About the Guest
The kids are grown and gone. Now what? Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates talk about the changing relationships a woman is likely to experience once she arrives at the empty nest. Barbara and Susan give some helpful suggestions for embracing this stage of life and intentionally improving the relationship she has with her husband, children, and friends.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Susan YatesSusan Yates has written 15 books and speaks both nationally and internationally on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and faith issues. Her books include And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children; And Then I Had Teenagers: Encouragement for Parents of Teens and Preteens; Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with friend Barbara Rainey) and Raising Kids with Character That Lasts (With her husband John). Her two new books are...more
Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates give some helpful suggestions for embracing the empty nest stage of life.
Bob: If you work for Hallmark, keep listening. Susan Yates may have a suggestion for you here on a whole new line of party invitations.
Susan: I would like to know, with a show of hands, how many of you have ever been to a party to celebrate the beginning of the empty nest? [Laughter] One, two—
Susan: —four—oh, yay! [Laughter] Good for you all! You may be on the cutting age of a new movement in America. [Laughter] We hope so because we feel like this is a season, not to be dreaded, but to be celebrated—and oh, how we need to celebrate in the seriousness of life today.
[Segment of I Just Want to Celebrate]
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. I don’t know who’s version of Celebrate that was—was that Rare Earth?—I think it was; yes. Celebrating the empty nest may sound like a paradox / a contradiction in terms, but it’s actually not. You can do it! We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. You said it was a while before it dawned on you that the empty nest had finally arrived.
Bob: But I mean, you knew—
Dennis: I really had all these grand plans of how I thought we would—
Barbara: Yes; he did. [Laughter]
Dennis: —disengage from being parents. We would flip a switch—in true male-style—
Barbara: He did.
Dennis: —and we’d just be driving off into the sunset in a convertible, laughing and having fun.
Bob: And the switch didn’t flip? Is that what you are saying? [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, my goodness! [Laughter] The switch may have ground its way to the other side—it took a couple of years, Bob.
Bob: Barbara, let me ask you—and by the way, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: If you could have flipped the switch, do you think Dennis could have flipped the switch?
Barbara: Oh, yes.
Bob: So he was ready. He didn’t have the emotional processing moving into the empty nest that you did?
Barbara: Well, he had more than I expected. I was kind of surprised because every once in a while he would walk through the house or walk around the backyard and go, “Gosh, I really miss those years with the kids.” It would surprise me because I didn’t really expect him to feel those things that I was feeling. I knew I would, but I didn’t expect him to do so.
Dennis: I’d come home from work and the car would be surrounded, like it was being invaded by a group of—
Barbara: Yes, all those years our kids were home.
Dennis: Yes—bandits. All of a sudden, you pull up in front of the house and—
Barbara: Sometimes, nobody is there because I wasn’t always there. [Laughter]
Dennis: —there is nothing happening!
Barbara: I didn’t have to be home—it was great!
Bob: I remember you talking—you’d come into the office. The way you described it—you said, “There’s no tension against the muscle,”—this muscle you’ve been working out with for 20-plus years.
Dennis: Oh, yes. It’s called the Daddy Muscle. I mean, you’ve had to be a daddy—now, I’m still a dad / I have adult children—you know, you go home, you leave work, you pull up in front of the house, and you get ready for your second job—being a husband and being a father. Well, all of a sudden, the father-thing is out of there—I mean no tension against the muscle.
Bob: You [Barbara] spent the first part of the empty nest years together with your friend, Susan Yates, who is a pastor’s wife—lives in the Washington, DC, area.
The two of you collaborated on a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. Then, you’ve had the opportunity, in a number of settings, to speak to women on this subject. You were at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, a while back, and spoke to a group of women.
You outlined the key questions that women ask themselves during the empty nest years. Already, this week, we have heard you address two of those. Refresh us on what those were.
Barbara: The first two questions are: “Am I the only one who feels this way?” The empty nest can be a very lonely time for women, and you are feeling things you didn’t expect to feel— and, maybe, some of them that you did. There is a real isolation factor in the empty nest. So I think most women are asking the question, “Am I the only one who feels this way?”
Dennis: It is back to what Susan said at the beginning of the broadcast—there aren’t celebration parties, announcing to the world: “I’m now transitioning into this new calling and season of life.”
Barbara: Exactly. The second question is: “What is happening to my relationships?” because you kind of look at each other—the kids are not there—and you think: “Okay; who are you and who am I? What is our relationship like?” You realize that you need to, perhaps, do some renegotiating and recalibrating in your relationship.
