Empty nest provides opportunities to soar

When the youngest of Raymond and Cheryl King's three children left home last summer, she cried - and cried some more. But she has dried her tears and has become philosophical about her life in an empty nest.

"I tried to hide my feelings from the children. As each left home I tried to be the cheerleader, saying such things as, "Look at all the things you will get to do, the places you will get to see." One part of me wanted to be the Mom standing in the driveway, smiling brightly, waving a hankie and saying cheerily, "Goodbye! Have fun!" But another part of me watned to call out, "Come back! Be 9 years old again!""It was hard to let go. I was wondering where I fit into the scheme of things, what I could do with the rest of my life. I had put so much energy into raising my children. I was praying for everybody, doing things for them all the time. Then I thought, "I can have those blessings too."

Sister King, who is Relief Society president of the Kaysville Utah East Stake, said she has become aware that many mothers have a hard time adjusting from being in a full house to living in an empty nest after their children leave home. "On the one hand, I've seen women who have made the transition quite easily," she said. "They have gone on with full lives. They have served missions or volunteered in the community. They've been happy and have had great things to accomplish. On the other hand, I've seen those for whom it seems life stopped. They don't progress. They're just in sorrow and mourning."

Sister King said Camilla Eyring Kimball, wife of President Spencer W. Kimball, has been an example to her.

"Sister Kimball encouraged us to continue to study and learn, to take classes and do all the things that are out there for us to do so that when the time comes when the children are gone we will be able to find things that will be of service to others and a growing experience for ourselves.

"We talk about families being forever. Sometimes we thingk we'll always have our families with us, but there usually comes a time when they're not in our homes. Maybe this is a time Heavenly Father gives us to find our own strengths and weaknesses.

"Young women are told to look ahead. Yet, it seems, after we get married it's as if we kind of forget that there is a life still ahead of us. We marry and we become mothers. We may become grandmothers and great-grandmothers. But one thing never changes: We are daughters of God. My duty is to find out what He wants me to do and prepare for the next stage of my life. I've learned that being prepared means more than just having a 72-hour kit. It includes getting ready spiritually, intellectually and emotionally to find out what we want to do with the rest of our lives."


In the 1960s Charlotte Cannon Johnston of Chicago participated in a community panel on options for women. "I represented homemaking as a career. I saw being home with my children as very important," she said.

Now that her four children are married, she finds that lessons she learned during her years as a full-time homemaker serve her well in a new stage of her life.

"When my children were little, my friend Jean Bell and I took each other's children for a day each week. What a welcome break!" she recalled. "It was really important to remind myself that I had a life as an individual no matter how many children were at home. That doesn't change with time.

"Women reaching out to each other is very important, not just when children are little, but as they get older, too. When our children were teenagers, my friend Jean went back to school. I followed her lead and went back to school, too. I got a master's degree in reading from the University of Chicago. I neede the model of a sister making a similar choice. Because of family and Church commitments it took me 3 years to complete a one-year programs. I was 51 when I finished."

One of the Church responsibilities that kept her busy was her tenure as the first Chicago Heights Stake Relief Society president. Once while waiting in a doctor's office for a physical, she puzzled over how to give the Relief Society sisters of her stake enthusiasm and wisdom in preparing for the future. "I struck on the phrase 'anticipatory guidance,' she said. "I was so excited about the concept that when my appointment was over I walked all the way home thinking about it, forgetting that I had driven to the doctor's office!"

After 22 years as a full-time homemaker, Sister Johnston values her work as a reading specialist in a local elementary school. "I've found it easier to let go of my children," she said. "I value the stimulation of my field and colleagues. Because my husband's field overlaps with mine, our conversations and home life are enriched and more reciprocal. (Peter Johnston is a psychiatrist.) I have become more connected to the radically integrated community in which I live. This is a great stage of life." - Linda Hoffman Kimball


Rosemary Fletcher and her husband, Bob, raised their eight children primarily in New Jersey. Always active and energetic, she filled her life with community and Church service even before their youngest left for college.

"By the time my children were grown my life was very full," she said. "I worked as a volunteer in the hospital. I was stake Young Women president. I wrote hundreds of letters to friends. My husband was the patriarch, so I typed all the blessings he gave. I organized a tennis club (even though I don't play well) for exercise and socializing. I remember thinking, `What's all this business about an empty nest?' "

Then she and her husband relocated to Massachusetts. She had a difficult time adjusting. "I was in a new setting without my old network of friends and my familiar community," she said. "I didn't really know anyone, and my husband was working full time. The ward here is very young, and some seemed afraid to ask me to do much for fear that I was too old."

She set out to make a new network and serve her new community. She called the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and volunteered to assist a woman with her letter writing, shopping and other errands for about 10 months. She called the Council on Aging in town and lined up enough Relief Society volunteers to handle two routes for the Meals on Wheels program that delivers meals to the elderly or those who are unable to cook for themselves. Five years later Relief Society sisters are still participating actively in that program.

