I dont think so. This is another step in her life to discover independence and responsibility. It is a familiar path traveled by generations before her, not to mention her four big sisters. Now it is her turn.

All should go well, right? After all, she is moving into an apartment just a few miles away. She is moving in with her sister, just two years older than her and who has been out on her own for just about that long.

As a sentimental father it warms my heart to see little girls who hated rooming together become close friends and plan to share an apartment. It is a harbinger of hope for parents around the world who wonder if their kids are ever going to get along.

I measure this emptying nest concept, however, in a somewhat selfish manner. With each child leaving the nest I was affected by how difficult it must have been for my parents as I, and then my three younger brothers, moved out. My family was always tight-knit, and we still try to get together for birthdays and big holidays. Even during occasional rifts that occur in any family, a Capistrano effect takes place bringing families back to familiar places for family celebrations and tragedies.

Now, as I experience the departure of the last bird from the nest, I question whether I did enough during my girls’ growing years. There are feelings of regret for not being around as often as I wished. Perhaps their math skills would have been better if I had spent more time with them on algebra. Or maybe if I had not tried to help them so much in science they would have done better in that as well.

The proverb goes like this: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I am struck by how dramatically different each child is from the other. I cannot, however, overlook the common denominators.

Over the years the girls learned my humor and sarcasm. They reflect both my cynical and optimistic sides. They also reflect the high value I put on Godly things and my weaknesses relating to the things of God.

As I look back over 26 years of parenting I see that the most impacting lessons on the children are the ones modeled consistently in actions and in spirit. I learned that while children accept the steadfast facade we parents put on for their sake, they see past it. If we force ourselves to be nice to all people, but inwardly dislike some, they pick up on it. If we act tough and unbending but inside we are tender and soft, they learn the tenderness.

I learned these lessons as one who has built his nest next to his parents. I, too, longed for my independence. I am a self-starter; I am stubbornly determined and fiercely independent. Yet, the subtle values established and taught to me in my youth are now realized as I get older. I dont ever remember my parents telling me to be more concerned about others than myself. Yet, they modeled that principle in actions and in spirit, and I now think of it often.

I learned my father’s caution to hold off buying the first “deal” that comes along. I emulated my mothers courage in tackling new and challenging tasks. None of these traits were formally taught to me but as I got older I find myself imitating them. As I look back over my childhood I see now the subtle lessons that they taught.

So now my baby is moving out. I have a laundry list of values and lessons I hope she learned. I am even tempted to write them out for her, but I must trust that if they were genuine lessons and values for me, she likely learned them.

Do I hold out hope that she might come back? Well, the decision has already been made to turn her room into a guest room. Can she come back? I cannot stop being a parent. The door is always open to any of the children.

For now, though, I know life is going to be different: one less mouth to feed; one less schedule to track; one less lecture on keeping the room clean. But I am still the parent. I will still remember her with her sisters in my daily prayers. I will still wonder how they are doing and if they are really happy. Is God first in their lives? Are they more mindful of others than of themselves? All I can do now is watch and see.

For my children the home will still be a sort of “Capistrano.” I long to have all of them together now and then, hopefully for more happy occasions than sad ones. I hope to sit together with them in worship and praise for God, Who gave us ne other and Who sacrificed His own Son for our family.

“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).

Such is the Heavenly Fathers comfort for all of us. This divine providence makes us all part of the best family that lasts forever. It makes this nest our home.

When the swallows come back to Capistrano
Thats the day you promised to come back to me
When you whispered, “Farewell,” in Capistrano
Twas the day the swallow flew out to sea

All the mission bells will ring
The chapel choir will sing
The happiness you’ll bring
Will live in my memory
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
Thats the day I pray that you’ll come back to me

All the mission bells will ring
The chapel choir will sing
The happiness you’ll bring
Will live in my memory
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That’s the day I pray that you’ll come back to me.


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