Parenting Shift In An Empty Nest

Some transitions are forced upon us whether we are ready or not. Sweet babies grow out of their footie pajamas and into princess gowns and super hero capes. They learn to ride a bike and take off down the street momentarily escaping parental control, only to return with a skinned knee. The complexity of their homework eventually exceeds the capacity of their college educated parents and so we hire extra help. They grow up and move on.    

Parenting is one of the craziest jobs. We start as insecure new mammas and daddies. On protective high alert: standing at the ready available with a fix. You offer a hand as she takes her first step. Clean up the mess or apply a band-aid. You cheer loudly from the sidelines. Eventually, you move from your feet to your knees, waiting for the child to return home or just return your text. 

As our children begin spending more time away from home, our role as parents must slowly transition from hyper-vigilant control and protection to that of operating as an Adulting Consultant. 

Catapulted to new heights

Growing up, my happy place was summer camp. My favorite activity involved this huge floating air mattress you jumped onto from an elevated platform. I LOVED hurling myself up…arching my back…propelling my 50 pound body onto the Glob. As I landed I watched my cabinmate catapult into the air so that she could see eye to eye with the next person waiting in line on the platform. I was so proud that my little bitty self could move another person to such heights.

Me, age unknown

Me, age unknown

The worst was when the person you bounced either landed painfully in the water instead of peacefully back on the cushiony pillow. Equally embarrassing was if they did not bounce but just slipped off into the water as you landed. 

Sometimes our parenting efforts are like my good days on the Glob when our children are elevated to new heights by our support and encouragement. Other days, they perceive our efforts as overreaching. They ignore our desire to raise them up and are propelled instead in a different direction. 

Loving Unconditionally is Hard When You Feel Ignored

As parents we are asked to love our children unconditionally. We want to do this. It is incredibly challenging, though, when your efforts to love are met with resistance and tension. Often, the harder we try to land on just the right place to touch the hearts of our teens/young adults/adult children, we hit the mark which is the most tender. Rather than bounce to new heights, the one we love slips off and swims away. 

A chasm forms between the intention of our heart and the perception of the one we love. With misunderstanding comes division. It may even feel like an end to the possibility of the good relationship we dreamed about as we stood over their bassinet.

Some days, you walk away from a chat with blame at the forefront of your mind. Blaming your child for their immaturity. Your spouse for the defiant genes they passed on. Or, yourself for trying and failing, yet again. Blame mellows into bitterness. And this bitterness enters your voice the next time you talk, creating even more division.

You have so much to share with your child. You love them fiercely. Unfortunately, they ignore your advice which makes you feel irrelevant. 

You Are Not Alone

If this sounds familiar, know that you are not alone.

Instead of blame and shame, consider adjusting your expectations of yourself in this relationship.  As our parenting role moves from full time to less than part time— how we see ourselves in relation to our child must shift as well. If you are struggling with finding the balance between holding on and letting go, you are in good company.

It is challenging to learn to relate to our children differently in each stage of their growth.

Hillie Chan courtesy of Unsplash

Hillie Chan courtesy of Unsplash

Adulting Consultant: Listening and learning with Love

As our children make their way in the world, keeping the lines of communication open is vital. As some of our children grow up, we find conversation easy and laughter abundant. With other children, a knot forms in your stomach when their name appears on your phone because you don’t know what kind of mood they are in today.

If you find conversations strained with one of your offspring, it’s time to pivot. Turn away from the conversational habits that no longer work and listen more often than you speak. Ask them questions and learn about what is important to them.

Trust that you have done the best you can to protect them and given them the tools they need to navigate the rough waters of adulthood. Part of revealing this trust is in releasing control. Instead of managing the details of their day, share your wisdom about how your child can use their tools to manage a challenge. 

Adulting Consultants recognize their hard won wisdom is not always going to be implemented in the way we want. In fact, they anticipate some of their advice will be rejected. They also know a child’s failure to take advice is not a rejection of the parent as a person, just the advice.

Adulting Consultants have an interesting role. They are ready with suggestions if asked, but withhold advice unless the child’s safety is involved. They mentor and call out gifts. They highlight strengths and encourage through struggles. They fall in love with things which capture their children’s attention in order to remain connected. They reveal love through availability and listening. It is tough, but rewarding.

As you pivot: Lead always with love. Be open handed with advice. Accept your child as they are today. And pray.

Let me know your experience with managing this transition. What worked for you?

This is part 3 in a series on Facing the Empty Nest Without Fear. If you would like to go back to the first post in the series you can find it here. The second post is found here.