This post is not about divorce. However, we must take a quick glance through it in order to get to our focus. When asked about whether divorce was okay, Jesus said the following:
“Have you not heard that he who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
These verses were always tied to a single event for me… a wedding ceremony and the lifelong commitment being made. Now, however, they connect more to a season of life, especially the words “shall leave.”
Children leaving home results in an empty nest. For many parents, this produces what is known as empty nest syndrome.
“Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.”
This syndrome is not something that just suddenly appears, though. In fact, the season begins well before children physically leave home permanently. Sure, an empty nest is the definitive sign that it’s happened, but the process starts sometime in the teen years. For me, it began with both my boys at the same time even though they are two years apart. While the process can be quite difficult, it’s also a natural and healthy part of life. Parents see it as their children pulling away. Some see it as a failure of their parenting. I saw it at first as something wrong and out of place.
In this season, teens want to socialize more with friends than with family. They become increasingly private. They want to make their own decisions and don’t want others to control their lives. They begin to decide what they believe is right and wrong and to live by those beliefs rather than by what their parents believe.
Technically, it’s called psychological autonomy, and there are three aspects of it when referring to teenagers.
- Emotional autonomy = changes that occur in the adolescent’s close relationships, most notably with parents.
- Behavioral autonomy = has to do with the ability to make independent decisions and to carry through with them.
- Value autonomy = involves the development of a set of principles about right and wrong that guide one’s thinking and behavior.
This process can lead to healthy adult relationships with adult children. Or not. In our culture, it seems the adult parent/child relationship often doesn’t mature to the leaving point. Or, there’s a constant disconnect and the relationship simply feels broken.
The key for surviving this season, I’m discovering, is remembering the parenting goals my husband and I set years ago. We swaddled these goals in prayer for many years and now need to trust what God is doing with them.
My husband and I agreed long ago that we wanted to teach our boys to be independent and to love God. If we did nothing else in the years they are ours to shape, we wanted to accomplish those two things. This independence we want for them, though, requires dependence.
We want them to be strong men who make confident decisions. We hope they will take responsibility for their attitudes, actions, and words. We also want them to understand that they alone make those choices. Sure, influences abound, but they choose.
At the same time, we want their independence from us and others to be directed by dependence on God. Our prayer is that they lean on him in every detail of their lives and allow him to direct their paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this way, they may be living in this world, but they don’t have to be of it (John 17:14-15). Hopefully, we gave them the roots they need to move confidently into the dependent life God desires for them.
Now, we have to let them work through the leaving process. Even though we still want to protect them, guide them, lead them, we are seeing the need to step out of the way and to now walk beside instead of in front of them. Sometimes, even, we’ll need to follow behind.
Teach and Trust
My faith grew through the process of more fully trusting God with my children. I also realized how crucial this whole process is for them to grow in their faith and to trust God more, too.
“Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
We’ve taught them to love Jesus, though our teaching came out quite imperfectly. Now we must trust they will follow that path. Our trust isn’t in them, though, it’s in God to lead them down the path of independence from us and to increased dependence on him.