Friends always ask us, “Are you sad that the kids are gone?” We say, “Not really.” We’re enjoying our empty nest! I love spending time with my husband and getting to sleep in on weekends. We still talk with them frequently and see them when we can. Technologies like FaceTime and Zoom help us stay connected.
We were very deliberate in enjoying and preparing for each phase of our children’s lives. We are so fortunate that they are healthy and happy. This didn’t happen accidentally and it was not easy.
We stopped making decisions for them. When decisions had to be made, we talked them through the pros and cons along with the advantage of getting different points of view. As an adult, life is rarely a clear right or wrong answer. Plus, you have to choose what feels right for you and live with the consequences. We started small with decisions like which middle school elective to choose, increasing until they made all decisions on their own. Our daughter especially would get mad when we wouldn’t just tell her what to do. As young adults, they still come to us to talk through making decisions.
We taught them how to discover their own interests. My husband and I both graduated from Stanford. So from day one and throughout their lives, the pressure and expectations to succeed were there. We were determined to let them choose their own path while staying grounded. Hence, we chose to live in a family oriented community with great public schools so they could be exposed to lots of opportunities and options.
Beginning in middle school, we insisted they take time during the summer to explore an academic interest. Sometimes they’d do something once a week for a few weeks, other times for just a couple of days total. Not too much time because summer was for relaxation. They’d find out about whatever things were of interest to them such as building electrical circuits, computer programming, writing books, becoming a lawyer, and more. It was exploration without the pressure of grades. In the beginning, I would help them discover options by asking school counselors or searching the internet. However, eventually they would do the research on their own. In the end, they had a better idea what their interests were and what their major would be in college. They also loved the independence of doing things on their own.
We let them be exposed to life. When social and political issues came up, we talked with them about different viewpoints. We also talked to them about what it took to be a good friend and when it was time to let a friend go. When relatives and adult mentors died, we taught them how to grieve. When friends suffered from depression, we taught them how to speak up to try to get them help and how to deal with their own feelings. Sometimes, teenagers can’t express their feelings, so you just need to be there. We taught them how to persevere through the obstacles of life while they are under our roof so they know how to deal with things when they’re on their own.
When our kids went off to college, they never came back to live with us full time. They only came back sometimes during the summer and a couple of months during the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Please know that preparing your teen for college is about more than academics. It’s about preparing to send them out into the world on their own. It’s so gratifying to see our kids soar and go off to make the world a better place!
Miriam Phillips-Gill is the founder of Pathways 4 Teens. For over a decade, Pathways 4 Teens has worked with families and school groups providing practical advice to make informed decisions for college preparation and selection. Go to our website to sign up for our newsletter or to register for a workshop. You can find also us on facebook, twitter, youtube, and instagram.