The Bible tells us there are many seasons to our life. For years, we live in the hectic, demanding, child rearing season of life. But in our quieter empty nest, we forget about the joy of enjoying the tranquility and stillness in life - less juggling, more experiencing.
WHEN THE FLEDGLINGS FLY AWAY
Your children have grown up and left the nest. They're out on their own, facing their own challenges of love, career, marriage, life and adventure.
What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
If you have a graduating senior in your household, working through the complex emotions that accompany your child coming of age and leaving home can be overwhelming. These emotions are a part of a phenomenon called "Empty Nest Syndrome."
Research suggests that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome may experience a profound sense of loss and may even be vulnerable to depression, identity crises and marital conflicts.
In the midst of trying to parent, you might find yourself at odds with your son or daughter in new ways. Understanding the fears and emotions that accompany this major change in your family dynamic may help. Here are three things that you can do now that will help you and your child transition into this new phase of life.
1. Entrust Your Child's Future to God
Every parent wants to do a good job raising their children, so it's natural if you find yourself evaluating how your teen has turned out. You want to make sure your child is prepared for the real world and will make good decisions—and rightly so.
However, involvement in your teen's life can quickly turn into scrutiny, so be aware of your motives. Are you asking questions out of fear, or because you are truly interested? Are you placing your own identity in your child being "OK"? Entrusting your child's future to God will not only free you from being enslaved to the "what-ifs"; it will help your relationship with your teen as well.
Parents may also experience regret when they reflect on the past. The years can pass by quickly when kids are growing up, and sometimes parents miss it all together. Perhaps you didn't always pay full attention to your child's needs and desires.
The sting of remorse can be painful, but Christ can meet you in it. Confess your failures to Him, and accept His grace. Then, work on repairing your relationship with your child. You might be surprised at how far a simple "I'm sorry" or "I love you" can go.
2. Find New Ways to Connect with Your Child
Who am I? Who do I want to be? What should I do with my life?
Parents are very familiar with these questions coming from their teenager, but are often surprised when they find themselves asking the same ones.
Watching your child transition to adulthood produces an identity crisis of sorts for many parents. It can be more unsettling than losing a job, or moving to another state. It's a total life adjustment.
Driving your daughter to sports practice and youth group, waiting up when she's out late, drying her tears when her prom date backed out ... you've been there for it all. Without the all-consuming tasks of day-to-day parenting, you might become anxious about filling that void. Creating more rules can be a last-ditch effort of sorts to control what feels uncontrollable with Empty Nest Syndrome.
Unfortunately, the timing of your teen's growing independence and your desire to come closer may ignite anger and conflict. While keeping household and behavioral expectations in check is important, emphasizing your authority won't bring you closer.
Rather, think of new ways to connect. Shop for college dorm gear together, or plan a day when your teen can pick what you do. Just because your teen is leaving home doesn't mean she doesn't need you anymore ... it's quite the opposite. Your relationship will just look differently than it did in high school.
3. Grieve, but Don't Forget the Joyful Moments Too
Having a child fly the coop is a grieving process. This process is normal with Empty Nest Syndrome.
Even if your child is not moving out, it's still a loss: a change in your relationship with your child, your role in their life and in your family dynamic as you've known it for the last 18 years. A certain amount of sadness comes with that.
In addition, many parents don't want to admit that they are getting older, and so are their kids. They want to stop time and preserve the moments they cherish of their teen as a young child. While your child will always be your "baby" in some ways, he isn't 8 anymore. He is his own person, making his own choices for his life.
Your teen is about to enter a wonderful phase of life, full of discoveries and adventures. While there will also be difficult learning experiences, these are necessary to become an independent, successful adult. It can be a beautiful process to see a young adult learn to rest in the gospel of grace, develop an identity rooted in Christ and make a true difference in the world.
The coming months may be difficult, but they can be filled with joy if you let them. Make the most of the time you have left with things as they are, and look with hope to the new experiences that await your family.
4. Pray on Your Child's Behalf
As you navigate this life change, consider using Paul's words to pray to the Lord on your child's behalf:
"For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven't stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:9-10).
