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Empty Nest

Dear Mark,

I am writing from _____, Idaho, and am the mother of an 18-year-old teenage daughter who, as of last night, has decided that her boyfriend's parents' home is where she wants to live. She took most of her clothing, which she had bought from her pay at a part-time job. However, she was not allowed to take the car that we had paid the largest percentage of or her cell phone with the plan that we pay for. Her boyfriend's words were, "We support T___ 100% in whatever she wants to do." I am just wondering where we stand as parents at this juncture...Since she is 18 years of age, she is legally within her rights to do this. We cannot report her as a runaway because of her age. I am at a loss as to what to do and where to turn. I know time can heal lots of things but I am really hurting right now. And I am bipolar and am afraid this will really bring me down if I don't do some proactive mental health management! I currently take medications for my bipolar disorder but my husband and daughter really have chosen not to educate themselves about this other than to read a few articles that I printed from various websites.

Please note the following:
· We both still love T___ very much, and did not force her to move out but rather hoped for an opposite final response.
· We are not perfect and admit that we have made mistakes as parents/people because of that fact.
· We didn't realize that she felt this strongly that her life was so horrible.
· We know/knew there were issues, but we do not believe they are unsolvable with some counseling, communication and compromise from both sides.
· We have raised our children in a Christian home, and have consistently attended and been involved with a Christian church here.
· We raised our children using timeouts as the first line of major consequence, followed by spanking as a last resort with discussion of the discipline prior to and following the offense, and have always made it clear that we love our children even when they made mistakes.
· Although it is sometimes not easy for us to do, we have apologized to our children throughout their growing years when we knew we were wrong.
· T___ was adopted as an infant (at 14 hours old) and she has been our legal daughter since nine months of age. She has lived with us until last night.
· She has an older brother who was also adopted and lives in ________, Arizona, at present.
· She has been given much freedom because she is really a good girl for the most part: gets good grades, doesn't do drugs or drink, has always chosen nice friends with strong moral values, is involved in many school activities (sports, academic organizations, etc.), and has successfully held a part-time job for over 18 months
· She and her boyfriend have just turned 18, and she claims to have been thinking about this move since she was a freshman in high school.
· Last night, she blamed her adoptive dad as the biggest reason she has chosen to move out, due to his excessive controlling behavior and constant criticism of her.
· She has fluctuated between blaming me (her mom) and her dad for the terrible things that she must endure at home and in life.
· She has had anger management issues since about age 10, which worsened with her menstrual cycles that started at age 11, but which she claims to have learned from us as parents...not totally untrue, sadly enough!
· She still has issues with fear of the dark, even at this age.
· She has not been sleeping well lately and has been having lots of nightmares.
· She has been gaining weight lately...We did not ask last night if she was pregnant but we felt there was enough conflict and that would just add to the already out-of-control behavior she was exhibiting. I wonder now if that was a mistake on our part.
· She feels that any other family would be better than the one she currently has.
· She has not done anything to harm herself, such as cutting, etc., but has threatened to harm herself in the past although not lately.
· She has currently has become extremely close to another girl who is pregnant, and has moved out of her home to live with the family of and the father of her child.
· She has amazing potential to do well at college but did not do well on her SAT exam (1580 out of 2400) that she took about three weeks ago.
· She has been to counseling regarding issues with her adoption and lack of communication with her adoptive mother that stopped abruptly after eight years of consistent communication at least two-three times per year.
· About three months ago, she was unexpectedly caught with her boyfriend in a sexual situation that had the potential to lead to intercouse but claims that nothing happened.
· She stopped attending church about 18 months ago due to working on Sunday mornings; but had decided to attend a different church three years prior to this because of issues with her youth groups at our chosen family place of worship.
· She feels and has felt for about three years that most restrictions we put upon her are excessive and unfair.
· She has always been extremely independent and able to take care of herself.
· She said that she hated us and that she could not live with us any longer because she felt so badly about herself.
Please help me to understand what to do at this point because I want to make the best choices, not only for T___, but also for my husband and myself. I appreciate this website because I know you have dealt with much worse situations and know the legal ramifications of such circumstances. Please advise as soon as possible so that we know the best next step(s) to take. Thank you for this resource and for your time and support.

Take care and God bless,

B. and N.


Hi B.,

You should be relieved to know that this is an easy one for me (i.e., easy to come to a conclusion re: a recommendation)—

As I trust you are discovering in the eBook, self-reliance is key. Fostering the development of self-reliance in our children is THE #1 goal with these parenting strategies. (Self-reliance defined as the “child having the ability to meet personal needs - spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, financially, vocationally - with minimal assistance from parents”.)

When you are undecided about what decision to make, or what course of action to take, always ask yourself the following question: “Will this promote the development of self-reliance in my child, or will it inhibit its development.” If it is likely to promote self-reliance, then it is a good parenting choice to make.

Clearly, this is an opportunity for your daughter to work toward autonomy and self-reliance. Thus, if her new living arrangement is a safe one, the she should go for it.

Re: Your feelings of loss (i.e., empty nest syndrome)—

While you grieve the loss of your daughter (although she is still alive and well), be sure to distract yourself.

