Empty Rooms (When the Children Leave Home)

August 16, 2013 | 30 comments

Today, I’ve invited one of my most cherished friends, Patty Horstman, to bring words for you. Pull up a chair, and hear Patty’s tender story, written for anyone of us who has ever had to say goodbye — and for those of us who someday will.

Two Empty Rooms

His shoes remain noticeably absent. The once mounded pile of laundry in the middle of the floor is gone. All the books that lay scattered throughout his room and the house — his Bible, C.S. Lewis works, the one on Paine — now sit on his dorm-room shelf. No more contagious smile and constant joking and bear hugs. No more fist bumps after I lead worship on Sunday morning … not for a while at least.

He’s gone, and his room is empty.


The hollow echoes of my own footsteps greet me. Her favorite pictures no longer grace her desk. A dust-free zone marks where her Bible and journal sat stacked on her bedside table. I open her drawers and peek into her closet. They’re nearly empty, of course. I’m not sure what I expected to see; she took everything with her. No more cheery offers of help, no more unexpected hugs, no more impromptu movie nights or long talks on life … not for a while at least.

She’s gone, and her room is empty.

girl holding suitcase

Last year there was one empty bedroom. This year, there are two. In twenty-four short months there will be three.

Empty rooms signifying the passing of time, the changing face of our family and the growing-pains* of my heart.

All summer long an image stuck in my brain: I’m standing on a beach with a fist full of sand running through my fingers. My time with my kids, as this nuclear unit of six, is short and the sand’s almost gone. Time is draining through my fingers and slipping away and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

And here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop it. I want them to grow and change and mature and leave. Children are meant to grow up and have independent lives of their own. And I know my kids are exactly where they need to be. And I’m incredibly proud of the nurturing, caring, growing human beings they are. They have amazing friends and deepening faiths and strong work ethics. And my heart is truly glad for all these things; what incredible blessings!

But the leaving — oh the leaving — tugs and pulls and rips at this mother’s heart.**

But the natural ache will fade and my heart keeps beating and loving even as my kids continue growing.

embrace change

And I do, truly, embrace the change knowing that there’s more and better up ahead, and I speak these words with the Apostle Paul:

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about you, for you have a special place in my heart. … God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

* drink a glass of milk? (family joke)
** And I think of those parents hearts who say goodbye to their children this side of heaven…who never get to move them into dorms or see them grow and mature…and I realize the ache of my separation is nothing-minuscule- compared to their pain…and my heart breaks for them.

Post by Patty Horstman. Patty is a wife and a mom of four living in Iowa. I know Jesus better because I know Patty. You can find her writing occasionally on her blog, Flirting With Eternity.

by | August 16, 2013 | 30 comments


  1. dukeslee

    Such a tender story, Patty. You give me hope, that I’ll be able to handle the empty rooms. By years, it still seems a long way off. But I know that’s just a mirage. I’ll snap my fingers, and this house will seem so quiet. It’s comforting for me to know that it doesn’t have to hollow out my heart, too.

    You lead well, Patty, with your words and with your life. I love you…

    • Patty

      Thank you for your kind words, Jennifer. And for inviting me here, to share, in this wonderful space! I love you too and treasure our friendship.

  2. Shelly Miller

    I have tears streaming down my cheeks. I have twelve short months until I have one empty bedroom. It’s all we are talking about, the stuff that sits on the back burner of my mind, simmering – college and my daughter flying free from the nest. I’m filled with joyful anticipation of what is to come in the fulfillment of her heart desires and grieving all at the same time. Thank you for sharing your words, they are hopeful to this mama’s heart.

    • Patty

      I’m so glad, Shelly. May God bless you and your daughter this year!

  3. Shane V. Slater

    Thanks Patty! We have the empty bedrooms and we collected the treasures that were important to them when they were little. Tamah and I will hold on to them and give them back to them when they get married later in life. Our family has been blessed for sure.

    • Patty

      How fun to see you in this space, Shane! You and Tamah have had your share of goodbyes recently and have handled it all with grace and courage. May God continue to strengthen you!

  4. Lyla Willingham Lindquist

    Ah, we have the first bedroom emptying next week. I remind myself we’re not the first to experience this transition. Funny though, how the very thing we spend their whole young lives working toward — raising them to independent adults — can be so doggone hard.

    So great to see you here, Patty . 🙂

    • dukeslee

      Isn’t she wonderful, Lyla? Love that Patty…

      Praying for you, Lyla, as Isaac flies from the nest. He’ll soar.

