Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Faithful, Available, and Teachable

Leslie Basham: Susan Yates says the best way to handle the empty nest years is to come right out and talk about it.

Susan Yates: When our kids leave home, it’s awkward. It’s awkward for them; it’s awkward for us. So just saying out loud with our kids some of the things that might occur tends to alleviate a lot of the tension and also to normalize it. Then it opens the way for deeper communication.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Monday, September 15. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’re talking with Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, who have written Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. Now, this isn’t a guide from two women who have arrived. It’s a guide from two women who are on a journey.

They’re taking other women along with them and saying, “Here are some of the things we’ve seen and experienced and heard from others, and here’s how God met with us and is meeting with us in this season.” The subtitle is: Discovering new purpose, passion, and your next great adventure.

These women really do see that the empty nest is not the end of the story; it’s the beginning of a new chapter God wants to write in your life and in the lives of your children as well.

Barbara and Susan will be with us at the True Women ’08 conference coming up here in not too many weeks, October 9-11 in the Chicago area. They’ll be doing a break-out session on the subject of the empty nest.

We’re wanting, through that conference, to minister to women in all different seasons of life. I hope you’re planning to be with us for that conference. Thousands of women will be coming together to say, “Lord, at whatever season of life You find me right now, how can I be a true woman who really makes a difference and reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

So come join Barbara and Susan and me and a number of other women—Joni Eareckson Tada, Janet Parshall, heard on many of these stations, Mary Kassian—Pastor John Piper will be starting out the conference on the opening Thursday evening with a word from a pastor’s heart to us as women. I hope you’ll be there to join us for that.

Barbara and Susan, you’ve talked to a lot of women, and I know that, for many, there is pain, there is disappointment, there is conflict; and having teenagers seems easy compared to what I am seeing with some women with their young adult children. What are some of the basic issues that can crop up that empty-nesters may have to deal with as it relates to adult children?

Barbara Rainey: Well, there are a lot of things. I think one of the basics is that we as the parents in the empty nest season need to realize that our role is changing.

I think it’s hard for us to know what that change is supposed to look like, so we don’t really know how to make the adjustments. We don’t really know what the end is supposed to look like, so we don’t even know how to get there. How do you make the changes to get there when you don’t know?

I think the bottom line is that we move from parenting like we’ve always done it to being an advisor, and maybe even a cheerleader at times, but we’re not coaching anymore. We’re not calling the plays anymore. We’re on the sidelines.

Dennis and I have decided that one of the ways we want to relate to our kids, to avoid some of these conflicts and hurt feelings—and it’s not that we’ve avoided them, either, because we have had some of those—but our philosophy or stance has been that we want them to ask us for advice. We’re not going to give it unless it’s asked for.

We decided that we’re only going to go visit a very limited number of times. We aren’t going to just show up all the time, because we don’t ever want to put our kids in the position of saying, “Mom and Dad, you call us way too much, and you visit way too much; you’re just bugging us. Would you please back off?”

What a hard thing would that be for a child to say to a parent! So I don’t want my children to ever feel like they have to tell us, “You’re around too much. You call too much. You talk to me too much.”

Once they got married, we consciously took at least one step back, and maybe several steps back, because we would rather they invite us into their lives than want to be pushing us out. That just creates tension. It’s hard for them; it would be hard for us, and we didn’t want any of us to be in that position.

Interestingly, we went to visit our son recently, and while we were there, he said to us (he’s been married now six years, and he has three little kids), “Mom and Dad, you just don’t come see us often enough.”

Nancy: And you’d much rather hear that.

Barbara: I would much rather hear that than say, “You come too much,” or “You call too much.”

Nancy: Or have them feel it and not say it.

Barbara: Because that would probably be the way it would be handled. They wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings, so they wouldn’t say it. And that’s where resentment begins, when you’ve got some kind of an issue that you’re feeling in your relationship, but you’re afraid to talk about it.

Susan: Nancy, I’ll jump in here too with a couple of things. My mom gave me a very wise piece of advice when I got married. She said, “Susan, when you get married and you go to your husband’s hometown, or your mother-in-law comes to visit you, always send your mother-in-law out on a date with your husband. If you initiate that, it’s special.”

So, I have three daughters, and I have told each of my daughters, “Give your husband time alone with his mom, because if it comes from you, it’s so much less awkward.” I’ll say, “Allison, send Will out on a date with his mom, and you be the one that initiates that.” That was a very wise piece of advice my mom gave me.

