If you are soon to become an empty nester, you should focus on the three R’s: Redefine, Renegotiate and Reinvent.
When teens fly the coop, parents face stresses in many areas. They must redefine and renegotiate their own relationship with each other and with the child, who now needs a new, more adult relationship.
Parents: Redefine Relationships
Parents must redefine their relationship with themselves as well as their partners, to determine what they will do with more freedom and flexibility, says Susan W. Hammond, a psychologist with the Stixrud Group in Silver Spring, Md.
Before the nest is empty it’s best to consider: “What am I going to do differently now? What do I have time for? What do I want to be?” Parents who have been absorbed in parenting may desperately miss their child at first, but it’s important to handle the transition carefully so it does not burden the child.
Some parents face marital challenges when the last child leaves, which doesn’t mean marital difficulties. Research shows divorce peaks after about seven years of marriage, which bodes well for parents who have raised kids to college age and have “already weathered a lot of storms,” Hammond says. The exception is parents who have struggled in their relationship and have already decided to separate after the last child leaves. To ease the transition to an empty nest, couples should prioritize their relationship, such as making time for a date night to make sure they don’t lose touch with their spouse.
Don’t Forget Departing Teen Life Skills Like Doing Laundry
Parents also should make sure teens are well prepared and independent enough to thrive once they get to college, otherwise both the child and parental relationship suffer “because they are worrying all the time,” Hammond says.
Academically, you want to make sure your child will get the homework done and go to class without reminding. The child also needs practical life skills, such as good eating and sleeping habits and knowing how to do laundry.
“All kids are going to need some kind of support during that first year of college and some kids are going to need more than others,” such as children who are anxious or less confident, Hammond says.
Teens May Need Help Managing Workload
Children with learning differences also may need parental help getting accommodations or managing the workload. “There’s not a right or wrong answer, in some ways the answer is, you want your child to be as independent as they can while still being successful,” she says.
Hammond says she texts her son if she feels the need to nag him to do something. She also weighs in by telephone once a week “so we can feel confident that he’s having a good experience.”