    • Patty

      So doggone hard is right. I sobbed when Josh left. Saying goodbye to MaryBeth wasn’t any easier, but at least I knew what to expect. Praying for you, Lyla, during the transition.

      • dukeslee

        You know how I’m praying, Megan. Always.

      • Patty

        That must be so hard, Megan. Praying for peace for you today. (and a place to store the furniture :))

  5. r.elliott

    Yes…each step out the door tears at a momma’s heart…because those steps never lead them closer to home again…but away…these steps cause a seismic change in the family topography…such joy and sorrow can fill the heart at the same time…just last night my husband asked if I had heard from either of the 2 sons that are traveling right now…I said no…and why did we raise them to be independent adults 🙂 🙂

    • Patty

      I love your phrase “seismic change in the family topography”. That is so true; we know how it effects us, but I didn’t realize how it would effect the rest of the family. Everyone had to sort of find a new place and a new normal. Families are amazing aren’t they?

  6. Nancy Kourmoulis

    Living this line – “And here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop it.” Living this, lots of empty bedroom here. Over the course of five years we have gone from a family of eight to a family of four, four children moving into adulthood, two still home and moving that way as well. I wrote these words recently: With a husband and six children I didn’t expect this moment to get here so quickly. For our house to be empty. The word bittersweet comes to mind. A instant full of pleasure and pain. Pleasure because of the journey. Pain because of the journey. Pleasure for having lived the life God has given. Pain that this part of my life is coming to an end. That the full-time mother journey is changing. I am learning to surrender and be at peace with each step of God’s plan.

    Thanks for sharing Patty and Jennifer.

    • Patty

      Thank you for stopping by, Nancy. May God grant you His peace as you continue to surrender and seek Him!

  7. Caryn Christensen

    This is so tender and fresh in our own lives right now. We just sent our youngest back to her “home” 2 days ago. I watched her go through security at the airport and disappear around the corner…and turned and cried. I desperately miss the hugs, smiles, laughter and impromptu mani/pedis!

    But this…
    “And here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop it. I want them to grow and change and mature and leave. Children are meant to grow up and have independent lives of their own. And I know my kids are exactly where they need to be.”
    This is also true. And it brings hope to this season of our lives that God has our children exactly where they need to be!

    Thank you for sharing Patty. Sometimes it feels like everyone I know is still in a season of raising their youngsters. It’s good to hear someone else navigating the same waters 😀

    • Patty

      My daughter spent the summer in Houston, Caryn, and I had a very similar airport experience when she left. I’ll never forget the ache as I watched her ride the escalator out of site. I’m so glad God has given you (and me and most moms) the strength to love and nurture and let go of our kids so the world can be encouraged and hopefully experience God through them!

    • Kathy Schwanke

      Oh! Me too! The void you describe-that is where the challenge lies! For some odd reason, I never really thought about these days or hung around anyone who talked about them.

  8. Floyd

    We have two empty rooms in our house… the third is three years away counting this school year. My wife told me it would be here sooner than I thought… I couldn’t grasp it… even as I coached the older two in high school – hell bent on state championships… that now are memories and trophies collecting dust… I didn’t get around to a swing set until the older ones had outgrown it… I took each opportunity to make them grounded in Christ, of moral character, self sufficient, and strong… somewhere in time I lost some of mine strength… a little more as each one says, “Thanks,” and waves goodbye…

  9. Patty

    So fast…it goes so fast, Floyd. My husband probably struggled longer than I did when our first one left. I think it just took him surprise.
    May God give you continued strength as you prepare to send your youngest off in a few years.

  10. Trudy L.

    Awwwww! I have 5 kids. The oldest is a girl. A lovely girl who grew up and, after a trip to Haiti, and then to Africa, moved to the wonderful Midwest. (I’m a Midwesterner living in Florida.) But I always thought these boys would stay here with me. And if they moved out, it’d be across town. And they’d come over a couple of times a week to eat dinner, and later to bring grandkids over, and to help me keep their father from dressing embarrassingly. 🙂 And to always be around. Forever. But one day my husband called a friend of his in North Carolina and asked if he would hire my 2 oldest boys and mentor them in his business. When I heard that was a possibility, I felt like I needed to curl up in the fetal position! I just couldn’t bear the thought of having an empty nest, or being without them in my same town. But God kindly told me that I need not curl up in the fetal position, that they were his kids anyway, and that He’d see me through. He is so wonderful to me, and I’m so thankful He’s holding my hand, and that He will always let me be their mom, their searching-the-scriptures-for-prayers-to-pray-over-them-mom. Wow childhood really does go fast! When you’re a young, weary mom of babies and toddlers, and the sweet moms a few years ahead of you on the path say, “I know it seems like these years will last forever, but they really do fly by!”……
    It helps to know all moms have these same sweet aches. Thanks for sharing Patty. Its good to be reminded how wonderful it is to have had them for the time we were privileged by God to nurture them. Thanks, Jennifer, for asking Patty to share!