Distract yourself by focusing on all that is going right rather than on that is going wrong …focus on your blessings rather than on your “curses” (which there is no such thing) …regularly talk about your parenting struggles with someone you trust …accept help and support when it is offered …remind myself that your responses are normal responses to a child leaving the home and launching into adulthood …and give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to take care of YOU.

Your body and mind will tell you what you need to do -- your job is to listen to them.

Your daughter will gain some wonderful experience out in the real world – and experience is a great teacher (a much better teacher than you will be at this point …no offense).

You and your husband may experience some of the following:

· Abandoned pets need feeding.
· The house stays clean.
· There's food in the refrigerator.
· You are delighted to see emails from your kids or have them call you.
· You look forward to receiving pictures from the kids.
· You may feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness.
· You only have to wash clothes and towels once a week.
· Your calendar is often just as busy as it ever was, but it is filled with fun things to do with one another.
· Your grocery bills are lower.

There are many things the two of you can do to prevent the empty nest syndrome from hurting your marriage:

· Accept that you will experience grief and that it hits men just as hard as it hits women. Empty nest dads may feel a sense of regret over things they didn't do and time not spent with their children.
· Develop a flexible mindset and be open to change.
· Don't place guilt trips on your kids. This is especially important during the holidays.
· Keep lists of each kids' favorite foods for when they visit or when you put together a care package to send out.
· Limit how often you call your kids.
· Seek counseling if your empty nest marriage is showing signs of withdrawal, alienation, and negativity.
· Work on becoming friends with your adult children.
· Remember that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” (your heart and your daughter’s heart ) …you have many years of quality mother-daughter relationship to come.

Empty nest syndrome can afflict both parents, but mothers seem to be most susceptible. Many mothers may have dedicated 20 years or more of their lives to bringing up their children, and see motherhood as their primary role. This is true even for most working mothers. Once the last child moves out, the mother may feel that her most important job is finished. Similarly to anyone experiencing redundancy, the mother may feel worthless, disoriented and unsure of what meaning her future may hold. However, most mothers adapt in time. Psychologists suggest that it may take between 18 months and two years to make the successful transition from ‘mum’ to independent woman.

Research suggests that some parents are more susceptible than others. People who suffer the most from empty nest syndrome tend to have things in common, including:

·Change is considered stressful, rather than challenging or refreshing
·Experiences such as weaning their babies from the breast, or sending their children off to school, were emotional and painful.
·Parents who worry that their children aren’t ready to take on adult responsibilities tend to experience more grief.
·People who are full-time parents are more often affected than people who also have other duties to perform (such as paid employment).
·People who rely on their roles for self-identity are more likely to feel bereft than people who have a strong sense of self-worth.
·Their marriage is unstable or unsatisfactory.
·They found moving out of home a difficult and emotional experience.

The challenges faced by parents experiencing empty nest syndrome include:

·Becoming a couple again, after years of sharing the home with children.
·Establishing a new kind of relationship with their adult children.
·Filling the void in the daily routine created by absent children.
·Lack of sympathy or understanding from others, who consider children moving out to be a normal, healthy event.

The grief of empty nest syndrome may be compounded by other life events happening at the same time, including:

· Death of a spouse
· Menopause
· Redundancy
· Retirement

Some full-time mothers (and fathers) return to work or retrain. Suggestions include:

·Consider volunteer work to expand your network of contacts.
·Join professional associations or hobby groups.
·Network with friends and associates to uncover employment opportunities.
·Set achievable goals to start with, for example, short courses are probably more realistic as a first step, than launching into a three year degree.
·Write up a list of all those things you promised you would do ‘one day’ and start making those dreams a reality.

Your child moving out of home is a significant stress. Suggestions for coping include:

·Acknowledge your grief (even if you feel that no one else seems to understand) and allow yourself to feel upset.
·Discuss your thoughts, feelings and future plans with your spouse.
·Give yourself time to adapt to the changes. Don’t expect too much of yourself, particularly in the first few weeks or months.
·Keep up regular routines and self-care, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
·Pursue your hobbies and interests now that you have more time.
·Put off making any big decisions - such as selling up and moving to a smaller house - until you feel you have adapted.
·Rituals, such as funerals, help us to come to terms with difficult changes. Create your own rituals to help acknowledge your feelings. Suggestions include planting a tree, or redecorating your child’s old room.
·Seek advice and support from other friends who understand how you feel, some of them may also have experienced empty nest syndrome.
·Seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed.
·Some people find that keeping a journal is helpful, while others find peace through prayer. Do whatever feels right for you.

If one child has moved out and you still have others living at home with you, plan in advance for the day when your nest will be empty of all children. Small changes made over time will mean less of a shock when your last child moves out. You may find, with thought and careful planning, that the occasion of your last child leaving home will offer a little happiness too, as you can then implement your plans for an independent life with your spouse.

Things to remember:

·Empty nest syndrome refers to the grief that many parents feel when their children move out of home.
·If one child has moved out and you still have others living at home with you, plan in advance for the day when your nest will be empty of all children.
·Seek professional help if you feel overwhelmed.
·This condition is typically more common in women, who are more likely to have had the role of primary carer.

Good Luck,


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