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“You’re posting all these stories about empty-nesting, and I haven’t even gone back to school yet—you aren’t really empty-nesters,” joked my twenty-one-year-old son.

As if I wasn’t already suffering from imposter syndrome as a want-to-be-blogger. Now, I was being called out by my own kid—for my ‘𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗯𝗲𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗲𝗺𝗽𝘁𝘆 𝗲𝗻𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵.’

“Well, your sister is fifteen-hundred miles away, doesn’t that count for something?” I tossed back. (I can’t believe I am actually having to justify whether or not I can call myself an ’empty-nester.’)

“Not really,” he shook his head, not giving an inch, “and then there will always be John…”

“Yes, that may be true,” I agreed. John is our twenty-four-year-old son who has autism and still lives with us. He does not want to move out, and we love having him here, so it’s a win-win.

However, at times I do feel like we have a renter upstairs. John has a busy life with work and daily activities, so when he’s home, he likes to retreat to the peace and quiet of his ‘apartment’—“No Visitors Allowed.”

So maybe by some standard, we at least qualify as ‘quasi empty-nesters’?

All joking aside, this is a new season for us, with our youngest having just left for college—I know it is a new chapter in many of your lives as well. For most of us, there have been years of these little bursts of energy swirling through our lives, our homes, and most importantly, our hearts. So after the whirlwind of laughter, late-night snacking, football, soccer and basketball games, tennis matches, and band practice subside, there is most definitely…a void.

Of course, they’ll be back for the holidays—thank goodness. For turkey and stuffing smothered in grandma’s special gravy, their favorite apple pie, and opening gifts on Christmas morning. Sure it’s a magical time, but it’s still not the same as when they lived under our roofs full-time…(insert ‘a sigh’ here.)

Fortunately, in an effort to help me prepare for this new chapter in my life, my mother gifted me with a golden piece of advice a few years ago. She told me to “find something you would like to try, or you would love to do and get started BEFORE your youngest leaves for college.”

And, so I did that just that when I launched this blog, I Do Part Two—Empty Nesting & More, about two years ago. Maybe for you, it’s not about writing or blogging or podcasting, but I hope you will see this time in your life as a chance to try something you’ve always wanted to do. Now, is a great time to rediscover interests you may have set aside while you were raising kids.

Ask yourself–

What did you use to like to do?

What do people ask you to get involved in or compliment you on?

What kinds of books, podcasts, and activities do you gravitate towards?

What lights you up?

What leaves you drained?

“Listen to the whispers,” a friend tells me, because everything you do or decide not to do, is leaving you clues.

I truly believe if we stay open to the possibilities, this season in our lives can be a time of amazing growth, new connections, and beautiful opportunities. The world is waiting-you are never too old, and it’s never too late—to discover who you were truly meant to be.

P.S. Just for the record, my son is back on campus. Maybe now, we can officially call ourselves ‘quasi empty-nesters.’

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Two birds in nest

Shortly after saying a tearful goodbye to our daughter on a campus far away, her older brother decided to join my husband and me for a few days of golf, paddle boarding, and relaxing at our cabin in the mountains.

As parents, these are the moments we breathe into with gratitude—when time blesses our hearts.

Soon he will be headed off to school as well, but thankfully at a college less than an hour away. He is close enough to golf 9-holes with us in an afternoon, then grab a bite together, and still make it back to campus in time to hang with his friends for the evening.

As our adult children spread their wings, many parents, like us, are finding unique ways to stay connected with their kids.

Our oldest son, who has autism, has chosen to continue to live with us, and we feel truly blessed. We’ve turned the upstairs into “his apartment.” When we are all home, he comes downstairs to tells us “he loves us,” and heads back up to his sanctuary. Fortunately, he’s very independent and loves his daily routine of work and activities, which keeps him fulfilled and engaged.

I saved the best of our ‘𝘴𝘶𝘱𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘥 𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘵𝘺 𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘵’ for last—my husband.

We. Are. Still. Here. Together.

We built this nest, and we are looking at this next phase as an exciting opportunity—rather than an empty one. We have been intentional about what we would like the next few years to look like, and are excited to experience this new chapter as it unfolds.

We are looking forward to more spontaneous outings, dinner with friends, and a renewed intimacy. We also know, just as we become accustomed to living with two fewer bodies in the house, the holidays will be upon us, and we’ll all be together again.

And isn’t that what is really important? It doesn’t matter if we are all ‘home’ in the same nest or not. We are a family because of our love for each other and because we choose to stay connected no matter where we all live. And that is the kind of nest that will never be empty.

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“𝙈𝙮 𝙝𝙪𝙨𝙗𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙡𝙬𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙢𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙮, 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙄’𝙢 𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙧𝙞𝙗𝙡𝙚, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙄 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙠 𝙞𝙩’𝙨 𝙚𝙭𝙝𝙖𝙪𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜.” DM’d a reader after I posted a picture about having fun golfing with my husband and some good friends one evening.

Having successfully avoided playing golf for the first 40-some years of my life, asking if, “I really enjoy golf?” Does beg the question.

And the answer is, “Yes—kinda.”

The real reason I golf is because my family golfs. My husband LOVES to golf. Many of my friends play golf. It’s all about connections and a chance to laugh and play together.

Father son golfing
Father and son golfing

My husband told me years ago one of the things he “would like more than anything is if I would learn to play golf well enough to enjoy it with him.” 𝙃𝙤𝙬 𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙄 𝙨𝙖𝙮 𝙣𝙤 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩?

Well, I did actually—when the kids were little. The thought of getting a sitter for 4-hours (to play golf) was not on my radar. Even when my husband surprised me with clubs one Christmas years ago, he could not get me out of the course except on a rare occasion.

Today, things are different. The kids are older; they can all fend for themselves, and I want to find ways to spend time with my husband—so I golf. If my husband and kids are going to golf for a few hours and they have asked me to join them—and I choose not to—that’s my loss.

My twenty-something son golfs and our daughter, when she’s home from school, is willing to drive around in the cart with me. It’s a win-win. I get to spend all afternoon with my husband and adult kids, and then we typically enjoy dinner afterward. What a blessing!

The reality is I am not that great of a golfer, but I am learning, and I get a little less frustrated playing the game today than I did have a year or so ago.

Do you know what I do when I’ve swung my club way too many times trying to get that little ball down the course? I pick it up and throw it. It’s called keeping up with the ‘Pace of Play’ so I am not frustrating everyone around me by playing too slow. Whatever works…

I hope by sharing this with you, it will encourage you to try something new. Consider an activity with your spouse, kids, or friends, even if you are worried you might not like it or you won’t be any good. For me, it’s more about creating memories with those I love than whether ‘I really like playing golf or not.’

“I’ve learned…that it’s not what I have in my life, but who I do life with that counts.”-Unknown

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A few short weeks ago, our daughter was graduating from high school. This morning, we flew her halfway across the country to begin her freshman year in college. Her older brother came out of his room to say goodbye, singing, “Leavin’ on a jet plane, don’t know when you’ll be back again…” We laughed. It cut the tension we were all feeling.

I woke early. My husband said I snored so he 𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘭𝘺 kicked me all night. I’m surprised I slept so deeply. Ugh—I’ll have to start using my automated snore pillow again. 

Welcome to midlife!

As I hurried around the house before everyone got up, trying to clean up for ‘who knows why’ while we’re gone, all I could think about is how messy my closets are.

How did they get so unorganized? Why didn’t I organize them when we were in lockdown? I had all that time, and I didn’t get anything cleaned or organized. 𝘕𝘰 𝘔𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘦 𝘒𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘰-𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘮𝘦.

I know what I am doing—I am avoiding “it.” 𝘐 𝘢𝘮 𝘢 𝘱𝘳𝘰 𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴.

I’m avoiding thinking about the giant void my daughter leaves behind. The one filled with infectious laughter and the funny, contorted faces she makes when she springs to life 𝙬𝙖𝙮 𝙩𝙤𝙤 𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙖𝙩 𝙣𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩.

And the other void where she enters a room at full stride—in mid-sentence—spilling the latest tea. She hates it when I need her to back it up a little, rewind. “Mom, I already told you about so and so…” 𝐼 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤, 𝑡𝑒𝑙𝑙 𝑚𝑒 𝑎𝑔𝑎𝑖𝑛, 𝐼 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑘 𝑡𝑜 𝑚𝑦𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓.

Noise and commotion also have a way of filling up spaces. My daughter’s girlfriends came over last night to wish her well and keep her company while she packed. I could hear them laughing and stomping up and down the stairs as they helped her load everything into the car for our early morning departure.

Then she yelled, “We’re headed to Taco Bell.” Laughter, chatter, and patter of feet shuffled out the door—then silence. 𝘋𝘦𝘢𝘧𝘦𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘴𝘪𝘭𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘦.

This is how it will be, quieter, for a while anyway.

Her two brothers are still at home. They will easily fill some of the spaces she has left behind. Their friends will come over, and jokes and laughter will fill the air—the TV will inevitably drone on.

The boys each have their own unique way of filling the spaces in our home. It will be comforting to have them home for at least a few more weeks.

But there are some spaces only a daughter, our only daughter, can fill. The space where she’ll let me hold her when she’s sad and hug her until she pulls away with a snarky, “Okay, now, Mom.” As if I didn’t know I was holding her just past ‘comfortable’ on her hug-o-meter.

It’s a good thing she picked Texas. Texas is a big state with lots of open space—she’s going to need all of it. I can’t wait to hear about all the people she meets, the subjects she studies, and the places she goes.

Facetime, family-group texting, and eagerly awaited phone calls will bridge some of the space between us.

She’ll come home for the holidays. Her laughter will again fill the house. From experience with her older brother coming home from college, I know that some spaces will be forever changed. Still, new and exciting dimensions will continue to be added.

There is no holding her back, even if I wanted to—which I don’t. The world is a big place, and I’m excited to watch how she chooses to fill up her own unique spaces in her life.

With much love to our daughter, Mom XOXO

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Wild Horses by Pixels

“Are we going to see the wild horses?” my not-yet-college-bound, have-to-be-dragged-everywhere, youngest asked. “You promised.”

We were on a college visit trip with her older brother.  5 colleges in 5 days.

The drive to see these mythical creatures on an exotic island was about an hour out of the way and I was exhausted from tours about professors/safety/dorms and hotel rooms with weird smells/bad breakfasts/non-working hot tubs.

But my memory of the picture on the cover of the book, Misty of Chincoteague, a beautiful wild horse, and her foal, drew me in and convinced me to keep said promise.

As we pulled into the park and made our way to the restrooms before embarking on our glorious, out-of-the-way adventure, signs warned not to feed the horses as they may bite and to ensure our safety by staying 40-feet away. This was exciting!

Bladders empty, we were ready!  We couldn’t wait to see these wild creatures, prancing in the sand dunes and uttering high-pitched neighs.

What happened next was stranger than strange.

We rounded the corner and there was a horse, in the middle of the parking lot.  Not prancing. Not neighing. Standing. Still. So still, we thought it might be a taxidermist’s latest “stuffing” project.

We got out. Walked around it. It did NOT move. Just stood there. We did see it take a breath, so we surmised it was alive and didn’t belong at the local Cabela’s.

The “wild horse ” in the parking lot

We had so hoped to happen upon a wild, prancing, neighing horse, enjoying the sands of Virginia beaches and its ability to roam FREE.

But what we found was more like a TAMED mule ready to plow the fields under the guise of some master who needed to get things done.

As we ventured on the park pathways, we saw a few more horse/mules milling around, and I can assure you that we were not scared, or excited, not even one little bit.

We got back in our cars and my mom thoughts took off into those mom places only they can go.

Are these horses like my kids?

Longing for adventure, FREEDOM, and curiosity to discover, hope, and dream?

But standing around, TAMED, bored, and controlled because of how me, as a mom, and society, as a whole, has directed them?

Don’t bite.
Stand still.
Be quiet.

Don’t stand up for yourself (your true self). Fit in.
Do what everyone else is doing. Stay in the box.
Control yourself at all costs.  Never color outside of the lines.

College visits.
What everyone else did.
What we were supposed to do.

Over the next days, I kept coming back and back to my thoughts and these horse-mules and my kids.

I did not want them to be mules.  I wanted them to be horses.  WILD ONES.  Not TAMED into submission to some arbitrary set of rules that who knows who made up.

I wanted them to be FREE.  To discover, hope and dream.

I talked and talked and talked to them about it.  And then talked some more.

Guess what happened?

My college-bound son said, “NOPE.”
He decided to take a gap year.
He enjoyed the end of his senior year without the pressure of choosing.
He never went to any of those 5 we had visited on that trip.
He discovered a school that made his heart happy.
FREEDOM.

My baby watched him intently.
She spent an extra year with him, the two of them becoming the best of friends.
When it was her turn, she chose an out-of-the-box school where she could get her Bachelor’s degree in two years. Two long, hard years.
She moved to California at 19 to pursue her dreams, graduation behind her.
She wants to win an Emmy.
FREEDOM.

Guess what else happened?

I began to wonder the same thing about me.

Do I have the FREEDOM to discover, hope, and dream?

As a middle-aged, regular, mom who has always played by the rules?

Who didn’t bite, stood still, and was quiet?

The answer:  YES.  YES, I DO.

I might stand up for myself.
What if I forge my own way?
Maybe I will even draw my own lines to color inside.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
It’s going to be good.
FREEDOM.

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Photo by Arthur Brognoli from Pexels

Marriage is not easy, my friends. And we hear this a lot. We’re told that marriage takes work. But do we really hear that message? We may know that marriage isn’t a fairytale, but are we really prepared for the effort required to make marriage successful and fulfilling for the long haul?

Our 30th wedding anniversary is today and I’ve been reflecting on our marriage and marriage in general. Somewhere along the way, I went from being a Wife in the Moment to being a Mom in the Moment, and while in theory, I should have found a way to be both perfectly, in practice that wasn’t so easy.

Even if we think we know what to expect from marriage going into it, there are just some things we can’t be fully prepared for. We may be used to working through the obvious issues, but it’s hard to be prepared for the way having children can impact our relationship. Yes, becoming parents enhances our relationship in so many ways – but it will also most likely add some strain to it.

In the early years, we moms face constant demands on our time, endure exhaustion from sleep deprivation and feeling needed all the time. This often leaves us feeling touched-out and craving time to just crash on the couch. We may feel like we don’t have much left of us for our husbands, and not only does this cause our husbands to feel distanced, it often leaves us feeling guilty.

Before I became a mom, I was really good at being a Wife in the Moment.

Back when we were a couple, and before we became a family, everything was about us. Plenty of couple time, time spent with friends, time to exercise together, time for trips together. We invested so much beautiful time in each other. Of course, I’m well aware of the guidance that reminds us that a happy family is dependent upon a happy marriage. And that the marriage relationship should always be paramount. I’m just going to be honest here, and I think many moms will relate….sometimes this is easier in theory than in practice.

Even after we became parents, the change wasn’t immediate. It happened gradually. We slowly lost some of “us” along the way. Little things added up, and less time devoted to each other exacerbated other issues that would have otherwise been tended to and worked out. Spoiler: we have found our way again and worked out these issues. Where there is love, there is hope. It sounds obvious, but the first step forward in hope is to be mindful of investing consistent time in the “us” relationship. Date nights are great, but simple time together is recharging, too. It can vary by the week, as long as there is a conscious connection. A walk, coffee, or iced tea on the patio and eating dinner separately from the kids are all easy ways to create a connection.

Sydnei and her love of 30+ years

While time is an essential building block of a strong relationship, another important factor in strengthening our love and relationship is good communication. Being tuned in to how we are feeling and then being completely open and sensitive in how we share that. Sometimes there’s accumulated resentment over past disagreements or negative patterns that make it harder for us to communicate from a place of love. When this happens, there is no shame in seeking help. I can attest to the healing power of couple’s therapy. Having a neutral person listen and guide us back to healthy communication, and facilitate us sharing and working through our feelings and needs, was less complicated than it sounds. And it was transformative for our relationship. As couples, we should never stop working on our relationship. Life will throw us curveballs, but it’s up to us how we choose to deal with them.

Love changes over time. We may know that with our minds, but feeling it with our hearts is a whole different thing. What begins as butterflies and dreamy love transforms into deeper, through-the-ugly, intentional love. We took vows on our wedding day and we must choose to keep those vows. We must consciously choose to love each other each and every day…and strive to be both a ‘Wife in the Moment’ and a ‘Mom in the Moment.’

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If in the dark we lose sight of love, hold my hand, and have no fear cause I will be here.”-Steven Curtis Chapman

When we stood at the altar over 27 years ago and my friend Marcy sang those haunting words, I had no idea in my 25-year-old head how true they would ring this many years later.  I didn’t know we were embarking on a journey of Three Marriages (and that’s so far…who knows how many more we have in us).Read more of Esther’s story that inspired our interview: The Tale of Our Three Marriages

All About Esther—

Esther is a wife to one and a mom to four grown children (ages 20-28).  She was born a missionary kid in war-torn Ethiopia, but has become a potato chip-eating, football-loving American, Christian wife and mom who has a fierce passion for marriage and family. She’s a little snarky, a little sappy, a little strong and hopefully more than a little Spirit-led.  She’s been driven to her knees in prayer and to raise her hands in praise.  She’s speaks words of hope and wisdom where the heart meets the home and faith touches the family. You can read more of Esther’s beautiful writings at the following: The Dolly Mama Blog, Instagram: Moms of Bigs, Instagram: The Dolly Mama, Facebook: Moms of Bigs, Facebook: The Dolly Mama

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Well, let’s find out together as Christopher D. Connors, an expert on Emotional Intelligence, sits down for a conversation with I Do Part Two to discuss what an emotionally intelligent marriage looks like in 2020.

