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Themes Covered:  

Live Well as an Empty Nester

Ready or not, that fateful day always comes.

The sounds of laughter, complaints, and tears echoed around Joyce. Parents maneuvered through the busy campus. Ignoring the “no parking” signs, they wanted to get as close to their student’s dormitory as possible. This was to reduce the distance between their vehicles and the rooms where heavy boxes and furniture were being carried.

Back and forth, load after load, Joyce and her husband helped their son arrange his things in this dorm room. Too soon, the car was empty.

How could his childhood years have passed so quickly? Defining moments paraded through Joyce’s memory, creating a cacophony of emotions. Now here they were, settling their son at college.

Back home, Joyce was reminded of her son’s departure every time she walked past his room. He had left the nest to pursue his future. “I asked my college student to please call once a week,” Joyce said. “He didn’t.”

Empty nest syndrome refers to the distress and other complicated emotions parents often experience when their child leaves the family home.

While launching a grown child into adult life is a natural transition, the experience of letting go can be challenging.

Parenting is preparing children for adulthood. However, when a child becomes an adult, a parent may feel like they have lost their identity. This is because their parenting duties have decreased.

Adults Together

All too soon for some – and not soon enough for others – the child is an adult. After 18 years of being the parent, it can be difficult to recognize that a change is necessary. This change requires the parent to adjust their approach.

“Our transitions are not their problems,” said licensed family and marriage counselor Sue Dettmer. “And healthy adult children are not our possessions.”

Think back to when you were a young adult. How did you want your parents to acknowledge that you were grown up?

“Every adult child wants to know their parent is proud of them,” Holly Schambach explained.

Parenting is a season. Yes, you will always be your child’s parent. Nonetheless, once your child reaches adulthood, parenting dramatically shifts from being responsible for everything to these simple four.

1) Love your adult child.

2) Pray for your adult child.

3) Be their cheerleader.

4) Treat your grown child with the dignity due an adult.

Conflict is reduced when the parent treats their adult child with the same respect given to fellow grown-ups.

While a child is launching, a parent can feel the loss of identity. Their primary purpose has been to be a parent. Suddenly, a parent may have little knowledge of what their child is doing.

Different, Not Wrong

“Be excited for your child, less about you, and no guilt. Let them know they are capable and they are loved,” said Judy Anderson, retired principal of Canterbury K-12 School and parent of two adult children.

Tension grows when interactions are characterized by shame, guilt, and punishment. By the time they leave home, a grown child knows the values and preferences of their parent.

Reminding your child about what should be done, sends the message you don’t think he or she can handle adult responsibilities. Punishing, by withholding affection, approval, or relationship until a child does things the parent’s way is controlling, immature, and manipulative.

An adult child naturally will do life differently than their parent.

Different is not wrong.

Adult children make their own choices, learn from mistakes and successes, and travel their unique journey.

When choices are harmful, consider having a calm conversation in a neutral place. Listen, and try to understand the heart of your child.

Healthy boundaries are important on both sides. Even when a parent does not agree with a child’s choices, consider where can you keep a relationship bridge. How is the Holy Spirit guiding you to love in this situation?

Get Healthy 

“Don’t be a needy empty nester,” Dettmer said. “Of course you don’t like to let go of what you loved. Instead of seeing this season of letting go as the loss of their childhood, see it as embracing life with an adult child.”

Entering the empty nest season is an ideal opportunity to get healthy relationally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. During the busy parenting years, it’s not uncommon for aspects of self-care to be skipped. Parents give a priceless gift to themselves and their grown children by nurturing their own wholeness.

Empty nest syndrome can be a complex emotion for mothers. It can be especially hard if they have been actively involved in their child’s life.

Statistics show that women are more likely to file for divorce when their child leaves home. This reveals that the relationship between husband and wife had drifted over time.

The marriage had stayed together to raise their child. With the one common denominator no longer in the home, this is the time for couples to

Entering adulthood is a new phase for your child. Similarly, the empty nest marks a new chapter for the parent and their marriage.

It is an exciting time for all. 

Empty Nest, What Next?

Exercise improves abilities and attitude. Jim and Denise took up biking on a bicycle made for two. Their trips evolved from local rides to biking in Alaska. A neighbor swims regularly at the local gym. Denise took horseback riding lessons, and Doris began running marathons. Joyce walks regularly with her husband and with friends.

Incorporate refreshing balance through the Sabbath rest as God designed in Exodus 23:12.

Get the Book

How do you, as a parent, provide your young adults with the room they need to grow? This book is what every parent needs to help your teenagers soar out of the nest and into the next season of life with confidence.

No Emotional Strings Attached

“Be the person they like to be with,” Dettmer said.

Interactions with a parent can make an adult child feel burdened by expectations, guilt, and shame. This provides little incentive for them to come around.

Being related does not come with permission to be demanding and hurtful but this connection is the ideal opportunity to treat one another with love and grace. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Jesus said in John 13:34.

Expectations are offenses waiting to happen. Work, school, or a family of their own fill the adult child’s calendar with events for their spouse, children, in-laws, work, church, friends, and hobbies. Once children are grown with their own adult lives, holidays and vacation traditions from childhood rarely work. Invite your adult child to get together, and ask if they are available to be part of holiday celebrations.

“I learned early on not to waste the time with my adult child complaining about the time we were not together,” said Mary Ann. “My husband and I told our three adult kids, ‘You are always invited but never obligated.’”

Financial Freedom

Letting go involves allowing an adult child to be personally responsible for actions, behavior, choices, and finances. Be clear with your child about changes in financial responsibilities.

“Some adult kids need reminding that parents do not have to fund life after 18,” said Pam Farrel, who along with husband Bill, launched three sons. “Help from parents is a gift to be appreciated. Most young adults are thinking through these issues and feel relieved you care enough to discuss them.”

For instance, if you’ve paid for your child’s phone or car insurance, let them know when those will be in their care.

Talk together about who will fund college.

Empty Nesting, Faith and Family

Involvement in a church provides spiritual growth for parents as well as a community to build friendships. Mentors and peers can help parents navigate the adult to adult relationship with grown children in positive ways. Small group activities and work with missions can be opportunities for parents to invest time and talent that make a wholesome difference in someone’s world.

Suzi and Don became involved with a group translating and distributing Bibles, and saw an immediate improvement in their relationship with their adult child. With meaningful work, the parents were no longer reliant on their child to fill their emotional tank. 

When your child becomes an adult is an excellent time to update and put your affairs in order including:

  • insurances
  • guardianship
  • living trust
  • will
  • life directives
  • finances
  • your estate

With the help of an attorney, Dale made his arrangements years ahead of time. With adult children, their spouses, and a crew of grandchildren, Dale’s preparation established the foundation for a smooth transition that helped family members be in harmony.

Empty Nest Life

“The boys will be gone soon so it would be good to think about what you want to do instead of stay home and cry.” Her husband’s words came as a surprise to Dettmer. With two daughters in college, she had immersed herself in her two sons still at home. Life was plenty busy with sports events, college visits, and keeping two growing teens fed.

Taking her husband’s advice, Dettmer went back to school and earned her counseling degree. Linda invited several women to meet weekly for coffee and volunteer in their community.

Jill returned to teaching. Sarah remodeled her home. MaryBeth and her husband became master gardeners. Nancy and her husband encouraged youth as leaders in 4-H.

Jeanne started a business. For Stacy, entering the empty nest season allowed her to travel with her husband on business trips. Mary and Marvin refurbished three homes and turned them into Airbnbs.

Re-feather Your Empty Nest

Empty Nest Syndrome describes the many emotions a parent feels as their child begins their adult life. The transition is 18 years in the making yet can feel sudden. Your role filled with car pools, homework, and extracurricular activities abruptly ends.

Focus on future interactions characterized with listening not telling, and being that safe place to call or occasionally come home to.

As you adjust to the empty nest, allow yourself to feel your emotions, grieve what has changed, and look ahead to the growth and possibilities ahead.

If a parent lapses into depression that lasts more than several weeks or has difficulty functioning at the usual rate, contact a professional. Talk with a counselor, mentor, or fellow parent who can give you wise direction on navigating the empty nest syndrome.

“Celebrate your child becoming an adult,” Dettmer said. “It’s great for us to be with them and then great for us to go off on the wonderful things my husband and I wanted to do together.”

Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

If you need further guidance and encouragement, we have a staff of licensed, professional counselors who offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. They can also refer you to counselors in your area for ongoing assistance.
Reach a counselor toll-free at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).

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