When a child leaves home, is it happy or sad? Parents might experience anxiety, sadness, and loneliness when a child leaves. Or, it may be a positive experience filled with anticipation, happiness, and a little more freedom. For most, it's somewhere in the bittersweet in-between. Wherever you fall in this continuum, it's okay to be there! We all cope with these transitions differently and at our own pace.
For those struggling to say goodbye with a smile, here are a few things that are helpful to remember.
They may not make it to the table for supper every night, call out for you to do their laundry, or ask you to fix their car each week, but they will seek you out in different ways. Leaving the home is a transition that is valuable to your child’s independence and success in the future. “Empty nesting” is a popular way of stating that one’s children have left the home (usually all of them). The complement to this phrase is "taking flight.” While your child lived under your roof, you did your best in preparing him or her for the future. This included making sacrifices for the good of your child throughout his or her lifetime. This transition can be considered yet another sacrifice that serves the best interests of your child. Now, it is your child’s time to explore the world, build lasting relationships with others, find his or her career path, and make mistakes along the way. It is time to trust that God is in control and release your child to his care. Let your child begin “taking flight.” Your child might even resist this process, as it can be intimidating. Thus, your role is to gently push your child out of the nest. This process greatly impacts healthy identity development and independence.
Just as your child is becoming more independent, you are given the opportunity to take back some of your independence. This may be the reason some of you are viewing this transition positively. For years, you may have been devoting every extra waking moment to your children. Now, you have an opportunity to devote more time to yourself and other areas of life. This opportunity is a gift from God to explore further who he designed you to be. You might foster interests you have earlier put off, or consider strengthening relationships that have been given less attention, such as with your spouse or friends. Thus, along with your child, you continue to transition and grow.
This transition includes developing a new relationship with your child. For some of you, this may sound ideal. For others, this may sound scary. As your adolescent turns into an emerging adult, this relationship often becomes more mature. As you allow your child to develop as an independent individual when he or she leaves the home, your child will begin to build trust in him- or herself. This trust is validating for your child and, ultimately, empowering. He or she might still seek you out when mistakes are made or during decision-making. However, they are becoming an adult and have the potential to start relating to you in a more mature way. Now, it is your role to help facilitate that mature relationship. If this seems frightening, do not worry. This process does not happen overnight. Your children will always be your children and you will always be their parent.
Finally, here are some specific suggestions for adjusting to the “Empty Nest”:
In conclusion, no matter the emotions you are feeling during this transition; remind yourself that these are okay. Do not rush this coping process. Trust that God will be faithful to you and to your child. Remember, this is a time of growth for both you and your child. Thus, it is important to take care of yourself and facilitate your own positive growth in ways that are right for you.
This article was adapted from one originally published in New Leaf Resources’ Winter 2015 Newsletter.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra