By Richard and Linda Eyre
With Saren Eyre Loosli
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
The transition of children moving out and moving on can be a challenging one. Richard and Linda Eyre, Meridian writers and Best-selling Authors, have once again created a helpful commentary on the importance of family relationships, this time centered on the empty-nest years. It is during these years that Empty-nest parents wonder how tightly to hang on, how much to let go. They struggle to get re-acquainted with each other, to find spheres of life in which they can contribute. Simultaneously, nest-leaving children are desperate for independence while they long for a connection to home, a safe harbor to which they can return at any time. This book is about “choosing who you want to be for the rest of your life – and centering that choice on family.” It is about strengthening family bonds as years pass – growing together, not apart. “It is not a book with a few easy ideas for staying in touch and setting up trust funds for grandkids. It is not for people who are content having average’ families” or for Empty-Nesters who are looking to “get a life.” It is for “any parent who wants to stay meaningfully involved in their children’s lives in a way that works. If you thought this book was about disengaging as a parent, don’t buy it. It is about engaging, about staying involved, and about loving it!”
Although I did not fit into the category of “who should read this book – and when” I did identify very quickly with the empty-nest idea. A few years ago my parents suddenly found themselves in the thick of “nest-emptying.” Since my siblings and I are products of Eyre-philosophy-pushing parents, I was anxious to see what the Eyres had to say about this latent phase of parenting and how “leave-the-nesters,” like me, should attend to the issues our parents may face.
Two acronyms readers must quickly become adept in using are, ENP = Empty-Nest Parent and LTN = Leave-The-Nester. These two groups make up the panels that Richard and Linda Eyre, with the help of their oldest daughter, Saren Eyre Loosli, have utilized to give their audience answers to the questions ENP’s ask. The Eyres’ choice to engage their children in this work was an excellent one. It is the LTN perspective that makes the book fly! Saren is introduced in the very first chapter. Immediately, she brings in a candor, forthrightness, and a charmingly blunt reality that helps readers identify with the Eyre Family. She gives the book color and humor, while bringing it down to solid ground where ideals can be examined and applied. All of the Eyre children contribute to the work and ironically, they teach the principles the Eyres are suggesting with almost greater impact than the Eyres themselves. This is simply because children are witnesses, living testimonies to truths their parents teach – a brilliant format for a book on parenting.
The Introduction begins with this truth – parenting is not a job that ends. Family relationships continue on and as the Eyre’s plainly state, “At the end of life, all that matters is our relationships.” Richard and Linda (as they refer to themselves in this book) feel strongly that families must have a plan. “Most parents take a wait-and-see attitude – dealing with issues as they arise and feeling their way along. The thesis of this book is that you’re better off with a plan, with some well-thought-out goals about what kind of an empty-nest parent you want to be and some specific ideas about how to make it happen!” Most LTN’s agreed that when parental expectations were outlined and discussed, communication with parents was much more affable and productive.
Part I of the book is devoted to Empty-Nest perspectives and priorities, including the LTN perspective. Saren writes, “My role in this book is to tell you, bluntly, and with as many examples and stories as possible, what eighteen to thirty-something kids want and need from their parents…we need your love and support and listening ear all the days of our lives…we’ll never outgrow our need for your approval for the things we do. But from the moment we leave home and even before, we really want to be treated like adults in a lot of important ways. We need you to respect our opinions. We need to feel that you trust us. We hate it when you think you know the right things for us when you don’t really understand the situation and you say you’re listening but you really aren’t…we still need you to nurture us – to check in with us and make sure we’re okay…we need you. We’ll always need you. And we like to know that you need us.”
The emotions of ENP’s are discussed in depth and the Eyre’s submit that, “anyone who tries to substitute something other than family to meet his or her long-term emotional needs will eventually feel empty and alone.” However, Linda reflects, “There is usually a space of time (between the kids and the grandkids) when we need to break out of habits and appreciate the fact that we don’t have to eat any more macaroni and cheese, and we can quit rocking when we’re talking to a young mother who is rocking her baby as she talks. You don’t have to feel compelled to point out every dump truck and train as you travel along the road. And you can quit checking your watch to figure out who has missed curfew.” The Eyres encourage parents to think about what they really want. “What do I want for my children and their children at the end of my life?”
Included in Part I are Eleven Essential Elements of Family Relationships. For those familiar with other books written by the Eyres, the essentials remain the same. They are ideas such as commitment, prioritization, communication, standards and rules, family economy, traditions, family history and roots, principles and values. In addition to these, the Eyres introduce four other “essentials” – things like a place for family members to gather, reunions, service expeditions, and instruction from mothers and fathers to their children who are mothers and fathers to be.
Part II makes up the bulk of the book. It is a collection of the fifty most common Empty-Nest Questions and Answers. These are questions such as: When should kids leave home? What emotions will I feel when my child first leaves home? What do I need from my kids once they’re gone? How should I communicate with my kids and how often? What about missions, dating, financial support, Grand-parenting, career choices? All of these questions are addressed. The list is exhaustive, but the Q & A section works because the answers are a combination of input from many ENP’s and LTN’s, with no two answers alike. Readers will agree with some, disagree with others. Richard encourages the reader to “zero in” on the ones with which they identify, the ones that ring true. This wide array of answers exists because no two families are alike. Every family differs in their individual needs and gifts. Richard and Linda interject their guidance throughout Part II at appropriate moments while Saren artfully captures the basic sentiment of nest-leavers and how they have answered each question.
The Eyres have left the answers raw and unpolished, but it is obvious the answers are sincere. This sincerity makes the list of questions seem less laborious, adding a purity to the work that is conversational and enjoyable.
The Eyres conclude with a motto that sums up the empty-nest learning process. “It’s all about Asking and Listening.” An Appendix follows which is basically a Case Study on the Eyre Family. Richard and Linda make sure to mention that this is not required reading. It is included in the book to be used as a model, not a formula to follow. The Eyres emphasize the value of seeking the Lord’s direction in relation to our individual family issues. The one-answer-fits-all mentality is never mentioned. Discussion within family settings, attention to revelation from the Lord and to each family member’s needs, is what the Eyres encourage as families seek to design their own empty nest “plan.”
Saydi, another Eyre daughter, makes this observation. “All families are going to be different, with their own strengths and challenges. However, all families have the same basic needs and structure, power to hurt and to heal.” Aja, one of the Eyres’ daughters in-law also writes, “Part of the uniqueness of families in comparison to other organizations is their potential to deal individually with their members and grow and change with time, all the while maintaining complete unity.”
Although not “required reading,” I found the Case Study to be one of the most helpful portions of the book. Instruction by example is always the most effective way to teach. Seeing good principles in place and at work is a powerful and beautiful thing.
This book is evidence that the principles taught by the Eyres were and (with a little adjustment in later years) still are, successful. It is a book that sheds wonderful light on the struggles empty-nest families face, while enforcing bold ideas of commitment and re-commitment to family. Such values, when applied with the right kind of balance, will keep generations close and needs fulfilled. Empty-Nest Parenting is a hopeful book for any parent, fledgling or old, a guide that will help you move towards an eternal family and give you vision along the way.