by Judy Allen
The act of leaving the nest is a bit traumatic for everyone involved.
I had the opportunity to observe the process in microcosm one summer when a Robin family built a nest between a light and a down spout on our back yard deck. Baby birds emerged from pretty blue eggs, and we grew attached to our little bird family.
One day the sounds from the nest changed. The nest bound birds requested their feeding as usual, but Mama Robin did not cooperate. Instead, she squawked at them from the crab apple tree on the other side of the deck.
Mama Robin’s perch on the other side of the deck
This went on for a while, and Mama Robin did not budge.
Eventually, one little fledgling flopped out of the nest, with a frightening thud, onto the deck below. The poor stunned little guy did not take flight, in spite of much flapping and flailing. Instead, he rather frantically hopped into the yard.
Shortly thereafter a second nest dweller jumped to independence. Thud. More flopping, flapping and flailing ensued.
Imagine a hawk in the far tree
About that time I noticed a hawk in the corkscrew willow tree in the corner of our back yard. Now, being quite invested in these two freshly launched birdlings, I was horrified at the thought of a predator in the vicinity. We sent our black standard poodle, Samson, out to encourage the hawk to reconsider his lunch menu. Mission accomplished. Whew!
Meanwhile, Mama Robin was lecturing the remaining chick from her perch in the corner tree. The little guy didn’t seem too eager to leave the nest. Maybe he had noticed the hawk too. I watched for a while longer, but finally had to leave the drama. I trust the final robin safely left his nest.
Our daughter’s high school graduation party
I remember all of this in detail because shortly thereafter we installed our daughter, the first of our three to leave the nest, in her freshman college dorm room. She was ready to jump, and I knew it was time, but it was still traumatic.
Anxious thoughts of hawk-like predators who would eat sensitive daughters like mine for lunch unnerved me. Needless to say, I prayed. A lot. To the best of my knowledge, perhaps with a little flopping and flailing, she has launched herself into independence safely and beautifully. She is now mama of her own nest.
On Friday our son, the second to jump from the nest, moved into an apartment. In a few weeks, our youngest will move back to college. Our nest will be empty for the first time (until next summer.)
There comes a day when it is time for children to leave the nest. I understand and applaud their instinct for independence, and mama drama notwithstanding I’ll encourage and pray for them from my nearby perch.
I can no longer physically watch over my children, but I know the One who does. Even so, it is still an unsettling process, and I miss my (not so) little chicks.
I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber… (Psalm 121:1-3)
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Editors’ note – The post above was written in 2012. It originally ran here. We asked Judy to give us an update, and she shared the following with us:
Today there is a bird’s nest in the same spot, and this summer’s second batch of baby birds is getting ready to flap in freedom. I wrote this article five years ago about events that took place nine years before that, and I’m amazed that there are still baby birds launching from our deck. There will always be children leaving the nest.
One of the most emotionally exhausting days of my life was the day we installed my daughter in her dorm room for her freshman year in college. I couldn’t even look in her bedroom for a week or two without crying. I adjusted. It got easier.
Now, our family of five has grown to eleven, as each of our three children is married and our daughter has three young boys. My outer life is not nearly as busy as it once was, but my inner life is highly engaged as there are now nine family members for whom I pray and who I love and enjoy very much.
Our physical nest is empty, that’s true, but our hearts are full. The agonizing, but normal and healthy, experience of watching our nest empty now seems more like a gradual shifting of our energy from exterior busyness to interior prayerfulness. Our nest is full one day a week, when I am busy taking care of my grandsons and preparing dinner for the family, and that is just enough to remind me that our empty nest has opened the door to our children’s active homes.
The empty nest has its advantages!
Judy Allen is an Area Director with Community Bible Study, and she also writes and speaks with the goal of making the transformative truth of Jesus Christ more impactful in our daily lives. She blogs at connectingdotstogod.com and lives in the Chicago area with her husband and best friend, Dan.
Cover photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash