8 Ways to Prepare for the Empty Nest

The time comes, usually when one’s children reach 18 years of age, when parents are faced with the reality of the children moving out of the home. Some parents look forward to that day. After all, the teenage years are often filled with arguments, raging hormones, power struggles and family disharmony. For these parents, the idea of peace in the home is a welcome respite. However, other parents are not ready to face the reality of the children they have nurtured, loved and cared so deeply for over the previous 18 years to be moving out of the family home.

Lovingly let them go explore. Recognize that they are at a stage in their lives in which they can now truly begin to explore who they are. To do so means to establish some distance from the parents. Yes, distancing from the very same parents who tended to every playground injury, drove carpool to school, soccer games and art class, planned birthday party after birthday party, and worried about drugs, driving and dating.

Remember when you were 18 years old. Just because your children are ready to individuate and even to emancipate themselves from you doesn’t mean that you are ready to embrace this new chapter in parenting. But it helps to remember waaaay back to a time that you were 18 years old and going through the same process. Do you remember how you felt you’d outgrown your parents? How they didn’t understand you? How they were holding you back? And how you felt you knew all that needed to be known to manage in this world? Surely that is similar to what your children are experiencing at this very moment.

Redefine your level of parental control. Letting go does not mean that you stop loving and parenting your adult child. It does mean that your relationship is undergoing a revision. No longer are you able to exert control and influence over every aspect of their lives. They are beginning to make major decisions for themselves. Some of these decisions won’t be wise, and some will be regretted. But this is the process by which they learn to trust themselves in the bigger world, and transition from childhood into adulthood.

Respect your children’s decision making ability. It is important to step back and let your children make these decisions. It conveys respect and confidence that you believe in their ability to stand on their own. This is an exciting period of exploration for adult children; they are learning which values and goals matter the most to them. Experimenting with different life choices is similar to the experience of going to the store and trying on various coats. Some will be rejected as being too confining, others uncomfortable, and still others unappealing. So long as your children are not engaging in an activity that could place them or others at risk, the process of making one’s own decisions – and profiting or losing from them – is now their choice to make.

Become more supportive than authoritative. Not to mean that as parents you are expected to wash your hands of parenting. Rather, the relationship evolves into more of an advising, guiding support rather than an authoritative, all-controlling role. We don’t have to like their choices. But we do have to respect their decision to make them. For if we don’t, we are likely to find ourselves estranged from our children.

Accept children for who they are. You can still have conversations with your adult children involving difficult issues. In the end, however, it is imperative that we accept our children for who they are, and not what we want them to be.

Recognize that it is natural for children to try new values. There is comfort in maintaining relationships as they once were. But that consists of living in the past. Our children grow up and take on new values, likes and dislikes. Our role as parents is no longer foremost in their lives. Recognizing that our children have developed into independent, autonomous adults is a reflection on the excellent quality of parenting they received.

Expect discomfort. Letting go of the children we raised for 18 years is never easy. Expect the transition to be uncomfortable. But don’t stop loving them. Let your children know that you love them, unconditionally, for who they are. With each subsequent visit, you and your children will learn how to redefine your relationship and move to the next phase of adult child and parent.

Eileen Lenson