As an empty nester, have you ever received a text message from your adult child that said, “happy birthday,” instead of a gift, and felt disappointed? Maybe you were expecting something else? Don’t allow negative emotions to fester inside of you. Read more as Jill Savage shares 6 ways you can manage your expectations as an empty nester.
In a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast, Jill and I talked about how to reinvent yourself as an empty nester. You can listen here if you missed that episode [How to Reinvent Yourself After the Empty Nest – Episode 175].
Be sure to read to the end for a book giveaway!
6 Ways to Manage Expectations as an Empty Nester
by Jill Savage
My son is out of the house and has a long-time girlfriend. Recently I celebrated my birthday and the only acknowledgement I received was a general text from them (they each sent me their own birthday greeting text). I feel like I have done a lot for them and was/am disappointed. I have received Mother’s Day and Christmas gifts from them so it’s not like they never acknowledge special occasions. My love language isn’t even gift-giving so why is this bothering me?
I also feel like I’m preparing myself for the fact that this may happen every year and I will always be hurt. I don’t want them to give me anything out of obligation and I also don’t want “little things” to add up and then there is an “explosion” in 20 years because the “little things” aren’t addressed.
One last thing: I am questioning my love because I want to love all of my family members unconditionally, but this makes me feel like I have conditions on my love. I don’t want to have any conditions on my love. Any advice you can give me to figure this out?
Thanks so much!
I’m so glad you reached out. We just talked about this at the Empty Nest Full Life Mom Retreat! Someone else brought the same question up, so you’re not alone!
Here are the highlights of what we talked about:
- We get to choose whether to be offended or to give grace. This is a perfect situation for us to take another step of spiritual maturity to not be offended. Forgive, give grace, allow others to be different than you are, and choose to be unoffendable, committing to be the bigger person and learning how to let go and allow others to be human.
- We have to change our expectations, especially as our kids get older. Our expectations are the root of disappointment. We can’t change the behavior of other people, but we can adjust our expectations. It would be wise to expect nothing from them moving forward. This way you’ll head off disappointment and will be surprised any time something does happen.
- If there’s something special you’d like for your birthday, ask for it. For instance, if you’d like a family zoom call because that would bless you, ask if everyone would be willing to clear their schedule for 30 minutes to make that happen. If someone isn’t able to make that happen, give grace for their absence and be grateful for whoever can join in. Be careful about all or nothing thinking—for example, if it doesn’t look just like you imagined it, be grateful for what it is, not focused on what it isn’t.
- Young adults are figuring out their new role in life and the family. During this season, most young adults move toward being self-focused and don’t think about how their action or inaction affects others. This isn’t because they don’t love you, but they are learning how to juggle new expectations, relationships, and dynamics in life.
- Love is not a two-way street; it’s actually a one-way street. We are called to love, period. We’re not called to love to get something back. We’re called to love because God first loved us. When we give to others so they will give to us, love becomes transactional and as you said–conditional–and the obligation is felt by the recipient. Often we don’t realize we’re doing that until it is revealed in a situation like this. (Mark discovered the same thing during our marriage crisis. He often shares about how God used that time to grow his love up.)
- The way to keep this from accumulating in your heart is “your work” not “relational work.” There’s nothing to talk to them about because it will likely damage the relationship and result in a feeling of obligation and a need to “keep mom happy.” It’s important you untangle your hurt with forgiveness and grace and then adjust your expectations moving forward. Increasing gratefulness–expressed aloud to God–will also put things in perspective for you, helping you experience the joy for what you do have rather than being focused on what you don’t have.
The empty nest season of life gives us so many opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth. This situation is one of those opportunities!
You’ve got this!
About Jill Savage
Jill Savage is an author and speaker who is passionate about relationships. She has been called one of today’s most exciting female speakers. Her honest, engaging communication is strengthened by her ability to make her audience laugh while they learn.
Jill is the host of the No More Perfect Podcast and the author of fourteen books including Empty Nest, Full Life, Real Moms … Real Jesus, the best-selling No More Perfect Moms, No More Perfect Kids, Better Together, and No More Perfect Marriages. Jill and her husband, Mark, live in Illinois and have five children and eight grandchildren. You can find Jill online at www.jillsavage.org.
