Empty Nest Parenting

Column 12: Spiritual Empty Nest Parenting  
(Understanding That All of the Real Answers Are Spiritual)
by Richard and Linda Eyre

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Hello Empty Nest Parents!  And welcome to the final column in this series.  All of the earlier columns are in the Meridian archives for your future reference.  We hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them!

Starting in a couple of weeks, we will have a new Meridian column on “Lifebalance” where we hope to share with you some new ideas on balancing work, family, church, and personal needs . certainly a very real challenge in this complex world of ours!

It was our annual family reunion – the time we are supposed to come together, to share, to have fun in the joy of being together.  And we were having fun on the afternoon I’m going to refer to.  Several of us were waterskiing on the mirror surface of our beloved Bear Lake, and were in the process of teaching a little cousin to water-ski.  I thought I was doing the teaching.  Sixteen-year-old Eli thought, since he’s a better skier than I, that he was doing the teaching.  I reminded him who it was that had taught him to ski.  He reminded me that that was a very long time ago.  I chose to ignore everything Eli said and proceeded to teach the kid my way.  Eli responded with some angry, rude comments, one of which got to me enough that I pulled the boat into the shallows near shore, turned the driving and teaching over to Talmadge and Saydi, and told Eli to get out and walk to the beach with me.  The two of us walked in through the shallow water, continuing our argument.  Jonah, twenty-one at the time and feeling that Eli needed some support (or possibly some protection), got out before the boat pulled away and followed us.  The two boys basically ganged up on me, and said, in essence: “You’ve always taught us to have our own opinions and do things our way – but you don’t listen to our opinions – you just plow ahead with your way.”

“This isn’t about opinions,” I said.  ‘It’s about respect.  You just don’t talk to a parent the way Eli was talking in the boat.”

“Well, you’d better decide what you want – kids with their own opinions or kids who just shut up and let you do everything your way.”

“I just said it’s not about opinions, it’s about respect.”

“I also told Jonah that Eli didn’t need his help with the argument and that it was between the two of us.  Jonah’s response was, “Well, yeah, but you’re so overbearing, and it gave me a chance to make a point.”

“What point?”

“Just that, you say you want us to think for ourselves, but you smother us with your view of things and it’s so strong and so persuasive that we feel like we don’t have a choice or an opinion.”

“Like when?”

“Okay, like when I wanted to go for a semester in Boston and you thought I should wait and stay near home until graduate school.  Part of the reason I went was to defy you – because it wasn’t your idea.”

Suddenly the waterskiing issue had escalated to defiance, independence, and the whole sweep of who we each were to each other.

With hindsight, I’m so glad we were on vacation so that we had time for the talk that followed.  (Isn’t that the real reason for vacations and reunions?)  We spent the rest of the day talking heart to heart, first the three of us, then me alone with Eli, sitting on the sand.  Then me alone with Jonah, walking along the beach.  Then with the whole family sitting around our big table and offering a family prayer for better understanding of each other’s feelings.

What we all ended up doing (along with venting and explaining and apologizing and resolving) was to recommit ourselves to more open and more spiritual communication.  We realized anew that we are a family of strong individual wills and opinions, and that only the Spirit can truly unite us and calm us to where we learn from each other rather than arguing and competing.

“Spiritual empty-nest parenting” is the last column in this series because it is the ultimate answer.

Three- and Four-Generation Families

Nowhere in the scriptures, when the word “family” is used, does it refer to a two-generation family – to children and parents alone.  The word always refers to three generations or more.  The modern American idea of a two-generation nuclear family – parents and kids living in one house – is a new and limiting definition of the word.

Family should mean more than that – especially spiritually.  Family should, on a practical and daily basis, mean at least three and maybe four generations.  As an empty-nest parent, your spiritual concept of family should include your adult children and their children as well as your own parents if they are still alive.  “Cousins” and “uncles” and “aunts” and “nieces” and “nephews and “grandchildren” and “grandparents” and even “great grandparents” and “great grandkids” should be important and functional words in the concept and operation of family.