Barbara: That’s a great idea.

Susan: I’ll tell you a couple of other things that I have found. Barbara is so right, that our priorities change. When our children get married, the priority relationship is not our relationship with our child. The priority relationship is now their marriage, their relationship with their spouse.

As I got ready for my first son to get married (we have two sons), I knew this was going to be big, because no longer was I going to be Number One Woman in his life. There was another woman that was going to be number one, and I knew in my head that this would be a big adjustment.

We have a tradition in our family of having a big rehearsal party the night before the wedding. We have poems and toasts. It’s a wonderful celebration, so I decided I would write a poem to my future daughter-in-law that I would present at the rehearsal, just to honor her and to say in rhyme what I appreciated about her.

But then I also gave her a gift. It was just a gold necklace with a cross and the number one. I presented it to her the night before the wedding, and I said, “This necklace represents that Christ is first in your life and in your marriage, but that now you are number one in my son’s life, and I’m taking a step back because you’re his number one.”

The reality is, in all the excitement of the wedding, it didn’t really hit either of my daughters-in-law much right then; but I did that for me, because I sort of needed a passing of the baton.

Later, both of my daughters-in-law came to me and told me what that meant to them, but I think the reality of how that plays out is, you may, for example, be very close to a son or a daughter, and their inclination would be to call you for advice: “We need a new couch. What should we get?”

Our response as the parent needs to be, “Well, what does your spouse say?” We always need to be pointing them to one another. We can give advice, as Barbara said, but mainly when it’s asked. So I think that’s been very helpful.

A couple of other things have been helpful for us. You can’t always do this, but inasmuch as you can, I think it’s healthiest for your children, when they first marry, to live in a different town from both sets of parents.

Nancy: I see some heads nodding.

Susan: Yes, heads nodding.

Barbara: Yes, I agree too.

Nancy: There’s some experience here, apparently.

Susan: Barbara and I have a friend on the speaker team with FamilyLife, and he says that many of the problems in marriages result because one of three things don’t happen:

  • You don’t leave.
  • You don’t cleave.
  • You don’t effectively, in a healthy way, become one flesh.

We as in-laws have a lot to do with the leaving, and it’s primarily the emotional leaving. They need to be able to leave us emotionally in order to cleave in a healthy way to one another.

Geographically moving can really ease that transition because they’re away, and they’re thrust on one another, and they have to depend on one another. Now, I realize you can’t always do that, so I would say, have a little session, before your child that is going to live in the same town with you leaves.

Say, “We want to just give you some freedom right up front. This first year of marriage, we’re not going to call you—unless we haven’t heard from you for three weeks (or something normal)—because this is your time to become a unit and a family, and we don’t want to intrude. We don’t want you to think we’re neglecting you; this is for a season, but we want you to have the freedom to initiate the get-togethers with us.”

I think the more we can be honest up front, then when issues arise, there’s a greater freedom to discuss them. Again, keeping in mind and saying, “We’re going to mess up, because this is awkward.”

Anytime there’s a change in season, there’s an awkwardness. When our kids leave home, it’s awkward. It’s awkward for them; it’s awkward for us. So just saying out loud with our kids some of the things that might occur tends to alleviate a lot of the tension and also to normalize it, and then it opens the way for deeper communication.

Barbara: I think you should be saying to your kids, “I’ve never been the parent of a married child before. I want to do it right, but I want you to know we’re probably going to make mistakes. But our heart is really to do it right.” Just put it all out on the table, because our kids forget that we don’t know how.

They’ve looked to us for answers for so many things, and they don’t stop to think, “My parents have never been grandparents before. They don’t know how to do this.” They’re not going to stop and think that.

Or, “My parents have never had a daughter-in-law before. They don’t know how to do this.” I think if you can let your kids know that you don’t know what you’re doing either, but you want to do the best you can, and let them know why you’re thinking what you’re thinking—like Susan said, I think it helps them appreciate where you are in life, and it’s going to be easier for them to give you grace.

Susan: Another little thing I’ve done with my children is to ask each of them, “How can I love your spouse well? Give me some hints. What is your spouse’s love language?” We don’t often know, and we may try to love that in-law child in the way we want to be loved, but that’s not what communicates love to them.

One of my daughters-in-law, one of her love languages is gifts. That’s not especially one of mine, but I have learned that’s one of hers, so I try to think gifts. “What would she like?” Little things in that manner, and I take them to her.