Then, your kids want to be treated differently because they see themselves as adults and independent. You’ve got to figure out how to relate to adult kids, and you’ve never done that before. There is a lot going on that affects the important relationships in your life. So, the second question women ask is: “What is happening to my relationships?”
Bob: Well, we are going to pick up with Part Two of your message with Susan Yates as she introduces the third question women ask during the empty nest years.
Susan: “Who have I become?” As we all know, the empty nest is a major transition; and transitions are just plain awkward. The reality is—that we, whatever season of life we are in, expect stability to be the norm—but in fact, transition is more the norm in daily life. Just look back at the transitions we have already experienced—leaving home, marriage, the first baby, a new job, a new boss and an old job, financial loss, moves, illnesses, a crisis with a child, a national or international crisis.
With each one of these transitions, we keep waiting for life to calm down; but the reality is—life never calms down / it just gets more complicated. We long for a period of predictability and stability. We think that that’s the way life should be—predictable, and stable, and calm—it even seems to be so for some of our friends.
My sister is very wise. Often, when we look at other women—as you perhaps have done in this room this morning—you see another woman, and she looks so perfectly put together. You sit there and imagine her life is all together—her marriage is great, her kids are great, and she is in stability and calm.
And my sister says: “There is always data missing. [Laughter] You don’t know.” It’s helpful to remember that.
Barbara: That’s right.
Susan: We are all much more alike than we give the perception of being. The empty nest is messy. Sometimes, in order to figure out whom we are and what we are to do in the season, we need to take a break. It’s really important to take a break. In all honesty, Barbara was much better at taking a break than I was. I want her to tell you about that.
Barbara: Well, part of the reason I took a break was because I was sort of forced to because I began the empty nest in a very emotionally-depleted state. I knew I couldn’t jump into the next thing / I didn’t have the energy to jump into the next thing, but Susan did. I realized I needed some time off. So, what I did is—I just sort of pulled back from things. I said, “No,” to a lot of things / I didn’t join things.
I stepped back my involvement to give myself some time to recover, frankly.
But as I did that, in that season—I did that during my youngest daughter’s freshman year in college—as I did that, I discovered I needed that break, as an empty nester, as much for my entrance into the empty nest as well as I did to recover from the trials and struggles that we had been through with our daughter. I discovered that I needed time to re-evaluate my life. I needed time to look objectively at who I had become over the last 28 years. I was a different person in many ways than the one I was when I got married. I needed time to think. I just needed time for a pause in the pace of my life.
I think other women do too / I think all of us need a break. All of us need a pause after the intense years of parenting that are so 24/7, year after year after year.
Susan and I want to give you permission—especially those of you / all of you who raised your hand who aren’t quite there yet—we want to give you permission to take a break that first year after your youngest leaves.
Don’t feel like you have to jump into the next activity. Don’t feel like you have to sign up: “Now that I’m free, I can do 100 things that I have wanted to do.” You may want to do that, but it would be wise if you took a break. It could be as short as a weekend away, where you retreat by yourself and do some thinking and evaluating. You may want to take a couple of weeks off; you may want to take a couple of months off; or maybe, a whole semester and not do anything. Pull back, and evaluate your life, and think about: “What is it that I want to do with the rest of my life?”
As you do that, think about a couple / two things in particular. We have other things for you to think about in our book / but two in particular are: Look back over your life and say, “What am I thankful for?” and begin to make a list of the things that you are thankful for—the things that God has done—all of the good things.
It is so easy to focus on the bad things and the losses. “What are those good things that I can be thankful for?”
Then, secondly, you might want to evaluate: “What are the issues, what are the relationships, what are the needs that I have avoided because I have been so busy? What are the gaps in my marriage? What are the gaps in my other relationships? What are things in my life that I have sort of swept aside because I have been so busy raising kids that I dare not ignore anymore / that now that I have the time I can focus on these issues in my life?”
It would, also, be a good time to spend time with your husband, just thinking ahead: “What do we want to do for the rest of our lives? What do we want the rest of our lives to look like?” As Dennis and I have talked about this, we have made some promises to each other. A couple of them are—one is we have promised each other we are not going to become gripey, cynical, old people. [Laughter] We are already seeing how easy that would be to become that way because things are starting to fall apart.
We don’t like the way we feel some days—you know, we’re creaky—and it would be real easy to gripe about that. We have committed to one another that we are not going to do that.
