We often hear parents say, “Finally the kids are out of the house!” And I can only imagine that those words come with joy at some point in the life of a parent. Yet, of course, parents grieve when their children head out into the world. Some of that grief is healthy because the heart of a parent holds concern for their child, no matter where they go. Plus, it’s only natural to feel sorrow when the person you’ve watched grow for the past eighteen or more years will no longer be at the breakfast table. When you won’t be there to see that person come home safe every night, it’s normal to have anxiety. And that anxiety can come with guilt. Most of us have moments where we wonder if we could have done something better to impact or advise someone else. If you’re a parent, you probably know that feeling at a deep and familiar level. You most likely think that those regrets just come with the territory, but you don’t have to hold on to them to be a selfless parent. In fact, all of our relationships improve when we let go of “what ifs” and trust in the new beginning we have every day. Here are a few tips from the Bible that can help you have peace with an “empty nest.”
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” The thing is, that doesn’t mean that God promises that children will turn out perfect if they are raised perfectly. It doesn’t mean you failed as a parent if you didn’t always know the “right” way to lead. None of us are perfect, whether we are parents or not. God does not harbor the things we’ve done wrong or the times when we didn’t follow Him. He tells us that we always have a chance to seek forgiveness and start with a clean slate. So if you’re struggling with regret, start with acceptance of the forgiveness you already have. Chances are, if there’s something you really regret as a parent, you’ve probably owned up to it and expressed your remorse. Now it’s time to give it to God. And the same goes for all the little unknowns that come with, “What could I have done better?” The best that any of us can do is commit to following Jesus and show the people in our lives that we love them.
“Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” - Isaiah 64:8
We get this idea in our heads that our pasts define us. Because of that, parents often think that if there’s something they “missed,” then their kids will always have something missing as they create their own lives. How we grow up does shape us for our futures, but it does not decide our identity. We are created with purpose and God holds a plan for us long before we are born. We are in a broken world, where we all affect each other, but in Jesus we are whole. God does not expect you to give your children everything they need, because what we all need the most can only come from Jesus. What parents can do is lead their children closer to Him through example and guidance. Maybe you didn’t accept Jesus until recently and that is one of your regrets, or maybe there were times when you didn’t “practice what you preach.” Well, with Jesus, each day is a new beginning, and you can still share His grace with your adult children. When the people you care about see God’s love reflected in your actions, that can create genuine change.
“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” - Isaiah 41:13
Empty nest guilt isn’t always about the past. If your kids have left home and you’re worried that you aren’t connecting with them enough, that lack of control can consume you. At some point, you have to turn from caretaker to simply role model. Your children may not be under your wing anymore, but they’re always in God’s sight. You are also in His sight and He wants you to flourish and thrive. When we trust in God, we can find peace in the new beginning He gives us every day. You can’t always know what your kids will do tomorrow, but you can know that Jesus will offer them grace and love no matter what. You can show your children how to live life to the fullest when you embrace that freedom for yourself: the freedom of trust in the Father who holds us all.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.