nancy williams

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When It’s Time to Empty the Nest

One evening I heard a sudden ruckus of screeching and rumbling sounds that told me two raccoons were having a major skirmish in my backyard.

I grabbed a flashlight to see if I could spot the brawl, but the little warriors were hidden from view. Their fight went on for a bit and then it grew quiet, except for the rustling of leaves on the ground that told me at least one of my little furry friends had run away. The rest of the night was quiet. So, apparently, the disagreement I heard had been resolved one way or another.

I looked around the next morning but no signs of any problems. As my neighbor and I talked about what we heard the evening prior, she told me that when raccoon cubs reach a certain age, the male “fathers” send them away to build a life of their own. I wondered if the yelping and screeching sounds were from the young one not wanting to leave or from the father struggling as he had to let go. It may have been well intentioned but it was obviously not a happy occasion or a smooth transition. Even if it was necessary.

It got me to thinking about how we go through the process of “letting go” when our children grow up. As I talk to my friends and through my own experiences, I know there are times when that event is met with excitement from both parents and their children. They talk, they prepare, and they look forward to the time when the children will step out and establish their own independence as adults. The transition goes relatively smoothly.

Then there are times when the parents don’t want their children to leave. At least not when the children think they are ready. Skirmishes happen as parents attempt to reason with their children and to hold on, perhaps with pressure, with demands, with threats, or with bribes. Sometimes the parents are right: the child doesn’t have the maturity, skills or preparation to successfully take charge quite yet. He or she needs more time to transition into the responsibilities of adulthood and independence. Other times parents’ protectiveness takes control, and they don’t want to let go. Maybe they don’t want their children to struggle. Or maybe they’re not ready to face an empty nest.

Some families struggle because the parents know it is time for their children to step out and take charge of their lives but their children don’t want to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. And the battle ensues.

If you are a parent facing this transition time with your children these tips may serve as a guide to help you manage this time:

• Talk with your children about your desires for them and their future success as they transition into independence. It’s not a matter of if they will leave but rather a matter of how and when they can do so in a way that is best for everyone.

• Express your desire to support them as they transition and work with them to set a plan and timeframe that takes everyone’s needs into account.

• Identify your own personal concerns that might get in the way and get help if needed to work through your struggles.

• Listen carefully as your children express their needs and concerns and talk with them about options to address those areas.

• Talk with your spouse to be certain you are both in agreement about your expectations.

• Keep your family discussions respectful, honest, encouraging, and focused on your goals.

• If your children have special needs like a disability or extended illness, you’ll want to set expectations accordingly. Some outside counsel might be helpful.

• Most importantly, ask God to grant you wisdom to understand your children and to guide you as you help them enter this new stage of their lives.

Questions:

If you’ve been through this experience of helping your children leave the nest and take charge of their lives, what advice would you share with parents who are facing this transition time? What’s been helpful? What’s been challenging?

Take Time to Thank a Mom

Soon we will set aside a day to recognize women who have devoted their lives to caring for their children. Mother’s Day — a day we honor women who have recently stepped into the role and those who have been mothers for many years. Women who have one child to raise and those who have a house full. Women who care for children with special needs and critical illnesses. Women who grieve the loss of children. Women who support their children in education, sports and the arts. Women who partner with husbands to raise children and those who fill that parenting role alone. Women who now mentor and support their adult children as they leave the family nest to build their own lives and perhaps become parents themselves. Women who have added the role of “grandmother” to their lives. Women who wait with prayers and hope that their children who have disconnected from family will someday come back into their lives. Women whose hearts are filled with joy and those whose hearts are heavy with disappointments and pain. Women who have overcome life challenges and women who hold onto hope as they weather life’s storms. Our mentors, our caregivers, our teachers, our friends.

It’s a day to show respect and honor. A day to express love and thanks. And, for me, a day to remember my mother who is no longer here with us. Please allow me to introduce her to you because we can learn some powerful lessons from her about living a life of love and faith.

My mother was a quiet woman — gentle in spirit and unwavering in faith, even in the most challenging, painful times. While she shared a few stories about her childhood, she kept much of her life tucked carefully and privately in her memory and in her heart. And yet, I realize much of the legacy she passed along to me came through the way she reflected her relationship with God through her actions.

Mom openly — and authentically — lived what she believed. She studied her Bible and spent time each day in prayer. She taught little children at church as well as her own three children about God’s love for them. She made certain the coffee pot was ready and always had something sweet in the pantry, in case someone dropped by for a visit. She counseled women who were struggling as wives and mothers to seek God’s wisdom for their lives. She sacrificed herself for those she loved. She cared for my father during his many illnesses. She battled cancer as long as she could and then prepared for the Lord to take her to be with Him.

