Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Don’t fill your emptier nest with tears

June 11, 2014

I originally wrote this article for my pre-blog parenting newsletter. I could lie and say I’m reposting it by popular demand but the truth is: I wanted a graduation themed post and this one, 6 years later, is still spot on. Ask Gayle.

Prepare for take-off

Prepare for take-off

“I’ve been hugging her a lot,” my friend Gayle said when I asked how she was dealing with her college-bound daughter’s imminent departure.

“Savoring the moments,” I nodded. “Nice.”

“I wouldn’t put it that way.” Gayle cut to the chase. “After dinner she said she was taking a shower and I just couldn’t control myself.”

“Did you follow her into the bathroom?”

“Worse. I threw my arms around her and held on so tight she couldn’t move. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Pathetic, huh?”

“Not so much,” I reassured her. “She’s your only child. She’s been your focus for 18 years. What you’re feeling is totally understandable. She’s leaving home.”

At the “L” word, Gayle winced, but I plunged ahead. “You and Ben have done an incredible job raising her. She’s intelligent. Kind. And if she wasn’t self-confident she wouldn’t want to go to college 3,000 miles away.”

Mentioning the distance caused Gayle’s face to contort.

“Sweetie, you’ve got to refocus some of this energy into something new, because if you don’t, you’re both going to be really unhappy during your last summer together.”

Oops. That did it. Gayle eyes welled up. Sigh. Kids grow up. And if that’s not one of the toughest facts of life, what is?

Gayle knows I understand. After all, I’m a mom, though the genetic evidence is far away at the moment. Our daughter’s trekking around Cambodia and our son is teaching in Malaysia. But even when they complete their adventures they’re not coming home due to the simple fact that they don’t live here anymore. No, we didn’t kick them out. Nor did they leave in a huff. They just went ahead, thumbed their noses at Peter Pan, and grew up.

Did you catch the fine print on your child’s birth certificate? It read: “You’ve got just 18 years to prepare this child to become a fully-functioning independent adult who can make their own lunch and have their own life. Good luck. Time starts… NOW!”

That’s the mission we signed up for. And no amount of nostalgia for bedtime snuggles or Saturday morning soccer games will bring back those fun times. Did we love being the center of their Universe and the source of their comfort and encouragement? Absolutely! Do I sometimes miss it when I see a mom or dad walking hand in hand with a toddler? Yep! I’m also unashamed to admit that I sobbed like a deranged woman after dropping off each of our kids as a college freshman. But I pulled it together quickly because I’d already opened a window in my life while they were growing up. So when they started their new chapters… I had more time for mine. While everyone’s new chapter is completely and wondrously different, I can happily report that as our nest has gotten emptier… my life has become fuller.

In case you’re wondering, our loving, smart, and spirited little girl and her equally awesome little brother, are still all that. They’re out in the world, living their lives. And they check in with us regularly for a sweet taste of “home” which is always right here for them in large helpings.

If your teen is leaving for college this fall, congratulations for the support you’ve provided toward her reaching this milestone. As an acknowledgement gift, here are some tips for your next chapter. If you’re not there yet, these tips will help you continue preparing for your emptier nest.

Tips — Preparing for an Emptier Nest

  • Create some new goals — What would you do with at least one extra hour a week just for yourself? Learn something new? Tackle a creative project? Set a professional goal? Make the goal important (to you) and get started now. If you chose well, working on your goal will sustain you on many levels when your child leaves the nest.
  • Make some new friends — The friends of most parents are the parents of their kids’ friends. But looking ahead as a parent with grown-up kids, it makes sense to nurture some “non-kid-centered” friendships. Following your own interests (see above) can connect you with new friends who share those interests.
  • Revitalize your relationship — If you’re lucky enough to have a significant other, talk to him/her about “Our life as a couple, post-kids.” Support each other’s feelings about the inevitable changes. Discuss ways you can improve communication. Schedule fun time together. Hopefully you’ll rediscover what’s at the core of your relationship and create a healthy new chapter.
  • Re-focus on your social life — If you’re single and interested in dating, but haven’t as yet because of parenting obligations, now may be the time to start letting friends know that you’re “looking” again.
  • Call a family meeting — Do it before graduation and give everyone an opportunity to talk honestly about this big change. How does each family member feel about “Josh” going away? Talk about opportunities for everyone in the family to stay connected to the new college student and to each other.
  • Avoid over-parenting your younger children — It won’t make you miss “Josh” less and it’s very likely to cause push-back from your at-home child. Of course you need to continue parenting, but redirecting all of your energy toward your younger kid(s) spells trouble.
  • Be aware of the emotional impact on siblings — Without the older one as a parental buffer and confidante, younger one(s) may feel off-balance and too much on their parent’s radar screen (see above). Encourage siblings to talk about their relationship before graduation and what the separation is going to mean and how they can stay updated on each other’s lives.

