Many parents dread the day their child grows old enough to leave the nest. It’s not always easy to see the baby you once held in your arms grow too big for you to carry, and then eventually it will be time for them to leave for school or to strike out on their own. Nevertheless it’s an important milestone, both for parent and child. This will be the moment when your child truly forges their own independence and takes that necessary step into adulthood. For many of us, the worry that accompanies this departure largely stems from our own experiences and transition. We certainly had our own hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties; we had our own successes and made our own mistakes.
It’s likely every parent’s hope that you can protect your children as much as possible from the harsh realities of the world that you may have faced at one point or another. It is these worries that are harbored the day your child announces they’re ready to leave, and as happy as you may want to be for them, it’s perfectly natural for you to miss them and for you to want to keep them safe as you always have.
There is no set way to make this moment or process easy, but there are some ways to make this transition more manageable for you and your child. Below are some tips that can help prepare your child for “leaving the nest” and make you feel safer as well:
1. Keep Communication Open
On first glance this seems simple, but talk really is the most powerful tool we have, both amongst ourselves and with our children. Of course, you might find that your child thinks they can manage perfectly well on their own without any of your help, but this is seldom the case. Regular contact is really important for both parent and child, to maintain a healthy support system that will allow your child to grow as an adult and as an individual. While texting may seem sometimes like a convenient alternative, particularly for your child, it cannot and should not replace hearing each other’s voices, as this can be an important way to strengthen your bond and reestablish connection over long distances.
2. Prepare for Rejection
This is probably one of the most difficult experiences for parents. Rejection has many forms; perhaps its when your kid tells you they’re going home and they mean back to their dorm or apartment, or they don’t tell you that they’re spending Thanksgiving or some other holiday with their friend or significant other’s family. Just keep in mind that while this feeling of loss may be painful, it’s not because they’re disregarding your importance as their parent. They’re just trying to feel autonomous so try not to take these instances too personally and discuss ways that you can spend time with them as well.
3. Don’t Lecture; Discuss
There is a fine line between discussion and lecture. A discussion allows for two voices to exchange ideas whereas a lecture is a lot more one-sided and dictatorial. Keep in mind that young adults, while still immature in a lot of ways, still want to be treated like adults. Your child will want you to hear their opinions and, more importantly, value them. Don’t lecture them on what they’re not doing or not doing right, instead ask them questions and listen to what they have to say. Treat them with the same respect you would a friend or peer, even though they’re still your child. They want to know that what they say matters.
4. Leave Room for Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. Chances are you did growing up and your kid will too. While getting in trouble is not good, everyone is prone to the occasional poor decision making and having to deal with the consequences. For your child perhaps this may be getting notice from their school for breaking a rule or getting a ticket, or even getting fired from their job. In any case they will have to deal with the repercussions of their own choices, and likely won’t need further consequence depending on the offence. If they try to come to you to talk about their problems and are met with hostility they will likely not do so again in the future, which can potentially lead to them getting in even more trouble since they’ll feel as though they can’t ask for help. Of course, judgment is key to determining whether or not a situation requires further intervention, but just be mindful that they’re still learning how to be an adult and that means learning to be responsible even when they’re on their own.
5. Consult, Don’t Pressure
This one may be tricky. As parents you want what is best for your child, even if they don’t always see that themselves. However, you must try to remember that what is best for them may not necessarily be the same as what was best for you at that age, and that their happiness is also important. For example, you might want your child to become a doctor or lawyer, but perhaps they love writing and want to major in English. Rather than pressuring them to follow a path they have no interest in and causing school to become a chore, allow them to pursue their own goals and ambitions, and encourage them to see the benefits and drawbacks of each career path they’re interested in pursuing. Ultimately if they’re going to be studying for years and working for years after, its a good idea for them to enjoy the field they’re working in. Let your child and their advisors craft the curriculum that will work best for them. If all goes well it won’t be a waste of money, even if it may not have been your first choice of study when you were in school. This also can be applied to a number of other situations in which your child will seek your input and advice but will pull back if they feel as though they’re being pressured into doing something they won’t enjoy. Allow them to come to you and feel supported. In this way you’re opening up an avenue for communication that enables them to keep you updated with their lives and respect your views and opinions on various matters when they come to you for help.
Having your child leave home isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be so stressful and torturous either. By following these guidelines you can learn how to communicate with your child so as to allow them their independence whilst simultaneously maintaining a loving, trusting relationship with them where they know they can come to you when they need you. And they will.