Adjusting to having adult children, and eventually adjusting to a fully-empty nest, was a journey for me. It is for most of us.
I’ve now had the opportunity to launch children into adulthood five times. Watching each of our little birds fly out of the nest has been a unique experience.
There have been celebrations.
There has been grief.
There have been late-night phone calls.
There have been seasons of no phone calls.
And, oh my, there has been so much change!
I have many stories (I share quite a few in Empty Nest, Full Life!). However, here’s one that stands out:
My oldest son (our second in birth order) lived in Los Angeles for many years. We live in central Illinois and he lived in Chicago before that, so LA was plenty far enough, let me tell you!
I remember the day we got a phone call from him:
“Hey mom, I just wanted to let you know I’ll be moving to Australia at the end of the month.”
“Did I hear you correctly? Australia?” I responded, pushing down every desire to ask all the questions running through my mind.
He did, in fact, say Australia. He had been out of the nest for nearly twelve years at that point, and my mama heart still couldn’t help the fear, worry, and grief I felt with him being that far away.
Would he be okay?
Would Mark and I ever get to come see him?
What about holidays?
Would he ever need me again?
There’s a lot of change as our children become adults. Our relationship with them changes. The rhythms of our life change. What we purchase at the grocery store changes. What we have input on changes. Our marriage can even feel like it changes.
And that can be really hard.
Today, I wanted to share five principles for you as you’re navigating your own relationships with adult children.
(By the way, our thinking affects a lot when it comes to having adult children and navigating the empty nest years. It’s hard to learn how to flip the script in our mind from grief to joy and from parenting to being their cheerleader. I recently put together a free resource called 52 Mindset Messages for Empty Nest Mamas. One for every week of the year. Even if your nest isn’t fully-empty yet, I think it will be an encouragement to you!)
Here are those 5 principles for parents with adult children:
#1: Check Your Expectations
Changing your expectations when the nest starts to empty is one of the hardest parts of this transition, but we have to do it. We can’t hold our children to the same standards we held them to when they lived in our home.
Maybe you need to let go of your expectation about how quickly or how often your children communicate with you.
Maybe you need to let go of your expectation that their priorities will match yours.
Maybe you need to let go of your expectation that you will know all the details of what’s happening in their life.
In my own journey, adjusting my expectations and accepting my child as a young adult making their own decisions gave me a new sense of peace.
What expectation do you need to let go of today?
#2: Grieve What Needs Grieving
If you’re like me, sometimes we struggle with emotions. I’ve been on a years-long journey of shedding the “buck-up” mentality that comes most naturally to me.
However, grief isn’t meant to be bottled-up. There can be a lot of feelings of loss that come with children leaving the nest.
Call it what it is: Grief. Identify what it is you’re grieving and feel it fully. Cry. Journal. Talk to God about it. Then give yourself grace and gratitude. Grace to feel the feels and gratitude to see what’s still good in your life.
Grief isn’t something that goes away by pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s quite the opposite.
#3: Remember Where Your Worth Comes From
If we’re honest, it’s easy in parenting to wrap how we see our worth around our children. Their successes. Their activities. Their growth.
We forget that God says that we are worthy because we are His creation.
You are His and He sees you as valuable, beautiful, and worthy.
This is a great time to dig deep into these truths and remind yourself that, while you will always care for your children and want the best for them, their choices do not affect your worthiness of God’s love.
#4: Pray, Don’t Say
In a recent podcast episode, Jim Burns shared one of the best ways to keep a strong relationship with your adult kids.
The secret? Don’t give them advice unless they ask for it.
SO hard, right!?
Jim is right, though. When we give advice without the permission of our adult kids, it will always come across as criticism.
What can you do instead? Pray. Bring your requests to God. Pray for your child to have wisdom in decision-making in adulthood.
Our God hears you.
#5: Dream a Little!
I call this the “encore” season of life for a reason. Becoming an empty-nester is not the end of your journey. In fact, this is the beginning of a fresh, new season of your life!
This is an opportunity to rekindle your excitement for your passions, to connect even more intentionally with your spouse if you’re married, to pursue a new hobby, to start saving for that trip you always dreamed of going on, to volunteer more at your favorite charity or ministry, and the list goes on!
Take some time to dream a little during this season. What would you love to learn, pursue, or accomplish with the rest of your life? What’s a dream for your life that you put on hold during the parenting years?
Write it down and make a plan to pursue it!
If having adult children has been a challenge for you, I want to remind you that you’re not alone. For every parent, this is such a hard transition, and I hope these strategies help you navigate this season a little more intentionally.
I also want to remind you to grab my free download, 52 Mindset Messages for Empty Nest Mamas. What you think makes a difference in how you handle the nest emptying, and these phrases will help you be intentional about the messages you are repeating to yourself.
So what stands out to you? What have you found to be the most challenging part of the nest emptying? Let me know in the comments!
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I know only God can fully protect them but I do fear for the safety of my kids more so now that they are on their own.
It’s definitely a faith strengthener for us.
I think one of the hardest things has been not being treated and honored as I treated my parents. They have said things to me that I would never say to my parents. And then we have to accept their comments without challenging their way of thinking or it puts a wall up, no matter how we feel. Is it the spirit of the age or what? I wish more pastors would preach on honoring one’s parents!
I feel like our daughter was snatched/stolen from us especially since she began college a year early and her lifestyle choices and friends went a 180° from what we had known her to have including her faith.
That isn’t uncommon. Our kids have to find their own way and we have to trust God and intercede for them while they make that journey.