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When It’s Time to Empty the Nest

Posted by NancyWilliams on May 3, 2011

One evening I heard a sudden ruckus of screeching and rumbling sounds that told me two raccoons were having a major skirmish in my backyard.

I grabbed a flashlight to see if I could spot the brawl, but the little warriors were hidden from view. Their fight went on for a bit and then it grew quiet, except for the rustling of leaves on the ground that told me at least one of my little furry friends had run away. The rest of the night was quiet. So, apparently, the disagreement I heard had been resolved one way or another.

I looked around the next morning but no signs of any problems. As my neighbor and I talked about what we heard the evening prior, she told me that when raccoon cubs reach a certain age, the male “fathers” send them away to build a life of their own. I wondered if the yelping and screeching sounds were from the young one not wanting to leave or from the father struggling as he had to let go. It may have been well intentioned but it was obviously not a happy occasion or a smooth transition. Even if it was necessary.

It got me to thinking about how we go through the process of “letting go” when our children grow up. As I talk to my friends and through my own experiences, I know there are times when that event is met with excitement from both parents and their children. They talk, they prepare, and they look forward to the time when the children will step out and establish their own independence as adults. The transition goes relatively smoothly.

Then there are times when the parents don’t want their children to leave. At least not when the children think they are ready. Skirmishes happen as parents attempt to reason with their children and to hold on, perhaps with pressure, with demands, with threats, or with bribes. Sometimes the parents are right: the child doesn’t have the maturity, skills or preparation to successfully take charge quite yet. He or she needs more time to transition into the responsibilities of adulthood and independence. Other times parents’ protectiveness takes control, and they don’t want to let go. Maybe they don’t want their children to struggle. Or maybe they’re not ready to face an empty nest.

Some families struggle because the parents know it is time for their children to step out and take charge of their lives but their children don’t want to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. And the battle ensues.

If you are a parent facing this transition time with your children these tips may serve as a guide to help you manage this time:

• Talk with your children about your desires for them and their future success as they transition into independence. It’s not a matter of if they will leave but rather a matter of how and when they can do so in a way that is best for everyone.

• Express your desire to support them as they transition and work with them to set a plan and timeframe that takes everyone’s needs into account.

• Identify your own personal concerns that might get in the way and get help if needed to work through your struggles.

• Listen carefully as your children express their needs and concerns and talk with them about options to address those areas.

• Talk with your spouse to be certain you are both in agreement about your expectations.

• Keep your family discussions respectful, honest, encouraging, and focused on your goals.

• If your children have special needs like a disability or extended illness, you’ll want to set expectations accordingly. Some outside counsel might be helpful.

• Most importantly, ask God to grant you wisdom to understand your children and to guide you as you help them enter this new stage of their lives.


If you’ve been through this experience of helping your children leave the nest and take charge of their lives, what advice would you share with parents who are facing this transition time? What’s been helpful? What’s been challenging?

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