Christopher D. Connors is the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence for the Modern Leader and The Value of You. He is a keynote speaker, executive coach and business consultant that works with leaders at Fortune 500 companies, sports organizations, schools and universities. His writing has appeared in CNBC, Quartz, World Economic Forum, Virgin Media, Thrive Global and Medium. Christopher is happily married to his beautiful wife and is the proud father of three amazing, rambunctious baseball-loving boys. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina. Visit him: http://chrisdconnors.com

Mr. Connors references a talk that Brené Brown presented on “empathy.” Brené Brown, Ph. D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is known world-wide for her work on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She is also a gifted story-teller. There are numerous versions of her talk on empathy available online and due to copyright laws, I Do Part Two encourages you to search for them on Youtube or on Brené Brown‘s website.

I so hope you enjoy I Do Part Two’s conversation with Christopher D. Connors,

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Is now the perfect time? What is holding you back?

For years, fear held me back from starting a blog, writing, or pursuing any projects I thought they might appear— “frivolous.”

Who am I to start a blog?

There are so many accomplished writers out there— I’ll never be good enough.

How will I ever overcome all the technological hurdles of building and maintaining a website?

Well, something happened when I turned ’50’—I let down my guard. I stopped trying to be perfect. I realized I didn’t want to look myself in the mirror on my 60th birthday, having still not launched the blog I had wanted to start in my early 40’s. The time is now!

What about you? Do you have a passion you’ve been wanting to pursue? I will tell you a secret…there will never be a perfect time to start, but it’s never too late and you are never too old.

Join me in my conversation with Amy Schmidt, the host of Fearlessly Facing Fifty about how I finally got the courage to pursue my passion.

Click on the link below: “EP 72: Making deeper connections with I Do Part Two…

Amy launched her business and brand six months before turning 50. Her mission is to encourage women over forty to push fear aside and find that hidden treasure of confidence that may have been pushed aside for a while and not let this time of life allow them to lose their identity. You can also find her on socials:  Fearlessly Facing Fifty on Facebook, and Instagram: Amy.K.Schmidt and https://fearlesslyfacingfifty.com/

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Photo by Arthur Ogleznev from Pexels

It’s taken time to understand and recognize, perhaps years if I really think about it, but something amazing happens when you get “shoulder to shoulder” with a loved one.  

In my case, it’s been with either my wife of 25 years or one of our 20-something daughters.  

Conversation and communication unfold with a depth and authenticity that doesn’t happen any other way.  

Living in a house full of lovely women, there’s rarely a lack of conversation. As a mild introvert, I haven’t always been central to the conversation; I was never excluded but neither did I always include myself. Fortunately, that’s changed in a monumental way.

When our daughters became teenagers, my wife and I discovered an openness and honesty our girls conveyed only during our “shoulder to shoulder” runs.  

Something changed as our gaze looked ahead and our breathing became more and more distressed.  

Real stuff started coming out of their mouths, stuff neither of us had heard from them before.  Stuff that mattered: hopes, dreams, fears, concern, you name it, it came out on those runs and they volunteered it!  

I loved, and still do love those runs. I would learn more about my daughter(s) in 30-60 minutes, than in a month’s worth of everyday interactions.  

What was going on, how they felt about it, what should they do: questions they sincerely wanted mom or dad’s advice and opinion on.  It was the opening for real conversation that every teenage parent hopes for. 

Could the same principle hold true when it came to conversations with my wife?  

Without making any direct efforts to apply it, I discovered this to be absolutely true. Evenings spent walking our dog around the neighborhood, have turned into significantly important connection time.  

Over the course of our well-worn route, amazing conversations take place.  All the stuff married couples MUST talk about: kids, jobs, plans, money, and schedules.

We’ve found that we are able to talk and connect at a deep and focused level.  For me, it’s being able to really listen without any household, device or family distraction.  

Just my wife’s words, her tone, her inflection without the eye-to-eye contact.  It enables me to talk, and my wife to listen and respond openly and honestly.

It’s my experience, being “shoulder to shoulder” creates a very safe environment to converse with a loved one.  

In our marriage, intimacy and trust already exist, so gazing forward together has empowered us to be vulnerable, while avoiding the eye contact that might make us feel hesitant to share what’s really on our mind. Eye contact that has, at times, been unintentionally passed and received as judgmental.  

Certainly, I am not saying we don’t or shouldn’t look each other in the eye- that’s critically important.  What I am saying is that walking with your spouse, maybe hand-in-hand, allows a level of authenticity that we might be uncomfortable with when we are face-to-face.

Sometimes the walks are impromptu or one of us will say, “Let’s walk the dog tonight.” Planned or unplanned they have become an amazing way for our family to connect in the deepest and most meaningful way.

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