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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

A Pastor’s Life After the Children Are Grown



Dr. Hyles was a good example in many areas. Mrs. Gray and I have been married for 51 years.  As we were facing the empty nest syndrome we wanted to make certain that we entered these new years with the right mindset. As always Dr. Hyles was a great help to us. 

One of the most neglected areas for those who followed Dr. Hyles was missing some of the comments that he would make in sermons and Bible studies that gave us a little one sentence philosophy. He was the master at inserting a truth that could be applied to different areas of our lives. Such was the case in regards to this subject. He gave us glimpses of differences that transpired after his children were gone.



For some marriages this can be a very difficult time. In fact many divorces take place after the children are grown. Pastor’s homes are no different. He must prepare he and his wife for this new era in their lives. Although I emphasize the pastor, these principles could apply to all couples. As I study his teaching here are some of the thoughts and ideas I learned from him.



1. As the children grow older allow them to withdraw from you and you from them. Dr. Hyles often taught this philosophy. It is natural for a child to drift away from the parents. A parent should allow that drift and embrace it themselves. They should drift with the child in order to prepare themselves for life after the child has left home. This transition time helps prepare them as well as you.
2. Allow this time of transition to be used to enhance your marriage relationship. Rather than waiting until the child is gone, it is wise to begin new practices with each other, even before the children have left home. Rather than sitting around grieving over a child not being present, he suggested changing habits for those times. Those changes begin to prepare you for life after your children have left your home.
3. Embrace the time when you and your wife are together alone. Dr. and Mrs. Hyles enjoyed some of their happiest years together after the children left. Without distractions they were able to spend more time together. They embraced and cherished this time in their lives. They did not sit around waiting for the kids to come visit. They enjoyed the new opportunities they could enjoy together.
4. Give the children space after they have left home. When Dr. Hyles children left home he allowed them to be their own adults. He gave them space to live their lives. Mrs. Gray and I learned from this and did the same thing. We wanted our children to feel that we were there for them but not overbearing to them. We made ourselves available but we did not make ourselves pests. 
5. After the children were gone Dr. Hyles allowed Mrs. Hyles to be more visible in the ministry. Although Mrs. Hyles never was seen as an “assistant pastor” type of wife, when the children were gone he encouraged her to take more active roles. In her case she taught more at the college after the children were grown and gone. She spoke more in churches after they were grown. He spoke more of her after the children were grown. Before, he was guarding her privacy. After, he was more comfortable talking about her publicly. By the way, he always honored her wishes in regards to this. Many husbands speak out of turn about their wives and do not take into account the potential hurt that it causes. He was careful to honor her wishes when it came to speaking of her publicly. When the children were at home, the wife’s main focus is the family, but afterwards she can expand that role.
6. Before the children were grown the emphasis was on the family, but afterwards it was on the marriage. Some pastors failed to make this transition. Brother Hyles did not try to keep his children as part of his own identity after they were grown. He promoted the marriage aspect more than the family aspect. This also allowed the children to branch out to be their own families. Mrs. Gray and I became more visible as a couple after the children were grown than we had been before. 
7. Once the children were grown, he did not seek to control their behavior, rather to influence it. He knew that his children had to make their own choices. He also knew that while they were living with him he had to insist upon certain types of behavior. In other words he “ruled his house well” while his children were there. Once his children were gone it was no longer his responsibility to make their choices for them. He used the power of influence rather than the power of control.
8. He changed his pace as he grew older. This is something that many pastors struggle to do. I was forced to retire, not because I was burned out, but because of my responsibility to my wife. Her health demanded that I give her more time and attention and I gladly did so. However, some men retire rather than changing their pace. Dr. Hyles took more time off as he grew older to spend with Mrs. Hyles. He still worked hard, but he knew that he needed to pace himself differently. Most of us could not have kept up with his slowed down pace, however, if you study him carefully you will see that he did change his pace, which is why he did not feel the need to retire.
9. He developed traditions that involved only he and Mrs. Hyles. Some couples try to keep alive all the traditions they enjoyed while their children were growing up. They want to treat holidays and birthdays all the same as they used to. He and Mrs. Hyles developed their own traditions. If the children wanted to share these events with them that was fine, but they had already developed traditions that prevented a void in their lives. Many couples spend Christmas lonely because they want to relive the past. He chose to live in the present and make new traditions for he and Mrs. Hyles to enjoy without the children. If your happiness is dependent upon your children, then you will be a very unhappy empty-nesters.
10. He did not interfere in their lives. This is not easy for a parent, but it is important. He did not give them advice unless questions were asked of them. He did not snoop into their private business. He let them live their lives without his interference. In other words, he let them grow up and be adults. As our children got older we followed this example by allowing them to have privacy in their own lives. I am there for my children if and when they need me, but I refuse to interfere without being asked.
11. He allowed them to be different. We all want our children to live the way we always lived, but that is impractical. They will make different choices. Do not make them feel that your relationship with them is contingent upon them doing everything exactly the way you always did. Let them be their own individuals. Allow them their own identities. Be comfortable with the differences.
These are a few things that I learned from observation as well as paying attention to his teaching. There are things that made a difference in the way we lived our lives post children. I did not ride off into the sunset and live my life vicariously through my children. Mrs. Gray and I chose to live our own lives. In other words, we kept on living even after our children were gone.
Dr. Hyles experienced some disappointments with his adult children, as most of us do. When asked how he was able to stay strong in spite of these disappointments, he replied, “I never lived my life for my children. I lived my life for my Saviour. Every decision I made regarding my children was for His sake. Even when my children fell short of what I wished for them, my Saviour never did. I refuse to be disappointed when I know that God has never failed me. My children do not determine my happiness. They can enhance my happiness. But, my joy is in the Lord.”

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