Is this possible, people ask, in our modern mobile, transient world?  Answer: yes – and it is more important and more needed than ever before.  The harder the wind blows, the more we need our “roots” and our “grove” – not only for protection, but for peace and for security.  The deepest and most spiritual view of a family is that it is made up of relationships and bonds that can outlast this world.

Everyone defines “spiritual” differently, yet Gallup tells us that 80 percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual people” and 95 percent believe in some kind of higher being.  Certainly for those of us in the Church who do believe in a personal and interested God, the spiritual aspect of empty-nest parenting are the most important of all.  Many parents find that they pray more about a child after he or she has left home than they did before.  Perhaps because the danger and challenges the child faces are bigger, or perhaps because when he or she is gone – out of sight – and further from our influence – we feel more need for God’s involvement.

Maybe right there is the real key to understanding spiritual empty-nest parenting.  Just as we tend to depend more on God to watch over our children when they leave our home, perhaps God depends more on us to watch over His children when they leave Him and come to this earth. God is our Heavenly Father, the true Father of our spirits; thus we are mere “babysitters” for the children he sends to us.  In that context, we should be constantly asking the true parent for help and guidance in raising and caring for His children.  And we should expect God to answer that kind of direct-stewardship prayer.

In the turmoil and materialistic complexity of today’s world, most believing parents acknowledge the need they have for God’s help.  And we do often feel that need most keenly when a child has moved on and no longer lives under our direct care.  In that mind frame, we drafted our first attempt at a “spiritual agreement” with our adult children.

Case Study

            To:        Eyrealm
            From:    Mom and Dad
            Re:       The Spiritual Center of Eyrealm

1.     As our family grows – as each of you spin off into your own orbits with your own unique interests, individual careers, and families of your own – it could be thought of as “the great diversification or decentralization,” “the pulling apart,” “the breaking up” or even “the redundancy” of Eyrealm.

1.     We all choose not to think of it this way, however; quite the contrary.  We think of it as expansion, as growth, as the maturing and seasoning and ripening of our family kingdom, as the harvesting of our joy and as the increasing opportunity for family synergy and for mutual help and chosen interdependence that magnifies both our individual and our collective broadening and contributing.

1.    The reason we can live far apart and progress with our own individual lives without jeopardizing the unity and sanctity of our family is that we have a dense spiritual core whose powerful gravity holds each of us in dependable, coordinated orbit.  (We must like that metaphor, having used it twice, perhaps because there are nine planets in our solar system.)

1.    That dense, spiritual core, of course, is Christ.  What could be more uniting than our shared (yet individual) belief that he is our Creator, our Savior, our Advocate, and our Judge?

1.    His spiritual gravity “holds” us in a number of beautiful ways.  (An alternative metaphor from one of our two favorite hymns, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” [the other one – “If You Could Hie to Kolob” – stays with the first metaphor] is that of a long and benevolent leash that keeps us from straying into darkness and danger.  For though we are “prone to wander, Lord I feel it” we can ask Him to “let thy goodness, as a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.”)

1.    What are the ways we have personally found in which His gravity and his fetter holds us close (both to Him and to each other)?

A.   Because of Him we try to see everyone and everything spiritually.  Each person is a brother or a sister, and each thing (or challenge or opportunity) is a gift from Him.

A.   Because of Him, there is a focal point for our worship, and we unite ourselves by thinking about the same aspect of His character each Sunday, each of us, wherever we are as we partake of the sacrament (by focusing on the same chapter in What Manner of Man).

A.   Because of Him we value each other eternally.  We believe we were close brothers and sisters in our spiritual existence before this life and that we are here together to help each other return to Him.  Thus we prioritize each other and take responsibility for each other.  (An unending extension of when you, as eight year olds, were “tutors” for a younger “tutee.”)

A.   Because of Him we concentrate on learning and teaching and living the values He taught and exemplified and the joys He gave and made possible.  We’ve structured and organized these joys and values and taught them to you as you will teach them to the next generation of Eyrealm.

A.   Because of Him and His example, we are oriented to service, both collectively and individually.  Our idea of a great family vacation is a humanitarian expedition to some place with great needs, and each of us looks for service opportunities and factors “contributing” heavily into the choices of career and profession.