I checked in with Gayle yesterday to find out how she was feeling after our talk. Here’s what she had to say:

“Right now I’m really excited—for her and us. Obviously, that fluctuates day-by-day, moment-by-moment. She’s a great kid and I’m very lucky to have her in my life. I’ll continue to have her in my life, but in a very different way. I do my best to celebrate that.”

Gayle rocks!

In friendship,
Annie

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 4:52 pm
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How NOT to welcome kids home for the holidays

November 25, 2013

A post bearing a strong resemblance to this one was first posted here in January 2009.

Play your cards right and your empty nest isn’t empty 100% of the time. Since we officially became empty nesters in May 2007, our nest has expanded from accommodating just me, David and our dog, to periods where 5 people lived here, then 4, then 2, then one configuration of 3, then 5, then a new configuration of 3 and now… back to me David and our new puppy.  The key to success when coming together again, at home or on vacation, is replacing the old parent-child relationship with one that matches the new reality of who “the kids” have become.

Having our daughter and son, their significant others and/or their friends stay with us from time to time is a joy for which I am eternally grateful. It wasn’t that way for me visiting my mother. She and I were hopelessly stuck in a destructive gear. It wasn’t until the last year of her life, when she was terminally ill, that we finally figured out how to have a wonderful relationship… as two adults.

I didn’t want to wait until I was dying to make peace with my adult children. So I’ve worked hard to maintain a healthy relationship with them. The efforts have paid off, but it takes an ongoing commitment.

Since we’ve got no mind readers here and we don’t worship at the altar of “Grin and bear it,” whenever our kids come back to live temporarily or visit for more than 3 days, we call a family meeting and discuss everyone’s expectations and needs during the new arrangement. It usually boils down to two basics:

Parents: We want to feel like we’re all adults on the same team, sharing the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Young adults: We want to be treated like adults, not kids who need your input on how to live our lives.

Sounds like we’ve got a deal. That’s why I’ve stuck by this mantra: “Give teens/adult kids no unsolicited advice.” Why bother? They don’t want it. They won’t accept it. And they resent you for offering it. Want less resentment?  Quit giving them advice. Good advice! But damnit I give advice for a living! Keeping my mouth shut when I’ve got a helpful suggestion is tough. It’s also be part of my yoga practice. Ohmmmm.

Here’s a holiday challenge for you, if you’re game… take a look at your relationship with each of your children. Now fast forward to a time when they will return, as young adults, to visit you for the holidays. What would you like to see your relationship develop into? What could you start doing today (or stop doing) that might help you reach the place you want to be with them when they grow up?

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

"We're safe, guys. I hear these folks are vegetarians."

Filed under: Holidays,Mindfulness,Parenting — Tags: , — Annie @ 3:34 pm
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For Parents: They’re growing up! So where’s your smile?

March 14, 2009

Sixteen and taking on the world

16 and taking on the world

Remember your “job description” posted at the bottom of your child’s birth certificate? No? Understandable. At the time they handed over the document you were still drunk on the radiant beauty of your newborn – experiencing something cosmic and way beyond the reach of words. If you had any cogent thoughts during those first few weeks, perhaps what filtered through was a sublime awareness that you were now officially part of the Chain of Life and thus inalterably altered. Simultaneously softened and strengthened. And now forever unable to watch (without weeping) any film or news report where children were hurt, sick or scared.

You were a new parent, so who could blame you if you didn’t read the fine print?

Not to worry. I’ve got a magnifying glass and my daughter’s birth certificate right here. They’ve all got the same clause at the bottom so I’ll just tell you what it says:

Congratulations on the birth of your child. It’s your job to transform this sweet little pumpkin into a fully functioning adult. You’ve got just 18 years. And your time starts…. NOW.

Each milestone in our kids’ lives is a reminder that they’re progressing toward not needing us at all. (Anyone wince at that? If you did please re-read the previous paragraph.) That’s what you signed up for:  to help them move toward independence. Which is why you should rejoice along with them when they climb out of their crib, learn to open the refrigerator, and choose their own books, bedtime, music, clothes, hairstyles, food, interests, friends, ideas, plans, beliefs.

Graduation season is around the corner. Whether your child is advancing into kindergarten, middle school, high school or college, they’re on to a new chapter. If you’d rather hang on to the old one, sorry, but that’s not an option. You do have a choice though. You can deny that they’re outgrowing their need for round the clock parenting (not a path I’d recommend as it will only lead to major push-back starting from 5th or 6th grade) OR you can prepare now for your emptier nest. Here’s how:

  1. Create some new goals for yourself — If you chose well, working on a personal goal will sustain you as your child races toward independence.
  2. Make some new friends — The majority of your friends may be the parents of your kids’ friends. Nothing wrong with that, except that it often leads exclusively to kid-centered conversations. Following your own interests (see #1) connects you with new friends who share those interests.
  3. Revitalize your relationship — If you’re fortunate enough to be part of a loving couple, plan together for your emptier nest. Support each other’s feelings about the changes. Schedule fun time together as a couple. Hopefully you’ll rediscover what’s at the core of your relationship and create a healthy new chapter for the two of you.
  4. Re-focus on your social life — If you’re single and you’re interested in dating, but haven’t as yet because of parenting obligations, now may be the time to start letting friends know that you’re “looking” again.
  5. Avoid over-parenting your younger children — Of course you need to continue parenting, but redirecting all of your energy toward your younger kid(s) spells trouble and is very likely to cause resentment and conflict. Don’t go there!

Life within a family is constantly changing. We just don’t always notice it until things like graduation remind us “Oh, yeah. They’re growing up!” Hopefully we’re all learning to deal with our emotions when we find ourselves in a new chapter. Give your kids a vote of confidence by showing them that not only do you know how to let go, but you’re happy to do it. (‘Cause you trust them and because you’re going places too!)

Catch you later. David and I are going to the movies.

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 1:55 pm
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For Parents: How not to welcome them home

January 2, 2009

Ice Cream Break in Costa Rica

Ice Cream Break in Costa Rica

Play your cards right and your empty nest isn’t empty 100% of the time. Since we officially became empty nesters in May 2007, ours has shifted from accommodating just me, David and Vermont, to periods where 5 people lived here, then 4, then 2, then 3, then 5 and now a new configuration of 3.  The key to success when coming together again, at home or on vacation, is replacing the old parent-child relationship with one that matches the new reality of who “the kids” have become.

Having our daughter and son, their significant others and/or their friends stay with us from time to time is a wish fulfilled. Because going home for the holidays was never much of a vacation for me… at least not after the first day. My mom and I were hopelessly stuck in a mutually destructive gear. It wasn’t until the last year of her life, when she was terminally ill, that we finally figured out how to have a wonderful relationship… as two adults.

I didn’t want to wait until I was dying to make peace with my adult children. So I’ve worked hard to maintain a healthy relationship with them. The efforts have paid off, but it takes an ongoing commitment.

Since we’ve got no mind readers here and we don’t worship at the altar of “Grin and bear it” when our kids come back to live temporarily, as our daughter recently did after completing a year of travel, we call a family meeting to discuss everyone’s expectations and needs during the new arrangement. It usually boils down to two basics: 

Parents: We want to feel like we’re all adults on the same team, sharing the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Young adults: We want to be treated like adults, not kids who need your input on how to live our lives.

Sounds like we’ve got a deal. That’s why one of my New Year’s resolutions is “Give no unsolicited advice.” Why bother? Adult children (teens too) don’t want it. They won’t accept it. And they resent you for offering it. Want less resentment?  Quit giving them advice. Good advice! But damnit I give advice for a living! Keeping my mouth shut when I’ve got a helpful suggestion will be tough. It will also be poetic justice.  

Receiving unsolicited advice from my mother drove me nuts. I protested that she was treating me like a child. I also demonstrated my immaturity by dismissing all of her advice… especially the really good suggestions.  I now understand that her way of loving me was to help me avoid mistakes. Even though Mom and I danced around in circles, here are some essential life lessons  learned in her class: a) No one takes away your power unless you hand it over. b) “Why don’t you put on a sweater?” means “I love you.” and  c) When hanging out with your adult children, talk less and listen more.

Here’s a New Year’s challenge for you, if you’re game… take a look at your relationship with each of your children.  Now fast forward to a time when they return, as young adults to visit you. What would you like to see your relationship develop into? What could you start doing today (or stop doing) that might help you reach the place you want to be with them when they grow up?

If you have any thoughts to share please post your comments!

In the meantime, Happy New Year from our family to yours… And good luck playing your cards right in 2009.

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