My mother passed along family keepsakes as she also taught me the value of sharing our spiritual beliefs with our children and grandchildren through our conversation and through our own daily living. We can teach powerful lessons as we talk about our relationship with God and how we’ve worked through our own spiritual struggles. I remember as a young child watching my mother face some challenging times. I sometimes wondered how she could hold on and press through difficulties she faced when many women would have given up. She was quiet about many aspects of her life but open and honest about her love for God, her understanding of Him, and her trust in His faithfulness. She didn’t waver, and I watched as God faithfully cared for her.

She showed me that we don’t need to preach, we don’t need to condemn, and we don’t need to give up hope. We do need to hold fast to the spiritual truths that guide our lives and ask God to let His light shine through us into the lives and hearts of those we love.

The legacy my mother passed down was clear: Love God. Obey Him. Serve Him. Follow wherever He leads. Trust Him with your whole heart and hold on to His promises, no matter what life brings. I know there are many other mothers whose lives reflect that same legacy of love and faithfulness. May we adopt that same desire to let the light of God’s love shine through us. And let’s be sure to thank them this Mother’s Day.

Holding On or Letting Go: What’s a Mother to Do?

“Am I doing too much?”

“Am I helping enough?”

Questions like these fill our minds and our conversations as we watch our children learn how to manage their lives. How do we know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” when it comes to helping them? We want to support them and yet we know we have to let them learn how to manage their own lives. It’s not a problem when things are going smoothly, but what about when they hit the rough patches of life?

I remember when my sons learned how to ride a bicycle. After some practice with training wheels and my hand firmly planted on the back, the day came when it was time to take the extra wheels off. I held the back of the bicycle as the boys struggled to find their balance. “Don’t worry, son. I’m holding on.” Once I let them get comfortable, I knew

I would need to let go so they could take off. So I did. And they did.

And at some point, they fell. Of course, I rushed over and helped them up, wanting to assure them, “I’m so sorry I let you fall. I’ll hold on.” I knew though, that if they were going to learn to ride I had to let go at some point, even if it meant they would fall down again. I knew eventually they’d learn. And they did. I remember watching them ride up and down the street with the biggest smiles. “Look at me, Mommy. I can do it all by myself.”

Now they are grown men, learning how to manage the challenges of adult life on their own. Balancing their finances. Building careers. Managing relationships. Maintaining their vehicles and their homes. Coping with their emotions.

Sometimes they come to my husband and me with a request to hold their bicycle while they get their bearings. For example, when my younger son moved to the town where we lived, he asked, “Can I stay with you while I find a job and a place to live?” We had just moved to the new community ourselves and were pleased that he decided to move to the same area. We knew he could use some assistance, so we set some expectations and a timeframe (boundaries) so he could get his bearings. And it worked out well. Soon things were in place for us to let go, and he began riding on his own. Has he fallen a few times?

Sure, but he is learning how to pick himself up and get back on to ride again. And we are on the sidelines, praying and cheering him on.

There have been other times when our children have problems and our hearts are heavy. My motherly instinct wants to jump in, rescue, and hold the bike so they won’t fall. Yet, I know they need to work things out for themselves. So my role in those times is to be on the sidelines with my love, encouragement, advice if they ask, and my prayers. I know that while I’m not holding their bicycle and controlling the outcome, God is right there along side them, guiding, protecting, and healing any wounds that might occur.

When we help our children, it’s a great feeling to hear, “Thanks, Mom.” And when we let go and give them the space and support to learn on their own, it’s wonderful to here their excitement, “Look, Mom. I did it myself.”

My prayer is that God will guard our hearts and guide our steps to show us how to respond in a way that is best for us and for our children.

Questions:

• When have you held the bicycle for your adult children to give them a helping hand during a learning curve or a difficult time?

• When have you stayed on the sideline and given your children the space and time to tackle the challenges of life on their own?

Maintaining the Tie That Binds

One of my favorite quotes about family relationships is attributed to Erma Bombeck:

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.

As I read that quote, memories stir about life in the Williams house as our two sons were growing up. We had our share of laughter and tears, bickering and sharing, ups and downs, independence and partnership, all bathed in love and commitment to each other.