Secondly, we have promised that we are going to do everything we can to stay healthy, to stay strong mentally, and to stay on the cutting edge. Then, the third thing that we have decided together, as a couple, is that we intend to use our lives for God’s purposes for as long as He gives us breath. We want to be engaged in Kingdom activities. None of us knows how long we have left. We may only have a couple of years / we may have ten years; but I want my life, and Dennis wants his life—and I know that John and Susan feel the same way—we want our lives to be maximized for the Kingdom of God for the years that we have left.
Susan: Another thing that we’ve realized is that an important element in transitioning from our past purpose of parenting to our next purpose in life is simply the importance of taking some time to celebrate.
You know, we, women, are really good at celebrating the milestones of life—the big ones / the little ones. We have baby showers. We have our first child’s lost tooth, or our grandchild loses a tooth—you know, it’s a big deal. The first day of school, the last day of school, graduation, wedding showers—but I would like to know, with a show of hands, how many of you have ever been to a party to celebrate the beginning of the empty nest. [Laughter] One, two—
Susan: —four—oh, yay! Good for you all! You may be on the cutting edge of a new movement in America. [Laughter] We hope so because we feel like this is a season, not to be dreaded,—
Susan: —but to be celebrated. Oh, how we need to celebrate in the seriousness of life today.
When Barbara and I were working on this project, we asked three gals—who are friends of ours, who we call “The Party Girls,” who live in Pennsylvania—if they would design three different parties that you could throw to celebrate the empty nest.
We have that in Chapter 10 in our book—complete with invitations. [Laughter] Yes.
So far, we’ve looked at three questions: “Does anyone feel this way?” “What is happening to my relationships?” and “Who have I become?” But we have a final question.
Barbara: The fourth question is: “What is my new purpose?” One of the benefits of the empty nest is the nature of its transition. It is a turning point in all of our lives as women. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable; but nonetheless, it can be a season that can be full of benefits and full of opportunities because we can pull back / we can say, “Why am I here?”
In our generation, we are healthier, we have greater resources, and we will probably live longer than previous generations of women. It is a wonderful opportunity for us, in this season of life, to look forward to the empty nest.
Susan: One of the things that Barbara and I have discovered, as we have talked to other women, is how many women—now, in the season of the empty nest—are asking spiritual questions. There have many times of recommitment for both Barbara and me over the years—we’ve had many questions along the way / many doubts. There have been uncomfortable times; there have been hard times; but spiritual growth is much like physical growth—there are growth spurts and there are really awkward hard times—but the fact is that we are still growing.
Barbara: So, no matter where you are in your own spiritual journey, we really feel like this season is a great time to re-evaluate your life and to re-evaluate your spiritual relationship with God at the same time.
There is a verse in Ephesians—Chapter 2, verse 10—that says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works….” As long as we are on this earth, God has a plan for us; and He wants to be working in our lives.
You can apply that to your life and say, “God has a plan for me.” Each and every one of you—God has a specific plan for you for how He wants to use you for the rest of your life. As you transition into the empty nest or as you are adjusting in your early years of the empty nest, take some time to think, “What am I good at?” Evaluate your life and evaluate where you can plug in to make the biggest difference for eternity.
Susan: Let me give you a little snapshot of three friends that we have who started something quite by accident. They live in a small town in Pennsylvania, and they walk every morning. They did the big walk up the hill. Then, their reward for their exercise—they are all empty nesters—is to meet at Starbucks. One morning, they were at Starbucks, which is sort of the center of town. They were sitting at a table / they had their lattes, and they noticed a young mom in tears standing in line to get her coffee.
And my friend Sue said to her—she didn’t really know her—but she said: “Hey, come sit with us. You look like you need a hug.” This young mother went over and sat with my three empty-nest friends. She began to pour out her heart about a situation she had with one of her children—it was a pre-teenager, and she was in the throes of desperation.
Now, my three wise empty-nest friends had been through so much of what she was going through. They could identify with her feelings. They, themselves, had been through different issues; and they were able to listen to her, to comfort her, and yet, also, to give her some very practical advice simply because they had experience and wisdom.
As my friends sat there and visited, after a little while, the young mom got up. As she left, she turned to them and said: “Oh, thank you so much! This has so encouraged me.” My friend Sue said: “Well, it’s just free advice!
“You can take it or leave it.” In that moment was born the Take It or Leave It Club. [Laughter] Sue, Sally, and Jackie began to set up a regular table at Starbucks after their morning walks. [Laughter] Word spread through this community that this was the table where hassled young moms could go and sit and be comforted by older moms.
God wants us to be what I call F.A.T. Women—faithful, available, and teachable. [Laughter] It’s a great acronym; isn’t it?
