In April, our youngest of four children graduated from college. He was a brand-new dad, with a child born to his wife six weeks before. That graduation day, more so than his wedding day or the birth of his son, was a mile marker for me as a mom who started releasing my children thirteen years before.
I felt like I had finally crossed the fledging season bridge between a full house and an empty nest. From age twenty-three to thirty-two, our kids finally had spaces in this world they claimed as their own. Some have lived in foreign countries or across the country in both directions from us. Some have lived across the state, but none close to home. As our kids have grown their wings, I’ve been growing mine, too.
I’ve had an image of a bridge for this fledging journey. The stage where your kids are leaving, but not quite settled, is a transition for them and you. Transition seasons from one place to another are steady but unstable at times, like any bridge that holds and carries you from one place of solid ground to another. For thirteen years, our life has been in flux–ground that seems to have shifted as we prepared one child to launch, another, another, and the last. It really is less about where they live or land, but the fact that their lives are now their own.
Their lives are their own. This is where the empty nest boundary lies, unlike the fledging nest. Strong wing feathers that are ready for flight—that is the fledging child. When they are strong enough (though for a mom, our perception of this may be different), we watch them struggle and soar, realizing our work in building a stable structure for their life is complete. Now we watch them build nests of their own. It’s a place of joy at times and, other times, sadness and loss.
Crossing the bridge to the other side of parenting, the side of parenting adult children with lives of their own, is more secure for me as a mom, though security is not in storybook endings. The fact that you’re now an onlooker to your child’s life rather than the manager feels on the onset as unstable if your security is in control of circumstances and feelings.
You watch them from afar, experiencing heartache or sadness, other times, joy, pride, and courage. Your security doesn’t come in the outcomes or promises you cannot give them that everything will be okay. It comes from the foundation on which you stand—that ground is holy because of the strength, security, and hope in and from your relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27
The strength of the empty nest home is in the foundation of Christ. Perhaps you, like I, took too much confidence in the above-ground structure while raising your kids. But as I have released them into the care of the Father, my security has come from transferring my attachments to Jesus rather than to my children or the ease of their lives.
I am grateful for this new place. My heart is more settled knowing the role in this new place is to fill the emptier rooms with prayer and to hold space for my children’s hurts when they have it. The weight of their hurts is sometimes too heavy for a mom, but the strong foundation in Jesus Christ holds the burden underneath us. He holds our tears as we hold theirs. His joy fills the space when we experience their happiness. His love and beauty adorn the places where fingerprints and footprints used to reside.
I’m learning to like this new space on the other side of the bridge. My happiness or wholeness is less dependent upon the presence of my children or the certainty of their happiness. Just as I saw Jesus in their presence and felt his breath on my cheek when I rocked them to sleep, I now see him and feel him as I go to him with my burdens that before I may have carried too much on my own.
Perhaps I’ve finally crossed the bridge to a life that’s now my own. It’s a space that feels okay not because things are perfect, but because the unshakable foundation holds the weight I carry for those I love.