It’s not too early. You may be decade(s) away from becoming an empty nester, however, you can start preparing now to ease your transition for when your children make their inevitable exit. Donna Korren, publisher of website and blog, Empty Quester™, gives us 5 Must-Dos in your 30’s and 40’s to Prepare for an Empty Nest.
In what seems like a moment ago, I was a young parent just like you: driving carpools, attending recitals, and cheering at the sidelines for my children. I brushed away the dirt on every skinned knee, gently let go of their hands as they walked into kindergarten, helped them weather the drama of middle school and the angst of applying to college. And then, they left. Yes, just like that, they did what every parent hopes their children will do—they flew the nest.
I have had an idea for some time that younger parents could really benefit from the wisdom of older parents and I don’t mean your moms or your sisters, although they make great mentors too. I mean, parents who have children just a bit older than yours: Parents who can say, “Yes it’s fresh in my mind what it felt like to send my child to sleep away camp and here are three things I did to make the transition successful.” Parents who can assure you, “I cried when my child was being bullied and here’s how I handled it at school.” Parents who can offer, “I have been in your shoes and it will get easier—try this.”
Recognize right at this moment that your children are their own people
Our children are individuals with their own distinct temperaments, desires and gifts. The more you push against this, the harder it will be for both of you. Celebrate what makes your children unique, even if they are very different from you or how you imagined they would be. This individuation is essential for letting children grow up and become independent. The earlier you understand their distinction from you, the easier it will be to let them go when the time comes.
Keep up with your own interests while you raise your kids
I chose to give up a big job when I became a mom, but that didn’t mean I gave up all of my interests. Being a mom is consuming but it shouldn’t be at the expense of everything else. Keep up with current events, carve out time for a passion outside of your family: take a class, develop a hobby, and keep in touch with old friends. In a very short time, your kids will be all grown. You don’t want to have to “find yourself” when they leave. Don’t lose yourself in the first place.
Let your kids build relationships with people other than you
Allow and encourage your kids to build relationships with people other than you—coaches, teachers, mentors, other family members and friends can all be part of their support network. Seeing your children form meaningful connections outside of your family, will give you confidence that they can thrive when they leave the nest.
Permit your children to have age appropriate privacy as they grow
Permit your children to have age appropriate privacy as they grow: that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye on the things you need to pay attention to, especially when they become teenagers. It means that the natural order of growing up requires children to have thoughts, feelings, friends and ideas all their own. It’s hard to let go of being their “confidante” but there may be times they’ll want you to relinquish that role. Look for the signs and accept them graciously. These are trial runs for you to learn how to let go and the sooner you begin practicing, the easier it will be when they head off to college.
Create rituals and positive experiences that your kids will associate with home
It can be as simple as creating a game night, or visiting a nearby beach where you take walks together, or having an interest you share like baking or gardening or backgammon. Choose things that are sustainable, that you can consistently do together. Make sure that these shared activities and interests evolve as your children grow, but keep a few things in place that they regard as the fabric of their family life. For us, it was time spent at a beach house in the summer and playing board games. No matter how far my kids have flown, they carry some very good memories with them. That helps to bring them back to the fold.
In truth, there is no real preparation you can do. When the moment comes that your children leave home, it will be heart wrenching and celebratory and mind boggling all at once. “How did we get here so fast”? , you will wonder. Taking some measures along the way will help their transition, and of equal importance, your own.
About Donna Korren
Donna Korren is the founder of Empty Quester™, a website and blog for parents whose children have left the nest. Her 25+ year career in publishing led her to her current role as a “life stage expert”. Prior to having children, Korren was the Advertising Manager at Vogue. When she began to raise a family, she moved to Time Inc.’s Parenting Group and sold advertising for their new parent magazines. Later, when she moved to the suburbs, she co-launched Elements, a luxury, lifestyle magazine for Long Island suburbanites.
With every life stage change, Korren immersed herself in the issues, challenges and interests of the audience she belonged to. Empty Quester™ and its many collaborations, steeps Korren in the conversations of this growing demographic. Having successfully helped her two daughters confidently leave the nest, she is delighted to share her wisdom with younger parents.
She is a graduate of Cornell University and lives in Roslyn, NY.
@emptyquester on instagram
Father/Daughter Photo Credit: Morgan Matkovic www.liliesandlambs.com