Empty Nest or Emptiness?
After a dozen years as a single parent, Dan sends his youngest child off to college. Depressed and lonely, he finds himself calling her every day. What should Dan do about the emptiness he feels?
To a parent who has poured much of his energy into child-raising, the empty nest can feel like running into a brick wall at full speed: The impact is immediate and painful. While Dan should have prepared for this moment before the birth of his first child, understanding the parent-child dynamic can help ease the pain.
The empty nest often brings single parents' submerged emotional problems to the surface. When we experience the loss of a relationship through death or divorce, we may fill the emotional void with our children. Yet as author and speaker Ken Davis said on a recent Focus on the Family broadcast, "Parenting is basically working yourself out of a job."
Unfortunately, the parent who fails to recognize this not only risks emotional entanglement with his kids, he may also hinder their maturity. To avoid these problems, keep the following in mind:
- Recognize the seasonal nature of parenting. Mothers and fathers should view their children as Renaissance artists, trained in their hometowns to benefit other communities. As a result, parents should start releasing their kids from birth onward.
- Get a life even before the child leaves home. Involvement in ministry, friendships and hobbies can keep parents from becoming child-centered.
- Grieve the pain of the empty nest. Single parent or not, it hurts when children leave home. Don't skip the mourning process, or bigger problems might crop up later.
- Tell children about the pain without making them responsible for it. Say, "I miss you," not, "Look at how you've hurt me."
Dan can also limit the number of times he calls his daughter, an application of the wisdom shared by Carol Kuykendall in Learning to Let Go (Zondervan): "We must let go, because the ties that bind can also strangle."
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