I just drove off our son’s college campus for the second time in two months. As he closed the dorm door, it occurred to me that I was once again going to a home where he wouldn’t be. Since move-in day, I’ve been slowly adapting to his being two states away; however, my gains completely collapsed as I made my ugly-cry goodbyes once again. I’m told this gets easier, which I believe, but do we ever really get used to letting go of our adult children?
I was supposed to write this blog last month, but I had to get my own head together before having anything useful to say on the subject. I knew I would miss him. What I didn’t anticipate was the angst I would feel in the vacuum of his launching.
Our job as parents is to prepare our kids for that launch and set their sails to God’s horizons. There’s no bemoaning that; it’s a gift. Of course, we’ll worry over all sorts of things when our kids move out of the nest, but the more I’ve thought about it, the emotional difficulty isn’t just in them going but what gets left behind when they do.
Learning to let our kids go is more about us than them. As much as they may care, it’s not their job to help us cope with this new phase of life. We must navigate our empty nest hangups without impinging on their independence. It’s not an easy gig; I’ve been emotionally flooded on many fronts. I’ve had to wrestle with each of the following emotions because, at the end of the day, I want to be able to release my kids well.
I think this is the biggest issue: whether our kids are okay on their own. As much as we may prepare our kids well, for the most part, they’ll have to figure out life for themselves. There’s both relief and fear in that prospect. We’ve spent the better part of 18 years overseeing and having authority in their lives. In one afternoon, we go from knowing all the details to almost none.
It’s a hard shift, and that loss of control conjures anxiety in most of the parents I know. We have no choice but to hope and pray that the seeds we planted will bear fruit. All fear will do is keep me up at night and push my kids away.
I’ve learned that I must hold loosely my desire for control, lest I smother the very life skills they need to develop. As much as that bunches me up, the alternative will perpetuate dependency, which may satisfy my anxiety but will raise theirs.
Ugh, this one’s hard. As happy as I am for my grown kids, I’m grieving a lost era of raising our children. It was a wonderful and difficult and sweet time. I look forward to visits, but I know it won’t be the same as when we were a foursome under the same roof.
When they were babies, older parents warned us that ‘the days are long, but the years are short.’ This adage really hits you in the face: come empty nest. As real as the loss is, though, I know it should still be balanced with acknowledgment of gain.
We raise our kids so they can be fully functioning adults one day. They’re supposed to move on; it’s an indication of a job well done. We can’t base our completeness on their proximity and need for us, something I’ve had to be reminded of often.
Although the grief is real and should be walked through, ultimately, the big picture is as it should be. During a time of change, the apostle Peter wrote, “rejoice and be glad, for there are good things ahead” (1 Peter 1:6). If we keep our eyes forward instead of looking behind, I know we will see the goodness of the chapters that lie ahead and the new experiences to be lived.
It’s not hard to enmesh our lives with our kids and lose a piece of our identity in the process. I’ve heard from many parents, especially moms, who felt panicky about their own lives and what would come next after their kids left home. I’ve spent time in that boat, too, wondering whether my marriage, job, friendships, and interests would be enough to fill the void.
Thankfully, my older friends convinced me that this new chapter can be pretty great if I’m willing to invest in my life as much as I did my kids’. Most of our children leave home and don’t look back. They are charging ahead to find their identity, and parents need to do the same.
We had an individual identity before parenthood, and we sure as heck need one after the nest empties. With newly found time on our hands, maybe things are ripe to develop new work endeavors, hobbies, relationships, and a new sense of mission. I believe kids will appreciate seeing their parents thrive in every season of life, which can give them a sense of freedom to do the same.
The first draft of this blog was pretty emotionally charged. The gift of time (even two months) has provided more objectivity and opportunity to handle the inevitable emotions that come with releasing our kids. I hope this encourages the parents who will go through this soon. I’m encouraged by knowing that my kids really aren’t my kids; they’re God’s, and as such, His hands are more reliable than mine.
My sense of control is an illusion, but God’s control is reality. I’m not letting my kids go to an unknown future. I’m letting them go to meet a God who loves them more purely than I ever could and who will direct their path (Proverbs 3:5-6). As for us left-behind parents, God’s not done directing our path either; empty nest or not, there’s joy ahead.