Enjoy the Ride! Tips for adjusting to the emptying nest for positive growth and happiness.
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Enjoy them while they are young, they grow up so fast! How many times did we hear this as parents of young children? How often have we repeated that phrase to others, now that our kids have grown and reached the very beginning of their adult lives, and are starting to leave home? It maybe cliché, but it’s so true. It feels like yesterday that I was contemplating the merits of homemade vs. store-bought baby food, and cloth vs. disposable diapers. Now our family discusses college and career planning, SAT/ACT scores, and the oh so fun topics of sex, drugs, alcohol, driving, and personal safety. I reminisce often about those sweet days when my little people were cute and cuddly, even if I was totally exhausted and frazzled then too! As our kids grow, so do the worries. Recognizing that we have to send these not-quite-cooked beings off into the world to fend for themselves is a scary prospect. And it all happens so fast!
Today I was talking with a good friend whose oldest child is finishing his last semester of high school, and will head off to a college an hour from home next fall. My friend stated that she’s starting to feel very emotional about the big changes ahead, and is hyper-aware that once he moves out the dynamics of the family will never be quite the same. Even when we are feeling excited, positive and ready, there is a shift happening that can mess with our psyche and we may find ourselves bombarded with surprising thoughts and emotions that catch us off guard.
Mother nature has a funny way of preparing us parents for the transition of our kids growing up and leaving home. Teens test the rules and boundaries as they seek greater independence and begin to break free from the clutches of mom and dad. Ha! Doesn’t this sound quite a bit like toddlers too? Parents get tired of the constant negotiating, lecturing and pushing away. Life during this period can feel chaotic and confusing for parents and teens alike, and may throw us off balance and mess with our sense of wellbeing. Whether our kids move away for college, or continue to live at home to pursue various paths, we know that big changes are on the horizon.
Here are a few ideas that may help your family ease into this exciting life transition:
1) Show your older teen respect by treating them as an adult.
Yes, it’s true. Their brains are not totally finished developing and they will still make some questionable choices and act like children at times. However, there are many adult responsibilities that will encourage our teens to feel empowered and positive as they become increasingly independent. Giving them additional responsibilities also helps us recognize that they are more capable of caring for themselves that we may be giving them credit for. Years ago, when my daughter was a preschooler, I remember wondering why the teacher was letting the children work on an art project with items typically reserved for the “big” kids. She stated that they wouldn’t learn if they weren’t given the opportunity to try and mess up. That wise young teacher’s words have resonated with me throughout my years of raising kids. Your teen will get some things wrong and make mistakes, but this is a part of learning and becoming an adult. If they aren’t already doing so, have them make their own appointments, manage their own calendar, and assume greater responsibilities at home.
2) Have a heart to heart conversation.
Ask your teen what they are excited for, or nervous about as they are approaching graduation and planning for whatever is next. Share your own feelings about what this transition means for you. It's important for our kids to know that it's a big adjustment for us as well. Show that you are excited for them and confident in their abilities, and assure them that you will still be there for support when things get challenging.
3) Work together to establish some new rules and boundaries
The day my daughter graduated from high school she seemed to think that there should be a dramatic change in what she could and couldn’t do while she continued to live at home. We had to sit down and establish new expectations about what was going to work best for our family that summer, as well as when she returned from school during breaks and vacations. Having an older child return home after months of independence can be another challenge in itself. Plan for this by keeping the lines of communication open in order to be respectful of each other’s needs and wishes, and adjust as necessary.
Sending our kids off into the world as young adults is an exciting and emotional time for a family. Strong feelings and big life questions may pop up for both parents, teens and siblings, and can influence our overall wellbeing. Reach out to friends, and practice good self-care during this time. Working with a coach can also be helpful for processing emotions, setting new goals, and moving forward in a positive and healthy direction.
Yvette Morton is a master certified wellness coach and former school psychologist. She specializes in how the mind body connection influences overall health and wellbeing, and guides clients to break free of thought patterns and behaviors that are barriers to long-term success. She works with adolescents, young adults, women and families.