There Are No More Parenting Books for an Empty Nester


What is a parents’ role after a child leaves home?

Peruse the parenting section of your local bookstore and you’ll find tons of books and articles offering advice for every stage: Train your baby to sleep restfully through the night; Teach your toddler manners; Get your kids to eat their vegetables; Talk to kids about sex; Improve your relationship with your teen; Help your kid go to the best possible college. But what about books or articles advising when and how to stop parenting? Where are those?

Letting go after finishing the parenting job is perhaps the biggest lesson of all.

These days adolescence can last through the college years, and sometimes into the late twenties and beyond. Without a clear line between childhood and adulthood, how are parents to know their role?

Each family must define the process for letting go of each child. If a child is going off to college, parents may be helping pay tuition and living expenses. Parental support extends parental involvement for a few years. College students are often not expected to be fully accountable for paying all of their own bills or even for making all of their own decisions. A college student lives independently but has to ask permission to make spending decisions, or talk to parents before moving to new apartment.

If a child is starting a job and living at home, how much should “parenting” continue?

When parents continue to pay the bills, offer sage advice, and oversee young adults, then young adults continue function much more like adolescents. They defer important decisions to the their parents, whom they see as “real” adults. Parents advice and involvement may change the course of a young adult’s behavior.

Just as parents have done throughout the stages of childhood, parents must dial-back involvement as adult children gradually move toward full independence. And then at some point, parents must lovingly let go. The endpoint of parenting is releasing a child, ready, into adulthood. Trusting adult children to manage their own lives is the ultimate goal.

Posted on September 23, 2019 .