Parenting: Adjusting to an Empty Nest
Q & A with Dr. Dave and Donalyn Currie
“After 25 years of our world revolving around our kids, the last one is about to move out. Do you have any suggestions for us as we transition to the empty nest?”
Dave: This is a question that “hits home” literally for us. After having raised 4 highly active and expressive children, with the last one recently married, the void in the home seems cavernous! The house got really quiet for us. We were fortunate that the age spread of our kids was sufficient so they didn’t all leave in a short period of time.
Donalyn: We have friends who had both of their kids move a good distance from home within an 18-month period. What a huge family culture shock. That void, the “empty nest”, is especially huge for Mom as those kids have been her focus and a lot of her identity since they were born.
Dave: As you look ahead to your kids leaving home and you returning to the days when it was just the two of you, there are really two factors to consider. First, how will you maintain strong ties with your kids, and second, how will you adjust to being primarily a couple again?
Donalyn: That’s right. Let’s talk about the kid issue first. Your relationship with your kids doesn’t end when they move out. Instead, it moves into a new phase where you start to interact with them more as friends and peers. It’s a new dynamic, but it’s no less rewarding. The bonus comes in the form of the future Grandbabies!
Dave: We both love the grand kids! But the building blocks for success in this new phase are really laid in the earlier years. Two or three years before your kids even think about leaving, it is wise to begin working to strengthen your connection with them and resolve any conflicts. You want to separate well, on good terms. Clean up any misunderstandings. You be the adult and initiate any reconciliation needed. Keep short accounts with them, and don’t let a blow-up be the motivation for their leaving. They will always remember how things finished up with you during these last few years.
Donalyn: In fact, those last few years at home are when the transition really begins. In high school, start to loosen the restrictions. They are still in your home, but you need to be preparing them to be on their own. As they make good decisions, let the rope out a little more. After high school, if they are still living at home, it is still a good idea that they keep you informed of their plans.
Dave: Right. This is when you begin to change from being the authority figure to more of a life coach and a guide. Once they actually move out, they may still want your input, but wait until they ask for your advice before you give it. Continue to be available as a safe place for them to land. They may make some poor choices in your mind, but they need to know you love them unconditionally and will hang in there with them through those tough times.
Donalyn: It’s so important to support your kids and affirm them in their life choices, including their choice of a date or more importantly, a life partner. As Dave said, offer advice when asked, but once they have made a decision, encourage them where you can in it. Many parent-child relationships have been severed when the parent refuses to accept the young adult’s choice of a spouse. Watch your reactions here. Even if you feel your young adult has made a poor choice, you can be a positive factor in that relationship and help them to succeed.
Dave: We also work to remain involved in our kids’ worlds after they’ve left home. Take a weekly interest in their activities, and continue to invest time in building an ongoing and deeper relationship with them. You make the effort to stay in touch.
Donalyn: Absolutely. Newly married kids and grandkids can continue to be a big part of your life, especially if they live locally. Learn to enjoy the new role you will play. If they’ve moved further away it will take more creativity to stay connected, but it is well worth the investment of both time and money. Whether near or far work hard to stay in touch.
Dave: One last thing to consider in your relationship with your children as they are growing up: bestow a blessing on each of them. They so need to hear it verbally from you at least a couple of times a month. It is also important to do it in writing so they can always have this encouragement available. In fact, on four occasions as they were growing up, I have given each of our kids a “Father’s Blessing” card. This blessing is where I tell them that I love them and cite some of the reasons why. I praise them for the unique gifts that God has given them and paint a bit of a vision for their future as I see it.
Donalyn: I know the kids really appreciated those cards.