7 Tips for Staying Close to Your Kids After They Leave Home
Keeping the empty nest warm
Turning the pages of family life after our kids leave an empty nest can provide long-awaited relief and freedom. The kids are finally old enough to take care of themselves and they’re off to college, basic training, a new job or perhaps a year of studying abroad. Packing up and moving their stuff out of the family home, they will now be taking care of themselves. While we may continue to supply financial, emotional and logistical support, the responsibility for their lives and well-being now falls on them. And we as parents can move on to a new and exciting season of life filled with time off for our own discovery and adventure.
The period after our kids leave home can also, however, be painfully difficult and challenging for us. Not only must we push the “reset” button to find a new source of meaning for our own lives, we also find ourselves missing those beloved companions with whom we’ve invested so much of our time, energy and love.
Staring into the abyss and asking, “Will I be able to stay connected to my son or daughter?” we search for hope, strength, courage and faith that things can somehow work out.
As the pages of life turn, we can actually get closer to our kids. Here are seven things I have learned in my own life and in working with empty-nest families that help maintain and even increase family closeness after kids leave home.
1. Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that come with being a good and loving empty nester. Give yourself permission to be human and grieve the passing of a cherished time of life as you transition to a new era.
2. Give voice to your thoughts and feelings about how it’s going, your fears and excitement about what’s to come. Keeping things bottled up inside will likely make them even harder to deal with. Airing out with a trusted confidant who will not try to “fix you” clears the path forward.
3. Begin reimagining the positive future as turning out great. Picture all the best possible things happening in your family. And share your vision for this wonderful new season of family life. See yourself deeply and lovingly connected to your son and/or daughter and the people they bring into your family.
4. Devise a master plan for staying close and connected. If they live far away, plan visits and use text messages, emails, phone calls and video chats. Ask your son or daughter to tell you what they think are the best ways to stay close and connected. Incorporate their ideas and suggestions into the master plan and come to agreements about how you are all going to handle the future.
5. Make it a priority to do whatever’s necessary to execute on the master plan. Follow through to show your kids they continue to be a priority in your life and that you have the capability of relating to them as adults.
6. Share your inner life. Tell them all the things you’re doing to write new chapters in your life, including the challenges you’re facing, the triumphs you’ve achieved and the ways you’d like to stay connected to them. Reassure them you’re OK and ask if they are.
7. And ask them what they are doing to adjust. Ask them about the things they’re doing to write new chapters in their lives, about the challenges they’re facing and the triumphs they’ve achieved. Ask them to assure you they are adjusting.
Reinventing your family life as your kids begin theirs is best done with newfound love, understanding, patience and flexibility. Creating the kind of adult relationships that foster intimacy and closeness is a learning process. And we are all works in progress. Direct and respectful communication, forgiveness, humility and fun get the best results as families evolve into the older version of themselves.
Dr. Ken Druck is an international authority on healthy aging and author of the new book Raising an Aging Parent. He has spent four decades helping people grow into the more courageous, compassionate and resilient version of themselves by transforming adversities and losses of every kind into opportunities. KenDruck.com