In conjunction with this post and the podcast interview, How to Reinvent Yourself After the Empty Nest – Episode 175, Jill is giving away a free copy of her book, Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Next.
Leave a comment below sharing with us one thing you learned about managing expectations during the empty nest season and you will be entered into the contest for your chance to win a copy of her book.
You could also share this blog post on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter then comment here to tell us where you shared it and you’ll also be entered into the drawing.
The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday, August 29, 2022. Continental United States only.
I’m learning to have lower expectations as three of my four have left the nest, and I have found that it helps me to take things in stride.
We are just beginning our journey as our first born of five just entered college. One thing I learned is that her inaction is not her ignoring us. It is her figuring life out and learning now how to truly navigate everything. So for me, learning not to take things personal.
I’ve learned that having all 3 of my adult kids together for holidays or vacations is not realistic any more. Rather than expect to be happy only if all 3 are together I’m trying to focus on contentment with any time I spend with them, even if it’s just 1 or 2 of the kids who are present.
I’m working very hard to not take things personally. To realize I can accept my child without agreeing with their choices. They KNOW what they’ve been taught. They KNOW what I would think – but they make choices out of their lens and I am trying to loosen the grip on my “your mama taught you better than that” thinking. She did. I did. Now it’s on him (my son.). He’s not doing it to spite me. It’s not even in any way about me. (Can you hear my finger joints squeaking as I struggle to let go?)
It has been quite a few years since I joined the ranks of the empty nesters but in actuality I am still an empty nester 30 years later. It was hard when our son left for the Marines. My hubby had a great idea and when our son went down the street one way, we loaded up the car to go on a mini vacation the other direction. Our daughter was still at home and we both needed to be gone for a bit to absorb that brother and son would not be home anymore to live here. My hubby had asked him for his keys to be put on the TV before he left. Son looked at him like he was crazy and my hubby told him that this was not his home anymore but that his home will be wherever he is stationed for school and for regular life. It was a tough pill to swallow for all of us but son came back to his dad and told him how right he was, our home was not his home anymore. He would come home on 10 days leave every year or two but he has never come for any length of time and over the past 30 plus years, I have only had both my children in our home maybe 3 or 4 times. Such a transition. Your thoughts and suggestions above are wonderful, Jill and exactly what we have done with our children. We took our expectations to the Lord and we enjoy the time we have but we put no expectations on when they come and how long they stay but we love having them come whenever and however long is quality even though not quantity. We stay in touch weekly and with my daughter it is almost daily most of the time. Internet is a wonderful communication tool. With their work schedules, messenger is a blessing or email. Thank you for this very helpful informative and blessed message. I appreciate all you shared on the podcast and in this blog. God bless you and your ministry Jill and Michelle.
I need to let my grown sons take a lead in the direction of our relationship. Not just me. Let go of expectations!
I had a hard time adjusting, as I was a single mom when I became an empty nester. It was so hard to let go, but I learned (the hard way) to expect nothing and then to be delighted by whatever attention I got. The first few years were difficult with that mindset, but now that she’s 33, I think I’ve got it! This was made easier by the fact that she has been serving as a missionary in Guatemala for almost nine years, and she CAN’T come home more than once a year – so I have learned to appreciate every moment and every phone call!
This is such a wonderful post. There is much wisdom in every point. As an empty nester myself, much changed once they were gone. Our children have their own stresses to work out, changes in their own lives, and schedules. It all comes down to grace – constantly offering it and releasing our expectations.
I am working on not having certain expectations of my sons anymore. It’s hard because being a single mom, they were both pretty much who I always did everything with. Now I’m having to do most things without them and it’s lonely sometimes; but this is the way it should be. I have also learned that if I want something of them, to just tell them instead of getting upset when they don’t “read my mind”!
So helpful! Navigating the empty nest life is certainly full of surprises… lots of grace all around! 🤗 Stopping by from #graceandtruthlinkup