Barbara: Yes. Because we know you women have these nurturing skills and mothering skills, we want to challenge you to this Take It or Leave It Club idea to encourage young moms; but we want to give you another challenge as a way that you might want to care for children or be involved in providing relief for children.
Almost every county in this country has a foster care system, and almost every one of those foster care systems is broken—they are all in need of great help. They are always stretched thin, they don’t have enough resources, and they don’t have enough people to help.
Well, some of you love babies / some of you love children. You could provide a home. Maybe, God wants to use you to recruit other families who can do this or get involved in just helping the system work better. We, as Christians, need to be involved in helping the helpless and helping these children who don’t have families.
We, in our generation, need to unite in living second-season lives of great purpose. We don’t want to settle for mediocrity. Time is too short. Why do that? God has great purposes for our lives. We want to challenge you to discover those and not settle for mediocrity but live for the Kingdom of God.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening, again, today to Part Two of a message from Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates on living life in the empty nest—getting ready for it and, then, being there. You and Susan and her husband John and your husband Dennis just spent some time together—the four of you got away and did a little vacationing together?
Barbara: We did / we had a great time.
Bob: Did you talk about your empty nest adjustments at all?
Barbara: I don’t think we talked about our adjustments because I think all four of us are far enough past that, but we did talk about our lives, and what we are looking forward to in the future,,, and the plans that we all want to do. We had great conversations about the future and where we want to head.
Bob: Those kinds of relationships, especially in the empty nest years, are vital; aren’t they?
Barbara: Yes; I think they are really important because I think the danger in the empty-nest years is to become isolated because our relationships revolved around our kids, and those families, and those parents.
I think it’s important, in the empty nest, that we become intentional in developing couple friendships, and woman-to-woman friendships, and man-to-man friendships that are not tied to our children. We need that for the long-haul.
Dennis: Usually, it is our friends who mirror back to us answers to questions we are asking as we transition into this season of life. In the back of one of the chapters—I think it’s Chapter Nine—on “Take a Break and Evaluate Your Life”—Barbara and Susan have a number of questions in here. I do think these questions are best answered by your spouse and some of the friends who know you the best. It really can be a satisfying time.
I know there are some of the moms who are listening to us right now—or maybe a dad or two—in the early stages of your family—you are listening to us; and you are saying, “You know, this is going to be a long way off.” Well, you know what? It happens in a blink; and you need to prepare, get ready, and you need to do it right.
Bob: Well, and to have these questions that you have put here at the end of each chapter of your book gives a reader an opportunity to really ponder through some of the same things you have pondered through, as a mom who was new to the empty-nest season of life and weren’t sure exactly which direction to go—to be able to think through these questions and be prepared for it—or if you are in the middle of it, to be able to find some help and counsel to navigate your way through it. I think it will be extremely helpful for many of our listeners.
Again, we have the book, Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest,in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy of the book. Order it from us online; again, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, do you know Brian and Candyce DeKruyff? The DeKruyffs live in Prattville, Alabama. They listen to WLBF—that’s where they hear FamilyLife Today. They’ve been to the Weekend to Remember® a couple of times. They help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Today, August 2, they are celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. It was 20 years ago—in fact, it was right when they were getting married and the year after they got married—that’s when they went to the Weekend to Remember. I am here to suggest to the DeKruyffs: “It’s time for your 20-year tune-up. You need to get back to a Weekend to Remember and get your tune-up done; okay? ‘Happy anniversary!’ as you guys celebrate today.”
We think anniversaries are important to celebrate. They are a big deal, and we’ve been helping couples celebrate anniversaries for decades. In fact, last week, we celebrated our 40th anniversary as a ministry.
We’re spending this year focusing on how important anniversaries are. And I just want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who have partnered with us to make the ministry of FamilyLife possible over the last four decades.
If you are able to help with a gift today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” if your gift is over $100, by sending you a set of three study guides created for The Art of Marriage® Connect Series. These are three separate study guides designed to help you, as a couple, or to help you and your small group go through significant themes related to keeping your marriage healthy and strong. It’s our gift to you when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation; or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation; or when you mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO
Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
And let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever support you are able to provide for this ministry.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about the years that precede the empty nest. It’s the years when you’ve got teenagers around the house, and those can be challenging years as well. We’ll talk about how important respect is in the home when you’re parenting teenagers. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. See you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
©Song: I Just Want to Celebrate
Artist: Rare Earth
Album: 20th Century Masters—The Millennium Collection (p) 2001 Universal Motown
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