While the boys were growing up, our lives were intertwined through many activities and we made it a point to share meals together, attend church together, travel, and share family playtime to keep us connected. We were blessed to have many opportunities to create precious family memories.

Now they are grown men. One is married and has a little daughter. The other is single and has his own home place. Both are busy with their careers and have cultivated interests and activities that don’t always include me. And I know that’s how it should be.

I’m glad they’re building their own lives, and at the same time I need to accept that while our loves continues to be strong, our family times are not as frequent as they once were.

So we must be more creative and flexible in our plans and our conversations. Text messages and emails are more frequent than phone conversations and times together are more planned than spontaneous. Holiday celebrations aren’t always held on the official holiday date and family meals have changed as new cooks have stepped up with their own recipes.

While some traditions have remained in tack, others have been tucked aside as precious memories so new ones can begin. When we do all get together, the laughter resonates and the love flows. And then, we all go to our own home places. It’s different. It’s new. It’s good.

This mama who loves time with her family must keep in mind that while our lives are moving in different directions and changes are taking place for all of us, we are still bound together through our love for God and the love he has given us for each other. So, I’m learning to enjoy the changes this season of life is bringing for our “little band of characters” as Erma describes.

And I know I’m not alone. I’ve listened as friends and family share their own experiences of changing family patterns and traditions as their children become adults. We exchange tips on creative ways to foster our family relationships and strengthen our ties.

Questions:

• What do you do to help your family stay connected now that your children are grown?

• How do you foster long-distance relationships?

• What about the holidays?

• Do you maintain traditions?

• Are you creating new ones?

• What advice do you have for parents who are just entering this new season in the life of their families?

It’s That Time of Year

I’m sharing some thoughts here that I’ve shared a few years ago, because once again I’ve found myself pondering the spirit of hope that comes with the season of spring. We’ve moved through the cold, quiet of winter and are stepping into a season that has arrived in splendor. A vibrant color palette and a crisp sweet fragrance have exploded in bouquets of pink, white, yellow and red. And our native bluebonnets are popping up all over. Look up. The sky seems bluer, don’t you think? Perhaps because it serves as a backdrop for blooms of fruit trees and budding leaves emerging from once barren branches. And did you see that dazzling full moon we had recently? Things are stirring indeed. We’re meeting each other on the greenbelt trails and in the fitness centers as we work off extra pounds we collected over the winter season. We’re busy with activities that warmer weather brings as our weekends include festivals, crawfish boils, ball games, concerts, camping, travel, and outdoor play. spring-cleaning is part of our agenda as we clear out the clutter and organize our closets, our garages, maybe even our lives.

We seem to have more energy. More optimism. More focus. We’re waking up physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s a time of renewal, a time of hope. HOPE. A four-letter word we seem to use often as we think about things we wish for. “I hope the economy turns around soon.” “I hope our team wins the championship.” “I hope the rain washes away this pollen soon.” “I hope I can get time off for a vacation.” “I hope the people of Japan can restore their country after the devastation from the tsunami.” “I hope you know how much I love you.”

But hope is so much more than wishful thinking. When I speak of hope that comes with the birth of spring, I’m referring to the assurance we choose to have that what we believe will come to pass. When we set our sights on this kind of hope, we

establish goals, develop plans, then move forward with confidence. We believe if we plan carefully, work diligently, choose an optimistic attitude, and don’t give up, we’ll meet success at the end of the journey.

It’s that kind of hope that drives us to plant our gardens, prune our shrubs, take steps to improve our health, cheer for our children’s sports teams, press on through challenges we’re facing, and encourage each other as we place our trust—our hope—in God to guide our steps in this new season of our lives.

Maybe it’s the new life budding around us. It could be the reconnection with others after the solitude of winter. It may come as we seek something to cling to in the midst of fear, pain or disappointment. And it may stir through a time of spiritual renewal we experience as Easter approaches and we reflect on God’s amazing sacrificial love and promise of life everlasting. Whatever the catalyst, we step out in a spirit of expectancy. A spirit of hope.

Certainly we’re not naïve. We know that the best-laid plans don’t always bring about success. In spite of our dreams and efforts, life sometimes takes unexpected twists and turns. Yet when our hope is well grounded, we move ahead with a spirit of assurance, determined to extend our best effort, weather the storms, and experience the joys around us on our life journey.

The Bible’s New Testament offers some words of encouragement that can guide us as we step out together into this new season of spring. “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13 NLT).

May we hold onto hope, celebrate beauty, experience God’s love, work diligently, encourage each other, and therein find true joy as this season unfolds.