After Empty Nest, What’s Next? Parenting Adult Children without Losing Your Mind, readers asked author Michele Howe for more—covering topics not discussed in the first book, along with questions at the end of each chapter for personal or group discussions. With Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest, Howe provides expanded practical tips and spiritual wisdom in a three-part primer to help parents in this transitional time of life—helping them look to the future with hope as empty nesters.
Of course, there are never enough answers to our questions when it comes to topics like this! However, we’re excited to say that in the following interview we were able to ask Michele for a little more insight into a few subjects discussed in this timely and perceptive book. Enjoy!
1. How does this book complement Empty Nest, What’s Next?
I would say this text expands upon the principles shared in Empty Nest, What’s Next? with practical steps and suggestions as well as questions for personal and group discussion. This new book is also nicely divided into three sections so readers will know right where to turn for their specific needs depending upon where they find themselves in the empty nest journey.
2. For parents who are jolted by the free time, quiet, and loneliness of being empty nesters, what do you recommend they do?
I can tell you what I do, which is not to simply get busy. I sit myself down and purposefully quiet my heart and mind before the Lord, allowing him time to speak to me. I try to bring to my mind everything I have to be thankful for, who I am in Christ, and all the good things that I’ve experienced in my life thus far as a woman, wife, mom, grandmother, friend, and colleague. I give thanks and then, usually, my emotions fall in line. Next, I ask God for my next steps: for opportunities to serve a friend, volunteer in my community, help a family member, pursue more education, or develop my vocational skills. In doing activities like these, empty nesters are forced to embrace the truth that the seasons of life are always in motion and that each season provides its own unique blessings.
3. For empty nesters who chide themselves for all their parenting mistakes, how would you encourage them to leave their faults in the past and move on?
First, I’d encourage you to understand that every parent has parental fails; no mother or father has done it perfectly. Second, remind yourself that if you’re sitting around thinking about past failures you either need to go ask for forgiveness from those you’ve injured or learn from those mistakes and stop repeating them. All during my parenting years I prayed again and again to the Lord, “Please make up the difference. Please make up the difference.” And he did. Despite my not having grown up in a Christian home and not having the parenting skills I thought I needed to be a good mom, God made up the difference. He helped me by giving me friends and mentors all along the way. He gave my children resilience and grace as they grew up with an imperfect mom! I’ve always appreciated the quotation, “It’s not a mistake (or a failing) unless you fail to learn from what you did wrong.”
4. In what ways can adult children’s struggles help strengthen their parents’ marriages?
Well, when parents of adult children see their kids struggling with adult-sized problems, they will feel burdened and sorrowful because no one wants to see their children suffer. However, wise moms and dads of adult kids will run to Jesus and lean on Him for wisdom, insight, and instruction to know their part (if any) in helping their children to the other side. Likewise, these same parents will lean on each other; communicate their thoughts, feelings, and fears about the situation; and pray about it. Each of these elements will help to strengthen their marriage despite the hardships their adult children will go through.
5. Similarly, how can disagreements with adult children strengthen marriages?
These situations force a couple to stop, step back, assess the situation, and then discuss a solution. Also, each of the partners in the marriage have the opportunity to voice their unique perspective and recommend to each other possible areas where they might improve, especially when it comes to communication, expectations, and involvement.
6. What advice would you give parents who are on the cusp of giving some tough love to their adult children?
Be sure you’ve wrestled through all the various options of dealing with your child thoroughly. Make sure you’ve prayed the situation through as well. Ask other parents who’ve dealt with similar situations for their advice. Don’t rush into anything before you’ve had the time needed to calm down emotionally. Once a plan of action has been committed to, make certain it is followed through. These are the situations when a big picture view of life is needed, not a quick-fix-of-the-moment response.
7. What are practical ways parents can give up control of and release worries about their children?
Begin by giving up small areas of control as your children grow up. As they get older, keep forcing yourself (if you’re a worrying type of parent) to relinquish control step by step and incrementally allow your kids increasingly more independence and responsibility. And remember, they will fail along the way, but some of the best lessons are learned through mistakes and shortcomings.
8. How do you recommend parents rediscover the talents and interests that lay dormant during their children’s adolescence?
Make a list of all the activities, hobbies, skills, vocational abilities, and leisure-type experience you once enjoyed. Revisit each one but don’t stop there. Look around at what’s being offered in your community. Listen to friends and colleagues talk about what they’re discovering as parents of teens. Be open to tackling something new and potentially scary. Ask God to open the doors he wants you to walk through, and when he does, walk on!
9. When parents fear their children are making bad decisions, how do you suggest they decide whether to intervene or to release their worries to God?
It depends on the circumstances. Will the decision harm them or others? Are they being irresponsible or are they simply choosing differently than a parent might hope? Are the choices morally in line with God’s word? I think that, regardless of the situation, every parent should go to prayer first. After that, you should ask yourself if your child is sinning or if it is just a matter of personal preference.
10. What is an example of one of your own experiences that inspired you to write this book?
I had ongoing conversations with other moms of adult children who were (as I sometimes am) struggling to make the transition between being a mom on the front lines of parenting to a mom who is on the sidelines. This topic arose over and over again, and I realized many moms (and dads) have a hard time navigating through the empty nest years, especially in the beginning. So Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest helps parents prepare themselves practically for those goodbyes, adjust to the emptiness, and then make the most of the next season of life. My hope is that everyone who reads this book will come away with greater appreciation for how God orders the seasons of our lives and for how we can build into others’ lives at every juncture by making full use of every single one of our gifts, talents, abilities, and experiences.
Michele Howe is the author of fifteen books, mostly on parenting, five of them with Hendrickson: Caring for Our Aging Parents: Lessons in Love, Loss, and Letting Go (2016), Empty Nest, What’s Next? Parenting Adult Children without Losing Your Mind (2015), Burdens Do a Body Good (2010), Still Going It Alone (2008), and Going It Alone (1999).
Learn more about Preparing, Adjusting, and Loving the Empty Nest on our website!