Just exactly when does “middle age” begin? I used to think it was a designation that belonged to my parents or anyone at least 10 years older than me. Maybe it starts when you become a grandparent? And then there are those AARP notices that start arriving in the mail… At age 53, and with 7 grandchildren? Face it, Renee. You’re there.
Let’s be realistic. While our culture may be communicating in all kinds of different ways that youth is where it’s at, there’s an awful lot to be said for weathering life for a few decades. My friend Diane and I joke that our “ladies lunches” have improved a notch or two from the days when we split Happy Meals with our kids. My husband Steve and I can go out for dinner at a moment’s notice without scrambling for a babysitter. Without the never-ending round of sports, lessons, events, and kid-related appointments, we can actually watch something on Netflix from start to finish. Our empty nest has allowed us time to catch our breaths, slow down, and get used to a different pace of life.
As enjoyable as that pace might be, there is still a temptation to avoid. In fact you might say there are two of them: a ditch on either side of this middle-aged road.
On the one hand, it would be easy to give in to society’s siren song. We’ve earned a break! Travel! Enjoy ourselves! Buy the RV, hit the road, and take that golf game to the next level. The reward for investing our earlier married years in our family is that now we can sit back and relax. On the other hand, there is the temptation to stay too involved in the lives of our children. If I lose sight of the fact that my “parenting” days are over, I’ll become worried and fearful. I might interfere and prevent my children from doing things that they should be doing on their own.
Where exactly is this middle ground to be found? Let’s look at two specific areas that affect our interactions with our children (and perhaps grandchildren): resources and relationships.
When we think of resources and stewardship, we typically think in two broad categories – time and money. After all, the Lord has given us a share of both and we desire to use them for his glory. By the time our nests are empty, we probably have a little more of both of these, compared to the crazy years when everyone was in diapers and we were just barely managing.
First, time can be invested in so many wonderful ways with our families. We can serve them by giving our time. (It’s a sacrifice, but those precious grandbabies need holding!) We also give our time when we attend games or recitals. Giving the young parents a chance to get away for a weekend is a priceless gift with great returns. (I’m still grateful, years later, for the quick trips Steve and I were able to take. Thanks, Mom!) Now that our kids are in the midst of “launching” and learning all the skills of “adulting”, we find ourselves in many lengthy conversations regarding everything from car insurance to resume writing. I love my adult kids and love relating to them as adults. Even though my “parenting” days are over, I love being their mom.
Next, when it comes to stewarding our finances, we often think of building and investing for our future. Might we also think of other kinds of investing as well? We can invest in people and relationships by using what we have been blessed with to share with others. This can look different in every family. It can range from ordering pizza so a frazzled daughter-in-law doesn’t have to cook dinner all the way to sharing in tuition or books for a grandchild’s education. Maybe instead of the couples’ cruise this year, we decide to spring for a cabin close to home where everyone can hang out for a week. The main thing is that we remember to view our resources as gifts from the Lord. We hold them loosely and seek to use them to benefit others.
Resources such as time and money can be stewarded to benefit relationships, but those relationships need to be grounded in love. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly as love covers a multitude of sins.” Our adult children will (not “might”) will make decisions and choices we may not agree with. We love them anyway. If our love for them requires them to parent their children a certain way or have a particular career or any number of other actions that we deem necessary, we are overstepping our bounds. When young adults are busy trying to find their way in the world and figure out life, they need us in their corner cheering them on. Be that voice of encouragement!
Loving them may mean that we are the ones pursuing those relationships. Remember that we are the ones with the spare time. Your daughter, busy writing her thesis, or your son, working overtime, might not be calling you as often as you’d like. So reach out! I’m not saying be a pest, but there’s nothing wrong with a quick text to say “I’m praying for you and I know your life is crazy right now.” (As much as you’d like to say “I haven’t heard from you in a week. Are you dead?” I don’t advise this.) Again, I want my children and grandchildren to know they are loved and valued. That’s why spending time together is a joy! Still, I have to remind myself that my expectations are not the important thing. Even though I love having everyone over for family dinners, I don’t want anyone to think those invites come with strings or pressure. Love “does not insist on its own way.” 1 Corinthians 13:5.
Of all the things we can leave for our children and grandchildren, nothing is as important as a legacy of faith. As our kids mature and enter the world of adulthood, we have a chance to offer counsel and encouragement borne out of our years of walking with the Lord. We weren’t perfect and neither will our families be perfect, but as a result of God’s grace given to us, we can give that grace to one another. May we all be able to say, in the words of John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John: 4.
Renee Mathis attends Christ Church PCA in Katy, Texas. She serves on the women’s ministry team, as a regional advisor for the PCA women’s ministry, and an advisory board member for Covenant College. When she’s not enjoying her 5 children and 7 grandchildren, she teaches English, reads books, and drinks coffee.