How Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Are Supporting Each Other Through Becoming Empty Nesters

"We're still a really close family; we talk all the time," McGraw tells PEOPLE. "But it's difficult when your kids leave. All of a sudden they don't need you as much anymore"

Since their youngest daughter Audrey left home this year to pursue a career in acting and modeling after graduating high school in 2020, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill admit they've had a little trouble adjusting to their newly empty nest.

"You're used to getting up in the morning, taking kids to school, going to softball practices and basketball practices and cheerleader practices and all of a sudden all that's gone when your last one leaves," McGraw tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story.

Tim McGraw Faith Hill cover
Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Jim Wright

The couple's two older daughters, Gracie, 24, an actress, and Maggie, 23, who graduated with her master's degree in sustainability from Stanford University earlier this year, had already moved out of state, so the McGraw family home in Nashville has been strangely quiet ever since.

"I miss the afternoons because Faith would always make sure something was cooking when they would come home from school," says McGraw, 54. "I miss them coming in and smelling what mom's cooking and being excited about having dinner. I miss the energy around. There were times when we had 15 teenage girls in our house talking about boys and life and everything going on. We're still a really close family; we talk all the time. But it's difficult when your kids leave. All of a sudden they don't need you as much anymore. And I think it's probably more difficult for Mom."

Watch the full episode People Cover Story: Tim McGraw & Faith Hill on or on the PeopleTV app.

While the girls were young, Hill made the decision to prioritize parenting over her career (her last solo album, the Christmas-themed Joy to the World, was released in 2008). "It's the thing I've spent the better part of the last 10, 15 years doing," says Hill, also 54. "I'm not going to lie — it's very hard to let go. Our job is to give them roots and wings. Sometimes that's an easier thing to say than others."

What helps, the couple says, is knowing that each of their three daughters is finding her way in the world. "It's inspiring to me to watch them go out on their own and do the things they do," says McGraw. "We're raised three strong, independent, strong-minded young women. And what I'm most grateful for is just how normal our kids are and how grounded they are and how much they respect themselves and other people. It makes me feel like we've done a pretty decent job, especially Mom."

Tim McGraw Faith Hill cover
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Jim Wright

The moments the whole family is able to spend together now are all the more precious, like Thanksgiving, when Audrey and Faith spent the day cooking at home in Nashville. "The great thing is that they have still wanted to hang out with us and we're grateful for that," Hill says of their daughters. All three girls also visited the set of their parents' latest project, the series 1883, a prequel to Yellowstone, which tells the origin story of the Dutton family and how they came to own their massive cattle ranch in Montana.

McGraw and Hill portray husband and wife James and Margaret Dutton, great-grandparents to John Dutton (played in Yellowstone by Kevin Costner) and pioneers who travel west by wagon train from Texas. The couple has been filming on location in Texas and Montana since August and their girls joined them as they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in Oct. 6.

"They are Yellowstone fans and got to ride horses and watch us work together," McGraw says. "I think they're pretty proud of it and it makes us happy that they can be excited about something we're doing together."

For more from Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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