I learned that from my son. I asked him, “How can I love her well?” Let me encourage you to do that, because they know their spouses better than we do, and that means a lot to them.

That’s the other thing I would say. Our sons and our daughters want us to love the people they have married.

Nancy: And their family.

Susan: That’s right, and their family; because when you marry, you marry a family. I think the more we can get tips from them—very practical tips on “How I can love her or him, and how can I love their family? Give me some hints”—it puts them in a position of leading us, which is a great place for them to be. And they have the answers better than we do.

Barbara: The other thing I would add to that is for us to remind ourselves that this young adult that our son or daughter married, we don’t have history with them, so we have to be creating history with them. We have to be building a relationship.

Relationships are not built quickly. We need to be patient with that process, knowing that it’s going to take many, many years to develop that history and that relationship with that new son- or daughter-in-law. It takes time. Be patient with them. I think we’re all way too impatient on relationships.

Susan: Yes, we are.

Barbara: But we’ve done that too. We’ve asked our kids, “How can we love your husband or your wife well?” We want to do it well. We want to get to know them and appreciate them for who they are. It helps to talk and ask.

Nancy: A lot of empty-nesters have young adult children who are not married. How do you navigate that relationship? How much input are you giving? How much counsel?

I know most of your children have married relatively young, but there are a lot of young adults who are not marrying, and there’s a lot of stress between young adults and their parents at this season. What’s a mom to do? What’s her role? How does she see herself in her child’s life?

If you approve of all of your child’s choices and friends and the way they’re handling their life, then that’s not going to be so much of an issue. But, especially, if you see your child making decisions that you in your infinite wisdom have questions about, or you say, “This is not headed in the right direction,” there can be serious things.

Barbara, you’ve dealt with a prodigal. You’ve been very open about that. What’s a mom’s role with that young adult, unmarried child?

Barbara: I think it’s very similar to the same role we have with our married adult children. I think we have to take a couple of steps back and realize that once our child is 18 and not in college and out living on their own, or out of college and living on their own but not married, they’re an adult, and they need to be treated like an adult. They don’t need to be treated like a child.

They don’t want to be treated like a child, but it’s very hard for us as parents—when we see a child who is either struggling or making poor choices or living alone and maybe feeling that anxiety over not being married—it’s hard for us not to rush in and rescue or rush in and help or provide solution or advice or counsel when it’s not been asked for, because we have such a heart for that child.

Nancy: And you’ve been doing that all their life.

Barbara: Yes, doing it all their life, and it’s so hard not to continue to do that. But really, the bottom line is, they’re adults. They need to be making their own choices, and they need to learn from the consequences of their choices. As parents, we’ve taken the position that we will not give advice unless it’s asked.

Nancy: I think we need to say a word, because we have listeners of all ages, to younger women. If you read through the book of Proverbs, one of the key characteristics of a wise young person is that they ask for input; they ask for counsel.

My dad, I don’t know how many times he told us growing up, “You’ve got to be teachable. You’ve got to ask for counsel.” It’s foolish not to, so we want to say to younger listeners—young married adults, young single adults—not just of your parents but of other older people, ask questions.

Ask for input. Open the door. Have a teachable spirit so that they can communicate. They won’t always be right, and they won’t always agree with you, but you need to hear the wisdom of those who have walked down the road a little further than you have.

Susan: Nancy, I love what you just said, too, about asking other people as well as your parents. We have a young woman that we’re very close to, and she was dating a boy seriously. Her parents are best friends of ours; I’ve known her her whole life. She had talked to them, but sometimes they’re really more open to hearing something from someone other than mom and dad.

She came to talk to us about this young man that she was pretty serious about. We were able to ask her some questions, and one of the questions I asked her was, “Are you willing to live anywhere in the country, doing anything to be with this man? Are you to that place in your love for him?”

It really caught her, because she realized she was not willing to do that. She was not willing to live in the part of the country that he did, and she was hoping to persuade him to live where she wanted to live.

I said, “Until you’re willing to live in Nowheresville in Remote State and do whatever you need to do just to be with this person, I don’t think you’re ready to marry him yet.”

Now, none of us are there in the beginning of the relationship. Obviously, you grow to that point in the relationship, but you’re marrying the person and not the geographical location or the particular profession.

She was able to hear that from us because we had a long relationship with her. She knew that we loved her, and we weren’t Mom and Dad.

