Preparing for the Empty Nest

Teaching those baby birds to fly solo begins at home—and early


By Angela E. Thomas 

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Whether your child is graduating from pre-K or middle school, you should begin to teach him a number of important life skills. 

“The key is preparation,” said Mark Bryant, NSLPE, clinical therapist and director of the Centers for Youth and Families Training Institute. “Parents should begin to work with their children when they’re young versus one month or six months before they leave for college. Early on, you’ll want to focus on independence and what that entails.”

This can begin when your child is as young as 5. For instance, set up a routine that includes picking out their clothes, packing lunches and backpacks the night before. They should also learn how to make meals, do laundry and manage time. This can begin with household chores, such as learning how to set the table, helping to plan meals, taking turns cleaning the kitchen and keeping their rooms clean. 

“Allowing children to help keep their calendars—most have after-school activities—scheduling appointments as well as study times helps them learn time management and decision-making,” Bryant said. “As parents, we often forget about the importance of decision-making. It’s important that children learn to make decisions, experience failures and learn from them. Allow them to make choices and experience the consequences.” 

This will help them learn to weigh out the pros and cons and learn how to handle bigger issues later. “Like ‘What happens when I’m away at college and homesick?’ ‘How do I handle academic challenges?’ or ‘What should I do if I have a car wreck?’,” Bryant added. “While there are situations you cannot prepare for ahead of time, you can write out the steps they’d need to take.” 

Your children will also need to know how to handle money. This lesson can also start when they’re young. Set up a mock bank account. Seek out expert advice, such as Dave Ramsey’s blog “15 Ways to Teach Kids About Money.” You can also teach them how to budget using printable sheets like those found on ThirtyHandmadeDays.com. 

“Younger children can be taught how to spend and save using allowances and birthday money. Older children, how to save for big-ticket items. And teens can start with a bank account that you oversee, so they get real, practical experience—especially as they begin to earn their own money. When they begin to drive, allow them to purchase gas, chip in on the car insurance and so forth,” Bryant said. 

If possible—and when they are the appropriate age—share your household budget, showing them the expenses, savings and how to balance income and outgo. 

“Look for opportunities to teach your children. Assess their skills individually. Some children are simply better with money than others,” he added. “I’m also a huge proponent of children working or volunteering. Doing so will allow them to learn how to balance school, extracurricular activities, homework and work, and how to manage responsibilities and time.” 

While some parents may find it difficult to teach their children these skills through hands-on experience, it’s important to do so, Bryant said. 

“Kids learn by doing. Give them the responsibility and free yourself.”   

 
(from left) Davon, husband Daron, (seated) Jordon, Angela and Lauron.

(from left) Davon, husband Daron, (seated) Jordon, Angela and Lauron.

Advice From the Author

  • Getting up and out the door is often an ordeal for families. When our children entered school, they each had themed alarm clocks. Once they entered middle school, they were totally responsible for getting up on time. If they got up late, he/she had to eliminate something, whether it was sitting for a casual breakfast or grooming at home, etc., or they experienced the stress of running out of the door for the bus. 

  • Mom, I know you like having the dishwasher loaded just so, the T-shirts folded like Marie Kondo and the floors mopped left to right in a zig-zag pattern. In the words of Elsa, “Let It Go!” Assign age-appropriate duties to the children. You’ll run yourself ragged trying to make everything “perfect.” Your children need to learn these life skills, and you’re gaining more free time. 

Remember, the children will leave, and you and your spouse will be alone together. Be intentional about your marriage: 

  • Reprioritize. As young parents, we often put the children first—understandably, they require a lot. However, you must remember you, as a couple, provide their foundation, and they’re learning about marriage by watching you. Make sure you’re one another’s No. 1 priority; the children come next.

  • Date one another—romance is important. You don’t want to turn to one another after the kids leave and say “Oh, hey. Now, who are you?” Also, cultivate common interests as well as individual ones. 

  • Plan to be alone, and decide what that looks like. Do you want to downsize? Do you want to remain in your home? Expect that you’ll want to move closer to your grandchildren … trust me.  

  • Prepare for the bounce back or the delayed response, meaning you may have a child come home after he graduates from college, or a child who stays home while attending college—if your child is an introvert, a local college may be a better choice. However, you should remember, he/she is your adult child and should be treated as such.