Dear Jill,

My son is out of the house and has a long-time girlfriend. Recently I celebrated my birthday and the only acknowledgement I received was a general text from them (they each sent me their own birthday greeting text). I feel like I have done a lot for them and was/am disappointed. I have received Mother’s Day and Christmas gifts from them so it’s not like they never acknowledge special occasions. My love language isn’t even gift-giving so why is this bothering me?

I also feel like I’m preparing myself for the fact that this may happen every year and I will always be hurt. I don’t want them to give me anything out of obligation and I also don’t want “little things” to add up and then there is an “explosion” in 20 years because the “little things” aren’t addressed.

One last thing: I am questioning my love because I want to love all of my family members unconditionally, but this makes me feel like I have conditions on my love. I don’t want to have any conditions on my love. Any advice you can give me to figure this out? 

Thanks so much!


Dear Wondering,

I’m so glad you reached out. We just talked about this at the Empty Nest Full Life Mom Retreat! Someone else brought the same question up, so you’re not alone!

Here are the highlights of what we talked about:

1) We get to choose whether to be offended or to give grace. This is a perfect situation for us to take another step of spiritual maturity to not be offended. Forgive, give grace, allow others to be different than you are, and choose to be unoffendable, committing to be the bigger person and learning how to let go and allow others to be human.

2) We have to change our expectations, especially as our kids get older. Our expectations are the root of disappointment. We can’t change the behavior of other people, but we can adjust our expectations. It would be wise to expect nothing from them moving forward. This way you’ll head off disappointment and will be surprised any time something does happen.

3) If there’s something special you’d like for your birthday, ask for it. For instance, if you’d like a family zoom call because that would bless you, ask if everyone would be willing to clear their schedule for 30 minutes to make that happen. If someone isn’t able to make that happen, give grace for their absence and be grateful for whoever can join in. Be careful about all or nothing thinking—for example, if it doesn’t look just like you imagined it, be grateful for what it is, not focused on what it isn’t.

4) Young adults are figuring out their new role in life and the family. During this season, most young adults move toward being self-focused and don’t think about how their action or inaction affects others. This isn’t because they don’t love you, but they are learning how to juggle new expectations, relationships, and dynamics in life.

5) Love is not a two-way street; it’s actually a one-way street. We are called to love, period. We’re not called to love to get something back. We’re called to love because God first loved us. When we give to others so they will give to us, love becomes transactional and as you said–conditional–and the obligation is felt by the recipient. Often we don’t realize we’re doing that until it is revealed in a situation like this. (Mark discovered the same thing during our marriage crisis. He often shares about how God used that time to grow his love up.)

6) The way to keep this from accumulating in your heart is “your work” not “relational work.” There’s nothing to talk to them about because it will likely damage the relationship and result in a feeling of obligation and a need to “keep mom happy.” It’s important you untangle your hurt with forgiveness and grace and then adjust your expectations moving forward. Increasing gratefulness–expressed aloud to God–will also put things in perspective for you, helping you experience the joy for what you do have rather than being focused on what you don’t have.

The empty nest season of life gives us so many opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth. This situation is one of those opportunities!

You’ve got this!





Looking for more empty nest resources? Start with Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best For Your Next!

Also we’re offering an Empty Nest Marriage Retreat September 30-October 2, 2022, in Holland, MI). You can learn more about that event and register here

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