by Beth J. Drechsel
One weekend we dropped our younger son off 400 miles from our house at his new job. My husband and I spent the drive home discussing what was ahead of us. We knew what had been written about empty-nest syndrome; the loneliness and loss, maybe even depression, experienced by parents after children grow up and leave home. We talked about the initial grief and relief we were feeling as our last child left the nest, but also the anticipation of having more time to pursue old hobbies and new interests, the excitement of having a bit more expendable income available, and all the different plans we had for the kids’ empty bedroom.
Less than a month later the financial crisis hit and my husband was laid off. Unfortunately the printing industry he had worked in was dying because of digital technology, and there were simply too many pressmen looking for work at fewer print shops. Though he was highly skilled, and applied for job after job, no offer came. In a matter of a few months, not only were our kids launched but we were launched, too, straight into the Great Recession.
At first the economic downturn seemed easier than past ones because we were no longer being eaten out of house and home by our children. But then the weeks went by, and without a job our money did, too. Our worries grew. We watched family, friends, and neighbors lose their vehicles, their businesses, and their homes. We lost our health insurance. We had a mortgage to pay, car repairs, groceries. Our savings were spent. Our wallets emptied.
Countless times a day we walked by our boys’ vacant bedroom. It remained as they had left it because we didn’t have the money or energy to make any changes. We missed their laughter, the lively family discussions, the teasing and rough-housing, the hugs. On the other hand, worrying about our bare pockets a lot of the concerns we’d had over adjusting to an empty nest simply didn’t materialize.
Part of it was that being away from us our kids learned they still needed us. When the older son, who lived only 15 miles away, dropped by for dinner we sympathized with his frustrations of balancing a full-time job with college classes and study time, plus coming home to his own apartment to face dirty laundry and no food in the fridge. When the younger son called to tell us about a nasty co-worker who got a kick out of picking on him, we offered advice and prayed with him over the phone.
And part of it was that as parents we discovered how much we needed our sons. Not as children, but as adult peers. As our unemployment turned into months we didn’t have the emotional energy to grieve the passing of their childhood or worry over-much about them being on their own. It took most of our strength to hold discouragement at bay, trusting in God’s provision one day at a time, as well as for the future. We shared with our sons how God was providing for us; like when an older lady gave us just six potatoes but it was exactly what we needed, and when the neighbor down the street bought us a gas card, and when two months in a row we went to the mailbox to find a cashier’s check for $600.00 from Anonymous. We also told them of our struggles; how we worried we would lose the house, and how we didn’t know what to do because we couldn’t pay the high-cost of my life-saving daily prescription medicine.
Our sons listened. They began to see us, their parents, differently; our vulnerability, our need for God’s help and provision, our dependence on the support of others. They empathized with us and they realized that we needed them. They were able to fill some of our emptiness by offering comfort and encouragement, by taking us out for the occasional meal, by wisely advising us regarding our employment options, even by slipping us an occasional twenty bucks.
Throughout that difficult time of unemployment we experienced God’s faithful provision through the generosity of many people, and we wouldn’t have made it without them. We were especially grateful for our sons who humbly accepted the realities of adulthood sooner and more fully than they would have if we’d had full pockets. Not only the freedoms and accomplishments of adulthood, but also its challenges, responsibilities and obligations.
Before the year was out the boys’ bedroom was no longer vacant. This time it was stuffed to the ceiling with filled and sealed cardboard boxes waiting for a U-Haul. My husband had found a job in a neighboring state, in a different industry. Our sons had been with us the whole way and as a result we had experienced only a mild case of empty-nest syndrome. As we packed up the house we had raised them in, we let go of their childhood and embraced their grown up love.
Beth Drechsel is a homemaker and gardener living in Flora Vista, New Mexico. She is happily married to her husband, Paul, and they have two adult sons. She finds joy in her simple life and in her relationships.
Cover photo by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash