I came across The House Is Quiet, Now What? Rediscovering Life and Adventure As a Empty Nester by Janice Hanna and Kathleen Y’Barbo a few years ago on a clearance table at a Christian bookstore. My “nest” wasn’t quite empty yet, and still isn’t, but I thought it would be worthwhile to look ahead.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t been worried about that time: I have a lot of interests and won’t have any problem finding things to do with myself. The hardest part of the empty nest, I think, is just missing those people who have been an everyday part of your life for 20+ years. I had a taste of that when we first moved to TN 3 1/2 years ago. My oldest son was still living with us until then and decided it was time for him to step out on his own. My middle son was married and out of the house but lived close by, and we saw them often. They stayed behind in SC at first when we moved, so it felt like 2/3 of the kids left at once, and that was hard. The intensity does lessen over time – being able to keep in touch frequently via Facebook, texts, and Skype or Face Time has helped, as opposed to the time when I left home and we could only afford long distance phone calls once a month or so.
Plus I haven’t really mourned that that part of my life is almost over. Maybe it will hit when my youngest leaves. 🙂 There was a bit of that with menopause, but it was also mixed with relief (I had friends who had babies during middle age and didn’t think I was quite up for that, though I knew God would give grace if that’s what He allowed. So, there was some relief that I didn’t have to think about any surprise pregnancies any more). I actually thought about or dreaded the empty nest more when everyone was home. There were pangs when my middle son started packing up his room before his marriage (he had been away for summers working at a camp or for mission trips, but this packing-up was much more permanent!), when we left SC with only one son, when I made my last high school lunch, etc. But I was also looking a bit forward to a more relaxed schedule, more quiet, less housework, more free time to pursue interests that had been on the back burner.
So starting this book with that mindset, I found it to offer a little more hand-holding than I personally needed, but then again, some women do go through deep depression during that time, so I understand the author’s tone (and I may have appreciated it a bit more if I had read the book that first summer after my oldest two moved out.)
This book did make a lot of good helpful points: that there is a lot you can do, from traveling to taking lessons to starting a new career (they list several women’s achievements occurring after age 40); that God will help you; that you need to find balance so as not to be overcomitted, etc. There were some good thoughts about still being a mom to adult kids yet letting them be adults and make their own decisions (and when to advise if their decisions appear to be taking them in a wrong direction) as well as things to consider if the kids move back home or if you have to move in with them. The chapter that was probably the most helpful to me at this time was the one on the “sandwich generation,” when one has nearly grown kids and then has a parent who needs care. When the kids move out, we can look forward to having some “me time,” only to have a parent then move in. But the authors pointed out that there have always been “sandwich generations”: this is not a new phenomenon. And I have learned over and over that looking for and feeling I “deserve” “me time” only makes me feel contentious, but trusting God to provide it when He knows I need it allows me to go on and accomplish what He wants me to. This is my ministry for this time in my life, and if God wants me to do anything else, He will open up the way.
All in all I’d say it is a pretty useful book. There were definitely things about it that rubbed me the wrong way, but they were more a matter of personality rather than right vs. wrong. It was excessively perky and bubble (and I am not. 🙂 But I know that would appeal to some readers), and there was a lot of repetition. It was overly thematic. I like themes in decorating, parties, and even books, but one can go overboard. Calling the reader “Mama Bird” often and having a number of avian illustrations got irritating after a while. The chapters were divided up into sections titled “Bye-bye, Birdie,” which discussed the main subject matter of the chapter, “Flight Patterns” with stories of several women in relation to the chapter, “Spreading Your Wings,” a list of issues to consider, “Liftoff,” which discussed the list from “Spreading Your Wings” in more detail (which, in my opinion, rendered the list section unnecessary), and “Smooth Sailing,” which focused on a few Scripture verses connected with the chapter subject matter. The different sections not only overdid the bird theme, but they also incorporated some of the excess repetition. I think the book would have been more cohesive and provided a sharper focus without the cutesy theme, but, again, that may not bother anyone but me.
I was also a little surprised that with all of the things they suggested a woman with an empty nest could do, they only mentioned the one thing the Bible gives older women to do (Titus 2:3-5) in one poem (other than saying that she could get involved in and teach a Bible study).
Despite my nitpicking, I do think the book had a lot of good advice to offer and good food for thought.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)