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Surviving empty nest syndrome

By: trish crossley

In life, boundaries are an essential. Imaginary lines carefully drafted and set into place. Proper boundaries are constantly tested. They are taken to the limit, pressed beyond borders, and never even come close at times.

In the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life, Henry Cloud wrote, “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.”

The most sensitive boundaries in life are the relational ones we hold with our children. From the moment our child is placed in our arms, these nostalgically embraced tagged events called milestones erupt with bated breath.

These celebratory moments populate our timelines. We applaud our child’s first smile, first tooth, first steps, the first day of school. This running list of firsts cascades over time one right after another.  Before you know it, life compels us fast-forward towards pre-school graduation, open house night at elementary school, car-pool routines, sports and music recitals, dances and summer camps. Each night during the week has an assignment to further community socialization, physical development, spiritual growth, educational benefit, or simply to focus on family time at home. Even with the healthiest of boundaries, it is easy to get caught up in the ebbs and flows of parenthood.

Then, almost suddenly, it’s the day they go away to university, or get their first apartment, or join the military, whatever their next step may be — it is time.

There’s this certain sense of joy and satisfaction to see them move on. But, in creeps this unwelcome feeling of fear and anticipation for their future. Maybe it was all these feelings combined then steeped in the quiet house when it began to sink in a little too deep for comfort for me.

Somehow with the entire focus being placed on the firsts — milestones — I realized I sometimes forgot to keep in mind it could be the last. So, what encouragement is there for when it is time for your last child or your only child to leave the nest?

3 Secrets For You and Your Child To Survive The Empty Nest Syndrome

1.    Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 begins, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens …”

We, parents, will never lose this status, but the relationships with our children must evolve seasonally. The risk of a stalled relationship, which becomes stagnate, does not allow for growth and can become detrimental to both the parent and the child.

There’s a parenting quote I heard once that never left me, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Keeping this in mind can help us gain a new appreciation for each day while letting go daily.  

2.    Ephesians 6:4, “… do not exasperate your children …”

None of us want to be that parent. The one who continually calls, texts and frustrates our child. I cannot tell you the number of text messages I typed out then never hit send. After typing out the text, I’d ask myself this one question, “Am I sending them this to benefit them or for my benefit?”

Saying, “I miss you!” once a week is endearing but saying it every day could be destructive. And asking, “How are you?” doesn’t need to come across as “Ahem, it’s time to check-in.”

Letting your child know you think of them often should not bring about any feelings of guilt on either side. They have not abandoned you. You have not abandoned them. This moment of physical separation was the goal all along.

3.    Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

A friend once reminded me of the “when they are old” part of this Scripture when I was in a momentary panic over a decision my child made right after they moved out. I believe some of the empty nest syndrome feelings I experienced were a direct result of my desire to still be the decision maker in their life.

With our adult children, we can express our opinions, but we must be careful not to protest their choices.

Jesus led by example showing we don’t need to approve of people's decisions to love and accept them as they are. With our adult children, we can express our opinions, but we must be careful not to protest their choices. Unconditional love shouldn’t have to be earned. The ability to make our own mistakes defines our character and ultimately who we become.

When walking the line of what to say and when to say it, keep in mind that unsolicited advice can feel judgmental and be counterproductive. We’re in this for the long run, a lifetime of healthy relationship and experiences together.

The best really is yet to come!

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