Pudgy, dimpled knuckles of sweet baby fat gripped my finger for balance and then the next thing I knew, I turned around to see my daughter looking at me eye-to-eye as we said good-bye when she started college. I think that empty nest phase is tougher on the parents and the siblings left behind than it is on the child taking flight, but military life does a pretty good job of preparing the family for this moment.
Deployments, homecomings and PCS moves build a family’s resilience to make it through tough times together, so when it comes to the shifting roles and changes in family dynamics, military families recognize what is going on because we’ve been through a version of it before. That doesn’t make it easier, but it does help when you recognize it for what it is. Check out these life hacks to help you prepare for, go through and come out better on the other side of the big move from full to empty nest.
Preflight tool check
I know we need to go from a parent to a friend/advisor role as our kids head off to college, tech school, the military or other workforce careers, but it’s not the easiest thing to stop parenting cold turkey. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 18 years. Ideally, we get to teach our kids the basics of how to live on their own near the end of high school, but if not, you can give them a crash course the summer before they leave.
Check to make sure your young adult has these life hack tools to ease their transition out of the nest.
- Understand common-sense safety (don’t walk alone at night, use the buddy system, etc.)
- Balance a checkbook.
- Wash, dry, hang and fold laundry.
- Clean up.
- Cook a few meals well.
- Maintain a car (either doing it themselves or when to take it in to a professional).
Parents, we are no longer flying the plane. In order for our young adults to grow into responsible adults, we have to let go of the controls and not grab on again (easier said than done). We become the in-flight service — if they push that request help button we can offer support, but that is not license to take over and fix things. They need the space and freedom to fail and succeed on their own.
If you want that new relationship with your young adult, as a good friend and advisor, your life hack is to let go so they can grow. Be their cheerleader and advisor when they ask for it. They need the freedom to:
- Experience life on their own terms
- Handle situations, both good and bad, and solve problems on their own
- Believe in themselves by proving they can do it on their own
- Be themselves as they choose their own paths
After they’ve landed at college, or a new home, and you’ve helped them unpack and set them up for success, it’s time to focus on the new phase of life for you and any of your other children still at home. It’s natural to have mixed feelings of sadness as you miss the one who flew and the family you were, and excitement for your new flier’s future, and the future of your changed family dynamic; but it’s time to establish new routines to keep your family healthy (both the in-home family and your free-flying adult).
Deal with your emotions from day one by setting some boundaries and ensuring connections using these communication life hacks:
- Communicate at least once a week with a set a time that works for you and your adult child.
- Let your adult child initiate phone calls in-between.
- Write letters and send care packages.
- Send texts (but don’t blow up your kid’s phone all the time).
Decide what comes next for you in this new phase of life (with more space, time and money — or maybe less money) using some of these life hacks:
- Date your partner again — invest more time in each other.
- Spend more one-on-one time with your kids that remain at home.
- Look at your bucket list (or make one) and start making those things happen.
- Learn to play an instrument, try a new craft, pick up a new hobby or join a book club.
- Start a new exercise routine.
- Redecorate your home.
- Start a new business.
- Go back to school.
- Volunteer in your community doing something you love.
Be patient with yourself as you make this transition with your adult child and family. I cried every time we said good-bye to our daughter during her first year of college. I improved slightly this year. I didn’t cry until I was in the car on our way home.
My youngest child and I are painting his room and he gets a bit more attention these days (probably more than he’d prefer). My husband and I are working through various home and yard improvement projects and enjoying more time together. Our daughter is doing her thing at college and it’s a joy to see her grow, learn and make her own way in the world. Our new family structure is different now, as it should be, and we are learning to navigate the new dynamics through trial and error.
If you are an empty nester, hang in there, work with these life hacks and you’ll find the joy in this next phase of life. There are so many possibilities and that’s part of the excitement. Now you get to walk through life beside your adult child and lift each other up when needed.