Coping with Psychological Challenges
Research performed by White and Edwards (1990) suggests that “the positive effect of the empty nest is strongest in the period immediately after the children leave home” (White & Edwards, 1990, p. 241). This research also shows that “the empty nest is associated with significantly greater improvement in life satisfaction when the empty nest includes frequent contact between parents and children” (p. 241). However, the “departure of a child has the potential to set in motion a whole range of family boundary renegotiations and typically constitutes an important identity juncture in parents’ own aging process” (Karp, Holmstrom & Gray, 2004, p. 357).
A study performed by Crowley, Hayslip and Hobby (2003) indicates that job loss is normally more stressful for adults than the empty nest. Crowley, Hayslip and Hobby (2003) attribute this to what they identify as “psychological hardiness.” Hardiness is defined “in terms of more specific dimensions of control, commitment, and challenge-characteristics that may influence both cognitive appraisal and behavior in response to stressful events” (p. 237). Hardiness differs based on the “predictability and anticipatory nature” of events that influence an individual. This research also shows that individuals with psychological hardiness do not fall ill as often when faced with “adverse circumstances.” “Such persons anticipate change as affording them an opportunity for further development” (Crowley, et al. 2003, 237).
Committing to a Successful Second Half of Marriage
As previously stated, Arp and Arp (2001) refer to the empty nest as the second half of marriage. Many of the underlying problems that have been seething beneath the surface of a marriage will carry into the second half of marriage and could very well lead to destruction (pp. 483-484). The children are no longer present to act as a distraction, and a couple will be forced to face issues that they have avoided for years.
Arp, et al. (2001) believe that true commitment will help ease many of the struggles a couple will face. While they point out that there are different levels of commitment, commitment characterized by “personal dedication” is the kind that will guide a couple into a better relationship. Personal dedication is defined as “the desire (and associated behaviors) not only to continue in the relationship but also to improve it, sacrifice for it, invest in it, link personal goals to it, and seek the partner’s welfare, not just one’s own” (p. 206). A woman and her husband may need to seek counseling or a support group to help develop better communication skills so they can encourage each other in a renewed commitment to each other and their marriage.
Developing a Strong Spiritual Foundation
The most important goal for a woman during every stage of life is to develop a close relationship with Jesus Christ. A Christian woman is a child of God. She was chosen by God before the foundation of the world was put in place.
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy
and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his family
by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do,
and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:4-5, New Living Translation)
The roles and responsibilities of a woman’s life are prearranged by God. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). A woman’s worth comes from her uniqueness in Jesus Christ. In her lifetime, a woman may be a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, nurse, teacher, executive, and much more. However, all those roles are not who she is. As a believer in Jesus Christ, she is God’s child.
Taking the time to develop the spiritual disciplines of prayer and personal Bible study are essential for a woman’s spiritual well-being during every stage of life. The time to start these disciplines is now. When facing the myriad challenges during the empty nest, a woman needs to have her faith firmly planted in her Lord and Savior.
There may come a time in a woman’s life when she needs to develop the spiritual discipline known as “heavenly reframe” (Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2001, p. 242). This discipline requires the intentional reframing of one’s thought processes. Clinton and Ohlschlager (2001) note that heavenly reframe “involves stopping reactions from a worldly perspective and immediately praying and concentrating on a godly perspective of the issue” (p. 242).
Clinton, et al. (2001) quotes Habermas as referring to heavenly reframe as “top down thinking.” Habermas describes top down thinking as follows:
The God of the universe invites believers to view the myriad details of life
from his eternal vantage point. . . . God and his Kingdom are to be pursued
above all else [so that life is viewed] from his eternal perspective. The result
orders life so that it is single-minded: directed toward eternity [and] freed
from many of its more painful aspects. Directed by God’s power, this outlook
should be thoroughly meshed with everything we think, say, and do. [It should]
influence our worries and fears, finances, raising children, evangelism, assisting
others, our approach to suffering, and our journey through life, even death. (p. 27)
(Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2001, p. 242).
While it is true that a woman faces physical, emotion, psychological and spiritual challenges during the empty nest stage of her life, this stage can be rich and fulfilling. Learning to accept changes to her body, seeking support during the emotional upheavals, and learning to cope with the psychological challenges are important goals for successfully flourishing during the empty nest. However, the most important goal to flourishing during this time is a woman’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Rainey and Yates (2008) also remind women to “focus on who God is rather than who we are or are not” (p. 239).
The key to successfully thriving during the empty nest is to be rooted firmly in God’s love. When the winds of sadness and emptiness threaten to overtake her, a woman firmly planted in her Savior’s love will not be uprooted, as described in Ephesians 3:16-19:
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with
inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your
hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and
keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s
people should, how wide, how long, and how deep his love is. May you
experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.
Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power
that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, New Living Translation).
There may be times that she feels her heart will break, but the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit will whisper in her heart, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).
Kathy Garrett McInnis