So there is a very important role here that I know Nancy talks about so often, and that is mentoring—mentoring other young women and being willing to be that “old person” in someone else’s daughter’s life who can speak the truth to her. There will be times when our children will hear it from someone other than us.

Barbara: That’s a great piece of advice, too, because it is true. You could say something that her parents could not say to her. And even if she repeated that to this young man, that’s not a threat to him; but what Mom and Dad say could be perceived as a threat, so that’s a really good piece of advice.

Nancy: It’s a reminder that at the empty nest season of life, there is ministry and involvement to be had in the kingdom beyond your own children.

Barbara: That is correct.

Susan: Oh, there is a huge, huge opportunity there to be involved in someone else’s child’s life. Many hit the empty nest, and their children aren’t married, and they don’t have grandchildren, but there are so many other people’s grandchildren out there that are desperate for help.

There are so many young women who are desperate for mentors. The single biggest request we have in our church is for young women in their 20s and 30s wanting an older friend—not someone who knows it all, but just someone who has lived and is willing to be an encourager.

Barbara: A listening ear.

Susan: A listening ear, and someone who will just pray for them.

Nancy: It struck me as I was reading your book, Barbara and Susan, that the one piece of clear biblical counsel to empty-nester women—now, there may be some others I’m missing, but the one that really comes to mind, the one direction God gives to women whose children are grown—is that they are to teach younger women. They are to be involved in the mentoring and discipleship of other women.

So whatever else their mission may be in that season of life, whatever other avenues of ministry or involvement God may open up, the one you can know is a must is involvement in the lives of younger women.

That doesn’t necessarily mean teach a class, or that there’s a formal mentoring relationship, but there is the investing of your life into younger women. That’s a huge part of God’s calling and mission for you women whose children are out of the nest.

Susan: Shall I tell them about the Take-It-Or-Leave-It Club?

Nancy: Yes, do.

Barbara: You should. It’s a great story.

Susan: This is a fun thing. Barbara and I have these friends that we call our “party girlfriends.” They fell into an empty nest mission without realizing it. They live in the same small town, and they walk in the morning now that they’re all empty nesters, and they wind up their walk at the local Starbucks where they sit and have coffee.

One morning, they wound up their walk at the local Starbucks, and as they were in line, they noticed a young mom who appeared to be very visibly upset. She was teary, so our friends reached out and said, “Oh, come have coffee with us.”

As she sat with them, she burst into tears as she began to share a problem she had with a teenager. Our three “party girlfriends” were able to put their arms around her, to talk to her, to share out of their experience.

They had experienced the death of a child. They had experienced a prodigal child. They had experienced a husband with a stroke. These three women had many life experiences, and they were able to comfort this younger woman.

As the younger woman got up to leave, she said, “Oh, thank you so much.” Our friend Sally said, “Well, it’s just free advice; take it or leave it.” And in that moment, a new vision was born.

It’s called the Take-It-Or-Leave-It Club, and now these women regularly go to Starbucks. They’re known to have a table where any young woman can come and bring her coffee and simply pick their brains, and then she can take it or leave it; so there’s no obligation.

Another group of women who live in a different town heard of this, and they asked if some older women would open their back porch once a week, just for younger women to come and pump questions toward them—a Take-It-Or-Leave-It Club.

****So you know, as Nancy said, it doesn’t have to be a formal teaching/mentoring way. It’s simply being available.

What Barbara and I love to say is that God calls us to be “FAT” women, in the very great sense of the word: Faithful, Available, Teachable. As we are faithful, available, and teachable, He’ll use us in our empty nest years.

Leslie: A mom’s life is all about unchartered territory. Each new season our children enter is another new season of mothering as well.

Our guests, Susan Yates and Barbara Rainey, have been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about one of the most challenging seasons a mom goes through. They’ve written a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. It’s “must reading” for moms who will be facing the empty nest years at some point, and that’s all of us.

Unfamiliar territory is a lot more comfortable when you’re with somebody who has been through it before. Barbara and Susan will walk you through and show you how to rethink your time and priorities in the empty nest years.

They’ll also help you learn to relate to your grown children as adults, giving enough space yet supporting your children. They’ll give wise advice on connecting with a new daughter-in-law or son-in-law.

Get a copy of Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. It’s the new hardback edition, yours when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just call 800-569-5959 and ask for the book, or look for Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest at www.ReviveOurHeartsRadio.com—yours when you make an online donation of any size.

When children leave the nest, they still have some growing up to do, but they need freedom. Hear how to give grace to grow up tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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