I think the term “empty nest” has a negative connotation. This phase of life doesn’t have to be empty at all and can in fact, be quite fulfilling.
I think it’s helpful to think of this stage as “parenting in a different way.” I once heard a father say (speaking of his relationship with his adult children), “My role went from leader, guide and disciplinarian to consultant.” He felt confident that he’d prepared his children for life in the world and they could still have open, honest discussions, but he wasn’t overly involved in the choices his young adult children made. Launching kids into adult life is not the end, but rather a progression. Here some things to consider for those of you in this season:
First, remember that having some emotions about this change is normal. Life events, even the positive ones, can bring a sense of stress, grief or sadness.
Second, understand that this is a transition for both of you – your son is experiencing college, or his first job, or apartment. Your daughter is navigating a whole new world of relationships, academic demands, and newfound financial responsibility.
Finally, be intentional about developing and maintaining social support. Whenever I meet with a new client of any age, I ask about his/her sources of social support. Parenting is equal parts reward and sacrifice. It can be hard to maintain hobbies and interests, particularly when children are young. Some parents find themselves wondering “Who am I?” after the kids grow up and leave home. Consider the following in striking a balance after the kids leave home:
- Develop (or renew) friendships outside of the family.
- Try new (or re-discover old) hobbies. What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?
- Make use of technology to stay in touch. I know quite a few parents and grandparents who have iPads and love to Skype but…
- Avoid “helicopter parenting” – hovering to the point of allowing no breathing room for your son or daughter. Remember that popular cell phone commercial where mother and daughter go into the mobile phone store, bawling their eyes out and asking for a family plan that will allow them to bear the 5-mile separation? Allow your son or daughter the freedom to be an individual apart from you with their own opinions and ways of doing things.
- Be careful about being over-involved: allow your young adult to problem-solve on their own and develop coping strategies.
If you’re a parent who’s recently “launched” a young adult, I’d love to hear from you! How are you coping with the transition? What advice would you share with other parents? Please leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook.
The Stone Foundation is a team of counselors dedicated to seeing you live your best and most fulfilling life. Contact us at 410.296.2004 or visit www.thestonefoundation.com to learn how we can assist you on your journey. Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only, and should not to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.