    • Patty

      Thank you for sharing your story, Trudy. It’s always hope-building to hear of God’s faithfulness to other moms.

  11. Kathy Schwanke

    Oh, I am with you. But I only had two…I just wrote a letter to my son on my blog who got married Saturday describing my heart-ache-joy.

    I love your image of holding sand. Yes. Exactly…

    My sister lost her 20 year old daughter in 2003, and my own 27 year old brother three years later. I always think of their loss when my heart is hurting.

    I took my sister to a conference that year after her loss and we were standing in line for lunch. Ahead of us was a woman groaning for her adult son and how obstinate he was. My sister turned to her and said, “…I’d rather fight with them every day than lose them.” And I think it was a gift to that mother. You could see a shift in her as she thanked my sister for sharing that.
    I’ve held that in my heart.
    Thanks for writing your heart. It’s good to know we have girlfriends who get it. 🙂

  12. Jo

    ……But,here is the good news…….. the journey doesn’t stop when the kids leave! It starts a whole new fun-filled and exciting time in life called the “empty-nest” ! I sympathize with each of you as it was a VERY hard road for me to travel for 3 years after our “baby” moved off to college(the 4th child) to fully understand that now it was just me and the “love of my life” sharing our home and starting yet another phase in life !! I shed many many tears and wondered where was my place now in life with no uniforms to wash, concerts to attend or paying the lunch money…. We have been empty-nesters for 7 years and I would not trade this time for anything. Add to the mix 10 of the most adorable grandchildren and this journey we call life is advanced to a whole new and fun-filled level!! We can serve skittles and pop for lunch, we can stay up late and have no curfews, we can play in the mud and dance in the rain and then we send the grandkids home!! The empty nest phase allows you to eat when and where we want or even if we want, do laundry less and actually have a bank account with a little extra money in it…all with the person that you vowed many years ago to love forever 🙂 ……It is pure joy to watch the children we raised develop into parents themselves, be our best friends and we can just sit back and smile as we now can watch them travel this road. So yes, mourn what you are losing but in your heart dance for joy because there are so many more adventures left!! I just got to spend a week in Nashville with that “baby” that left for college 7 years ago……Had she never moved on…the adventure would never be there!! God is soo good! As difficult as it is ……Enjoy and embrace the blessings of children leaving…just sayin’ 🙂

  13. June

    Not to fret, moms. They do come back. Sometimes they return for money, food, laundry access, peace and quiet. Sometimes they come back just for a short visit, which, depending on their temperament is a good thing that it’s short. Just remember, moms of first-time-kids-going away—remember to set boundaries with them the first time they do come back. After living in a dorm or apartment without you, they sometimes forget common courtesy–that common courtesy is what drives the need-to-know now more that the Mom “thing”. Don’t learn the hard way by forgetting to do that.

  14. kendal

    just left my first at college on friday. i’m proud and sad, and deeply so. i’m not anxious, though, as i feel great about his situation and know who is ordering his steps. it’s just that i had to take up a place mat at the table….

  15. Nancy Ruegg

    Jo (above) is SO right. The “empty nest” chapter is a GOOD one, once the shock wears off! Watching them try their wings and fly successfully on their own is as rewarding as letting go of that bicycle and watching them pedal on their own. To new empty nesters I say: give yourself time to adjust and you’ll find plenty to praise God for in this new stage of life!

  16. Carey

    Thanks, Patty (and Jennifer). My oldest just started high school. Even as I’m quite excited for her, I feel a twinge knowing in 4 short years she’ll be “gone.” She’s just testing out her wings. This is encouraging, thank you!



  1. Empty Rooms | Flirting with Eternity - [...] dear friend, Jennifer, invited me for a visit over ather spacetoday.  You can continue reading my story of saying…

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