As my youngest daughter’s wedding day fast approaches, Gary and I are officially becoming empty-nesters. I’ve felt a world of emotions! I’ve felt excited, sad, thankful for the incredible story God has unraveled in her life, a little old, and overwhelmingly happy.
There’s something final about seeing your youngest child old enough to get married and start a life of her own. Part of me wants to live in denial… Time goes too fast!
With four children who have been out of the house for seven years now, there are a lot of lessons I’ve learned when it comes to your role as a parent when your children grow up. Of course, I’m still learning too!
Now that your children are grown up, they still need you… but they need you in a very different way than they used to.
This new parent-child dynamic can be tricky for both parties to adjust to, and if parents don’t transition to this new role, their actions and communication can cause their children or children’s spouses to resent them and even pull away from them.
I get a lot of questions about this topic, so that’s why I wanted to write a blog about some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in this new season of life.
1. Your Job’s Not Done—Only Different.
I used to have a false illusion that once your children grew up, the huge feeling of responsibility would no longer be there. Truthfully, it only increases!
As your children are out on their own, you may be more tempted as a parent to worry, or play Superman and swoop in and save the day. Your job as a parent isn’t finished when your children move out, but it does change.
The reality is that God didn’t create us to ever stop investing in our family and others.
When your children were under your authority, you were a mentor, disciplinarian, and guardian for them.
Your new role is to be a listener and encourager.
When your children become adults, you become less of an authoritative figure and more of a friend, counselor, and cheerleader for their dreams. That’s a fun place to be!
Give them the independence you wish you had.
I’ve seen a lot of parents “jerk their child’s chain,” so to speak, in order to still feel valued and respected by their children. They refuse to move their Christmas celebration to accommodate their children’s desire to celebrate Christmas with their own families, or get angry at their son for missing a Sunday family party in order to accommodate his wife’s plans.
Did YOU hate when your in-laws and parents did this to you?
Make it easier on your kids and be flexible. Recognize that they want to start their own traditions, too, and it’s healthy and normal for them to put their families first.
2. You Can’t Fix It for Them; Only Love Them
“Sometimes we cripple people who are capable of walking because we choose to carry them.” —Anonymous
This is still a hard one for me! When my children are going through a trying situation, I want to get in there and help them. Parents, we can’t rescue our children. If we do, we’ll interrupt the training God has for them to carry them to their destinies!
Of course, I’m not saying that we can’t still be a blessing to them simply because they’ve moved out. We can babysit for them, go and help with household tasks, or pay for their lunch—but we can’t SAVE them from the growing and maturing process in their lives. There’s a difference.
Our role as a parent must change as our children get older, or we’ll create dysfunction in their lives. When they become adults, they are not under our authority any longer, and we must adjust our approach and relationship.
You may not always agree with their decisions, but you need to give them independence and respect.
Don’t alienate your grown-up children by making them feel judged, pressured, or incapable on their own. If you do, they will begin to pull away from you.
I spoke to a mother who constantly worried over her adult son, reminding him about past mistakes and warning about future ones. This caused him to nearly shut her out of his life completely! She treated him like a little boy, making him feel disrespected and doomed to fail.
Here’s my advice: speak life over them, and then get out of the way and pray!
3. You Learned Some Things the Hard Way; They Will Too
When you have young children who are about to make a bad decision, you can exercise your authority to guide them in the right direction. When you are mentoring your young adult children, it’s not that simple.
I’ve had to remind myself over and over again that Gary and I had to learn some things the hard way, and they will too. That’s what makes us stronger, wiser, and builds our character!
I know how hard it is to release our adult children to God, but we must. Trying to fix their mistakes and “do” for them what they must do for themselves creates a dysfunction and codependency.
I’ve talked to many single moms who have bailed their adult sons out down to their last dollar. They think if they do it once, it will help them, but they keep coming back again and again.
Because there are consequences for our mistakes for a reason, and when we remove the consequences, we remove the teaching moment. There’s grace, but we can’t shield our children from the emotional and spiritual growth they NEED in order to live healthy lives.
Remember, you can trust your children to God!
First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
God has an incredible plan for your children; trust Him and His leading as you navigate this new season. He will perfect that which concerns you.
And remember, the best thing you can do in this season is PRAY.
Pray for your children and for their families. Prayer has the power to change even the most dire circumstances!