The term “empty-nest syndrome” refers to an emotional condition some women experience when one or more of their children move out of the home. Many mothers have dedicated two decades to raising their children, so when the last child moves out of the home, they might feel their primary and most meaningful role has ended, resulting in feelings of deep loss, sadness, and loneliness. Empty-nest grief is often overlooked because a child moving out of the home is seen as healthy and normal.
In many cases, empty-nest syndrome can be compounded by other life transitions such as menopause, retirement, or the stress of caring for an aging parent. Marriages can also be a source of stress with empty-nest syndrome. A couple who is used to having children around may find it a bumpy transition when it’s just the two of them in the home.
So what can you do to reach women struggling through this phase of life? Equip women in your church to care for one another with these basic tips.
Encourage support. Encourage the woman to seek special support for this time of transition in her life. She needs people she can talk to on an ongoing basis and who will provide her with prayer and encouragement.
Encourage new growth. Encourage the empty-nest mom to explore things she put on the back burner while she raised her family. Maybe she’s always wanted to take gourmet cooking classes, learn to play golf, or take a creative writing course. Encourage her to see this transition as a new era in which God can use and grow her in new and exciting ways.
Encourage self-kindness. Women are often quick to find fault and be critical of themselves. Encourage your empty-nest mom to be easy on herself as she goes through this transition. Let her know it’s important to allow herself to feel what she feels without beating herself up.
Encourage her not to wallow in regrets. No mom is perfect. All moms make mistakes. It’s important to let your empty-nest mom know that God is bigger than her mistakes and regrets. Encourage her with Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13: “But I focus on one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”
Remember, no two women will transition through their empty-nest years exactly the same. While some will struggle, others will enjoy the freedom they now have and find joy in watching their children grow into adults. They might feel guilty because they aren’t struggling alongside friends experiencing the same transitions. Meet women where they are. Help them feel comfortable. As they do, they’ll share with you and others and move through transitions with friends alongside them.
Excepted from Comforting Women in Crisis: Know What to Say, What Not to Say, and What You Can Do (Group Publishing, December 2008).