Parents need to let go of their young adults and establish a new source of fulfillment and satisfaction in life. Parents, starting with boomers, have become increasingly more invested in the success of their children. This starts early with increased enrollment in structured activities, specialized coaches, advanced classes, and tutoring to gain competitive advantage. In addition, we have become a country that dotes on children, celebrating everything from the first successful toilet training experience and graduating from kindergarten, to expensive forms of recognition and parties as these children move through high school.
When Investment Becomes Detrimental
The emotional, psychological, and financial investment doesn’t just stop when they graduate from high school or college. I’ve heard reports of parents writing papers for their college students, challenging professors on grades, and going with their young adults to job interviews. When our young adults struggle, we experience frustration and worry about the future we had planned for them. This type of thinking is part of the letting go problem – the future we designed for them. Our letting go must start with an acknowledgment and acceptance that we can no longer control their fate.
Finding Different Sources of Meaning
Parents of young adults need to find a different source of meaning and fulfillment beyond stepping back and letting go. It’s hard to let go when you don’t have something to grab on to. We need to begin very early in our parenting experience, developing sustainable intimacy with our spouse, and expanding our source of meaning and fulfillment outside of the children.
“Empty nest syndrome” is often accompanied by sadness, loss, emptiness, and a reevaluation of the marriage that can lead to divorce. The highest divorce rate over the past thirty years has been in the 54-64 age group, often referred to as the “Grey Divorce” phenomenon. Wives initiate two out of three of these divorces. An empty nest can contribute to a loss of purpose as an investment in the young adult diminishes. Here are some questions to ask about the letting go and grabbing on of parents at the empty nest stage of family life. Please rate your current progress on the following tasks. There are no right or wrong answers since we are all a work in progress.
- Not at all True
- Somewhat True
- Completely True
Letting Go of My Young Adult:
___1. Continue to demonstrate in word and deed my unconditional love- no matter what.
___2. Encourage separate identities in my young adult even though my views may be different.
___3. Express a belief in my young adults’ competence and capability.
___4. Listen nonjudgmentally to my young adults’ views, desires, and needs.
___5. Show empathy, understanding, and emotional support.
___6. Maintain a welcoming and friendly attitude and approach to my young adult.
___7. Set boundaries and say “no” when asked to do something that would conflict with my values or increase my young adults’ dependency.
Grabbing on to a Future Without My Young Adult:
___1. Make and implement plans for meaningful activities to take the place of the time and investment made in the young adult.
___2. Reinvest or renew my commitment and efforts to strengthen the relationship with my spouse or significant other.
___3. Increase efforts to widen the family circle to welcome and include my young adults’ significant others or marriage partners.
___4. Invest in creating new approaches to my young adult child that mirror other adult friendships.
___5. Acknowledge and express the necessary grief and loss related to diminished parenting responsibilities.
___6. Increase social support through broader and deeper relationships with peers and other couples.
___7. Assist aging and ill parents.
Life After Children
Making the transition to the empty nest stage by both letting go of our young adults and grabbing on to a different and meaningful future is essential to both our young adults’ autonomy and happiness as well as our own. We have to reinvent ourselves and our new reality. There is life after children.