Her daughter Tina now lives nearby with her husband and six children, so Sister Fletcher is a busy grandmother. She also volunteers part time as her son-in-law's medical office secretary. "Many of his patients are elderly and need someone to chat with," she said. "I'm happy to do that. I'm getting tutored in electronic billing, and I'm learning to use a laptop computer. I'm using my brain!"

Sister Fletcher stays connected with friends and family through frequent phone calls and visits. She goes to Utah every three months to visit her mother, age 94.

Despite the difficulties of adjusting to this new stage in life, Sister Fletcher keeps an upbeat attitude. "My mother taught me when I was 2 that life is too good to waste," she said. - Linda Hoffman Kimball


"I'm an example of the fact you can have it all - you just can't have it all at the same time," said Doreen Stapley Woolley. "I've always felt I could do a lot of things, but I just had to do them one at a time. I stayed home, raised five children and did all the things that mothers usually do, but I've had a professional life also."

Sister Woolley's professional life began after her children were grown, when she was living in Germany with her husband, Galen S. Wolley, then a physician on military assignment, and now president of the France Marseille Mission.

"I didn't have anything else to do so I decided to get a master's degree in counseling," Sister Woolley said of her time in Germany.

When she and her husband returned to the United States, she worked full-time as a Church Educational System principal in Las Vegas, Nev., and worked on and received a doctorate.

"You don't have to die on the vine just because your children are grown," she said. "I've always had a zest for living, a desire to know things. I recognize there are still many things I don't know. As long as you're living you're becoming who you are. You're not there yet, no matter how old you are. Age is simply a matter of attitude."

Sister Woolley said she has met several women who are struggling with the problem of what to do with their lives after their children have left home. "Some feel their children don't need them anymore, then the martyr syndrome sets in: `I've given my whole life to them, and now I'm all alone.' I always felt my children weren't my children as much as the Lord's, that they were lent to me for a time. Through them I could grow as well. Some women never get beyond their children. Their whole self-worth is tied up in their children's behavior, successes and accomplishments.

"Our first child was born in 1953. From that time until the last one left home, I devoted my life to home and family. I worked before our first child was born and helped my husband through medical school. But I made the decision to stay home with our children because I felt I was the only one who could really love my children in the way they needed to be loved and nurtured. And I wanted to be part of their lives.

"My philosophy always was that when children were growing up I wanted to provide them with good memories. In the process of doing that, I was able to develop my own abilities, my own talents. I always felt that I had ability, that I was not a just reflection of my children. I was not worthwhile or worthless or anything because of what my children did. I could nurture them without giving up my individuality. I think that was a key. I always felt I was a person too. I wasn't just somebody's mother, or somebody's wife, or somebody's daughter. I had things to offer myself. The other thing that has been of most value is the fact that I've had a very supportive husband in all this who also had the same kind of philosophy.

"The experiences I've had in raising a family have contributed to my responsibilities here in the mission. Nurturing my children and going back to school and doing other things gave me more depth as a person so that I have more to offer. If I were giving advice to a young mother, I'd tell her to operate on the basis that you never can know enough. I'd tell her to be a lifetime learner." - Gerry Avant


Phyllis Belnap quit going to work outside the home when her twins, the first of six children, were born 1957. She stayed home with her children until they went away to college.

"When Bruce and I got married, one of the things we discussed was whether I would work outside the home when we had children," she said. "I had a job I totally loved. Bruce had no qualms about me working when the children went to school. But when they were all of school age, I didn't go to work. I felt I could do that some time in the future, but that right then my family was the most important part of my life. There were lots of things that sort of got shoved to the background in my life. My focus was on my family."

Although she devoted her life to rearing her children, she said she didn't have a problem adjusting to an empty nest when they left home.

She and her husband went on a mission; he was director of the Washington Temple Visitors Center. Since they returned home, they picked up with activities they were involved in before. They both work on family history and serve at the family history center. She is the Relief Society spiritual living teacher and visiting teaching coordinator in the Clearwater Ward, St. Petersburg Florida Stake. She volunteers at a blood services center, shredding private papers, keeping up the card catalog in its library or doing anything else that needs to be done. The Belnaps are involved in missionary work and often invite friends to come to dinner. "There's never nothing to do," she said.

Sister Belnap said she feels it is important for women to develop hobbies and interests outside their families. "You might not be able to devote as much time to outside interests as you'd like to, and you can't do everything, and not as often as you like. But lots of times those hobbies and interests are things your family can be involved in and that will serve you well later in life. I think it's important to foster interests outside the home."

Sister Belnap said some mothers, after their children are grown, become discouraged as they look back and regret all the things they haven't done in their lives. "It's easy to lose perspective when you measure your life by the world's standards," she said. "You can look around and find women who have done exciting things and think you haven't contributed much to this world. But if you've raised a good family, you've contributed the most." - Gerry Avant

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