5. But what's next for you?
Many parents find themselves feeling aimless when their children leave the family home. They've been active parents for decades and suddenly find themselves without the money and time commitments that being an active parent entails.
What does that mean? What's next? Here are six money-smart steps that fresh empty nesters should consider.
Make sure you're on a strong path to retirement. This is the most important step. At some point, you likely hope to retire or at least transition into a "second life" in a different career path. How much do you need to be saving for retirement each year to make those goals happen?
Right now is the time to really ramp up your retirement savings. Your financial responsibilities are lower than they've been for a long time, thanks to the exit of your children. So, you now have the financial flexibility to start contributing a lot more without altering your lifestyle in any significant way.
Sit down with a good retirement calculator and work through the numbers in your current situation, remembering that your ability to save is better than it has been in decades.
Start minimizing any "financial outpatient care" that you're giving. Many parents continue to give direct financial support to their children in the form of cash gifts well into their independent adulthood. As tempting as it is to soften the path for them, it's actually not helpful for them in terms of their preparedness for the future. Such "financial outpatient care" (which is a clever term for this type of support, coined in the book "The Millionaire Next Door") doesn't benefit them in terms of mastering true independence, and doesn't benefit you as you save for retirement.
It's time to start trimming those contributions. Start reducing the handouts now and set a deadline for a clean break. It's a bad idea to do this suddenly, as your children may have made financial choices that make them reliant on the support, so cut it down gradually and be clear as to when the handouts will end. It's time for your children to fly fully on their own, and you need that money to ensure a successful retirement.
Find healthy new uses for your time that don't lead to a big increase in spending. Empty nesters often find themselves with a lot of extra time on their hands and lack a clear direction as to what to do with it, and often that turns into a "life crisis" of sorts, with the extra time and money being spent in incoherent fashion on travel and expensive hobbies.
Avoid that trap by figuring out truly meaningful uses for your newfound time.
1. Look for charities or causes to give your time and energy to.
2. Start a side business.
3. Go back to school and take some classes.
4. Get involved in a meaningful hobby that's about doing things rather than acquiring things.
Remember: The devil finds work for idle hands to do, so don't let yourself be idle.
6. Reevaluate your life insurance needs.
Now that you no longer have dependents, it's time to take a fresh look at your life insurance.
Do you have a term policy? Does it make sense to renew it? Do you even need a life insurance policy?
Everyone has a different life insurance situation. Spend some time evaluating what your real financial needs are before talking to an insurance agent. What are your needs in the event of your death? Of your spouse's death? Are you adequately covered by retirement savings? Those are questions to carefully consider before listening to an insurance salesperson.
Consider other types of insurance, such as long-term care insurance and umbrella insurance. Long-term care insurance is intended to cover the costs of certain types of long-term care, which varies somewhat from policy to policy. It can help a great deal if you find yourself in a situation in which one of you needs long-term care beyond what Medicare can provide while the other partner is still healthy. Umbrella insurance is meant to cover expensive insurance situations above and beyond what other policies might cover and is usually used to protect the assets of wealthier individuals.
If you're in either of these situations, investigate those types of insurance and see whether they make sense for you. Make sure you understand what situations you want to cover and the type and level of coverage you need before speaking to a salesperson.
Make sure you have a smart estate plan in place. One final piece of the puzzle to consider is your estate plan. What do you intend to leave behind for your children and grandchildren?
While it might seem early in your life to consider such things, you're still better off asking these questions soon and getting your plans set in place. Who will manage your estate when you pass on? What do you want to leave to your descendants? What charitable gifts do you wish to leave? For a small estate, a simple will should suffice, but if you may have significant assets at any point before your passing, it may be worthwhile to consult an estate lawyer.
Your transition from active parent to empty nester can be a challenging one, but with smart financial moves to guide you, it can be a joyous one, filled with new opportunities and new challenges. Good luck.
If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below. God bless you.
References: 1. Parenting Teens magazine 2. Trent Hamm is the founder of The Simple Dollar, a website covering practical personal finance issues for everyone. He is the author of two books, "The Simple Dollar: How One Man Wiped Out His Debts and Achieved the Life of His Dreams" and "365 Ways to Live Cheap." He has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He currently lives in Iowa with his wife and three children.