A.   Because of Him we pray and study and testify together and separately.  Our monthly family testimony meetings which we do in our own orbits and together whenever we can allow formal expression of love and belief.  We try to coordinate scriptural study to motivate and share with each other and we pray together when we can, even by phone.

1.   Isn’t it great (and important to remember) that all the preceding points begin with “Because of Him”?  Think how weak and powerless we would be as a family if we were left to our own devices or plans or schemes for staying united and committed to each other.  It is our allegiance, commitment, and loyalty to Christ that makes possible our deepest unity with each other.

1.   Proposed Agreement Draft: Our goal is nothing less than spiritual unity and character unity.  This is our center and our priority.  It has always been so.  When we used to make up our “school year goals” together at Bear Lake each summer (and as we still do when we gather there for summer reunions), we structured and clustered our goals by category.  For students, “category 2” was always academics and grades and “category 3” was extracurricular things from student government to sports to music.  “Category 1” was always character – giving service to others and developing your testimony and spirituality.  May it always be so!

The Spiritual Omniscient Part of Eyrealm

(forging a common character and developing

personal faith, hope, and charity)

While there was little disagreement or controversy in the kids’ response to this memo, there was the sense and suggestion that it would be more meaningful and have more actual affect on each of us if it were more pointed and prescriptive.  So we attempted to work it into the now standard “metaphor and the three Ps” format.

            Dear children:

What a profound blessing it is to feel as much spiritual unity as we do.  It is so remarkable that a group of people as individually strong-willed and opinionated as we are can agree in a humble and united way on the preeminent importance of Christ.

Deep-down we know that the best advice, the best answers, and the best approaches are always spiritual.  All of the other facets of our adult Eyrealm agreements (the emotional, the social, the financial, and the mental) work best and accomplish their intentions if they are spiritually guided.  And our vision statement we’ll work on next should really be about building an extended family structure that helps each of us return to God.

Therefore, the image we should all carry is that of a partnership that includes and values each of us but that is managed by an omniscient managing partner who we submit to humbly and petition constantly for direction and guidance.

Omniscience is such an awesome word – all seeing, all knowing.  Our own perspective is so limited, and God’s is so total.  It has been said that the essential difference between God and man is awareness.  He is all-aware and thus omniscient and omnipotent.  If we can, in every aspect of our personal and family lives, seek His inspiration and His will, we may still have setbacks but we cannot ultimately fail.

The marriages, the families within Eyrealm, and Eyrealm itself are all partnerships.  If we can include in each of them the managing omniscient partner, they will each become more than we could have imagined.  With that in mind, we set forth our “spiritual agreements.”

            Spiritual omniscient partner principles:

.             Christ is the focus of all we do, the light that leads us, the ultimate example we follow.

.            Spiritual serendipity: Guidance is a more worthy goal than control and spiritual awareness can get us to where God wants us to be.

.             Spiritual stewardship: Since all things belong to God, we should seek His will in all things.

.             Spiritual synergy: It is not independence we seek, but dependence on God and interdependence with those we love.

Spiritual omniscient partner promises:

.             We will put Christ and Heavenly Father first in all things and seek their will above our own.

.             We will serve God by individually and collectively serving each other and our fellow man.

.             We will take upon us Christ’s name, remember Him, and keep His commandments.

.             We will be our “brother’s keepers,” safeguarding and strengthening each other’s testimonies in every possible way.

            Spiritual omniscient partner practices:

.             We each read the same chapter (about the same aspect of Christ) in What Manner of Man in church each Sunday.

.             We fast and hold family testimony meetings on the first Sunday of each month.

.             We donate, volunteer, and give service together and individually.  Both Eyrealm charity gifts and some kind of service expedition are agreed on and participated in yearly.

.             We teach each other spiritual principles at the annual Eyrealm reunion.

.             We each receive a priesthood or father’s blessing on our birthday.

.             We pray constantly for each other and ask each other to pray for specific needs we may have.

It was this spiritual aspect of empty-nest parenting that really pulled us together and reassured us that we were on the right track.  The process we’d gone through to arrive at each one had pulled us together and taught us a lot about each other.  It was far from perfect (the process or the product), but it was ours, and we all shared in it.

May you have a similar experience in your family!


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