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Introductory Unit: Proactive Family Leadership

The reason people get “discarded” in America is that they don’t take their rightful positions as the continuing heads of their grown families. They suffer for this, and so do their children and grandchildren. We tend to blame the plight of the elderly on “Western society.” “In Asia,” we say, “parents and grandparents are revered and respected by their adult children.” But in fact, we parents of grown children have no one to blame but ourselves. If our goal is to put in our time and do our parental duty until our kids turn eighteen and move out so that we can get on with our own lives and devote ourselves exclusively to our own enjoyment and our own ambitions, then we deserve it when our children fail to listen to us or respect us or look up to us – and when they begin to see us as a burden that they may have to take care of.

Somewhere along the line, here in America, we have come to the common narrow notion that family means parents and the young children who live with them, and that once the kids move on to their own families, parents should let them “have their independence” by getting out of the picture. Thus we give up and walk away from the role we ought to play for the rest of our lives—the role that will help our children most and that will preserve our own dignity, respect, and happiness—the ongoing role of parents, advisor, grandparent, and family head. We also give up priceless opportunities to learn from our children, share their lives, and enjoy their friendship.

Empty-nest parenting doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the greater freedom and flexibility that come with the empty nest, but it does mean that we continue to be involved and active as the heads of our families and that we develop new and mutually beneficial ways of interacting with our kids.

So, if you thought this program was about disengaging as a parent, don’t join. It is about engaging, about staying involved, and about loving it!

Who Should Enroll in This Program – and When?

This course on Empty Nest Parenting is for any parent who wants to stay meaningfully involved in a way that works—for the parents and the kids. If none of your kids have left home yet, it’s a great time to take this course. You can learn what to expect, become emotionally prepared, and lay out a strategy before the fact. If all of your kids have left and you’re now a bona fide empty-nester, it’s a great time to do this program. You can reassess and readjust your relationship with your grown children. And if one or more children have left your nest and one or more are still in it, it’s another great time to take this one-year on-line course. You can improve your relationship with those who are gone and prepare thoroughly for the time when the next one leaves.

Testimonial and Course Recommendation by Stephen Covey

I was delivering a seminar to “WPO,” the World Presidents Organization. We were at a seaside resort location and some of the attendees—each the president or CEO of his or her corporation—had actually “parked their yachts” at the marina outside the hall where we were meeting. There were individuals in their fifties and sixties who seemed to have everything—wealth, position, power, and the freedom to live where and how they pleased.

As we talked, the focus turned to family, and the mood turned somber. With some probing on my part, a few individuals had the courage and candor to admit the loneliness they felt at this stage of their lives, with their children grown and gone from home. “I thought the goal was independence,” one CEO said, “for my children and for me. I sent them to the best schools and they’re ‘launched’ now—doing fine. We talk on the phone every couple of weeks, but we live completely separate lives, and there is this emptiness.” Others chimed in, agreeing that the luxurious, independent lifestyle they’d worked so hard and long to achieve was often sad and lonely because it lacked frequent family involvement and interaction.

Whether it’s a yacht or a camper of just your general lifestyle, if you are moving in directions that separate you more and more from your children—directions that make you more independent from each other rather than more interdependent with each other—you are probably headed toward the same kind of emptiness. And your children could be losing the ultimate security of belonging to a family that never dissolves.

Not only will this on-line course help you get through the difficult transitions of children moving on, but it will also help you build a beautiful ongoing family culture in your three-generation family—and that is where real happiness lies.

Stephen R. Covey
Author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families

Our Own Happiness (or Loneliness) is Determined By Our Empty Nest Parenting

The CEOs Stephen Covey spoke of are already lonely and emotionally empty and pretty well guaranteed to get more so during the twenty or thirty years they have left to live.
At the end of life, all that matters is our relationships. What we need to understand is that relationships are what matter before the end of our lives to. Twenty or thirty or forty years before the end of our lives, our children leave our homes. If our relationships leave with them, we are guaranteed a legacy of loneliness. But if we maintain and build on our relationships with our grown children, we maximize the happiness on both ends. But here’s the good news: Just as the worries, problems, and challenges of being a parent don’t end when the kids no longer share the same roof, the love, joy, and fulfillment don’t end either. And while it’s natural for a parent to dread the day when children leave home to be on their own, it’s also natural to look forward to the “freedom” you’ll have when your kids move on and you have less day-to-day responsibility for them. If you’re an average baby boomer, you will be a parent for nearly sixty years of your life, and only twenty to thirty of those years will be spent parenting your kids while they live with you. You’ll spend half to two-thirds of your parenting span as an empty-nest parent!

Reminding ourselves of the overriding importance of our Empty Nest Parenting should be motivation enough to take the time and put forth the effort required to thoroughly think through the empty-nest phase of our lives and to work with our children to create a vision and a plan for the kind of extended family we want to have. We want to build relationships with our children and our grandchildren that will provide them and us with the eternal joy we were sent here to find.

So what kind of an empty-nest parent will you be? How much control and influence should you try to maintain with kids who have grown up and moved on? How much do you want to help them financially? How can you do so without undermining their independence? How much should you influence their decisions about school, jobs, marriage, children? How much do you want to know about their day-to-day needs and problems? How often should you call or write an e-mail? How much do you want to influence where they live and how close they locate to you? How often do you want them to come home? Most important, what do you need from them and what do they need from you?

There are lots of questions – what and how and when and where questions. Most parents take a wait-and-see attitude – dealing with issues as they arise and feeling their way along. The thesis of this program is that you’re better off with a plan – with some well-thought-out goals about what kind of an empty-nest parent you want to be and some specific ideas about how to make it happen!

This program will help you formulate your own objectives and will be a mental grab bag and a thought and idea prompter. There are more methods, techniques, and ideas here than any empty-nest parent will ever use or than any one family could ever want. Every family, every parent, every child, and every situation is different. The key is to examine your own unique family situation, talk with your kids, and set your own goals, and then choose methods and plans that work for you to reach your unique family aims and objectives.

What Does Empty-Nest Parenting Mean to You?

The term empty-nest parenting conjures up all kinds of different thoughts and emotions. For as long as we’ve been working on this program (a long time), we’ve been bouncing its title off of friends and acquaintances and getting a huge variety of reactions:

  • “Isn’t that an oxymoron – ’empty nest’ means the kids are raised and you’re done!”
  • “Don’t even talk about it. It makes me sad just to think about my kids being gone. It will be the hardest time of my life.”
  • “Sure sounds more peaceful than full-nest parenting.”
  • “Let me tell you, the parenting problems just get bigger as the kids get older.”
  • “What that means to me is that I’ll find gas in the car once in a while – and the radio buttons set to my stations.”
  • “Well, I thought it was empty, but two of them flew back in – to live!”
  • “I’d be careful of that term. I think once you spin them off, you should let them go. Quit clinging. Let them be on their own.”
  • “Yes. They’re gone now. The Ben and Jerry’s lasts more than a day. And I found the three sets of retainers they claimed the dog ate.”
  • “Don’t kid yourself. They need you more than ever after they leave. Their decisions have bigger consequences, and they continue to need all kinds of help and advice.”
  • “I’d have done anything to keep them home a few more years.”
  • “I did everything I could to get them to move out sooner.”
  • “The important thing is that they do the right thing when they leave. If they’re on missions you’ll have a happy empty nest.”
  • “Finances are the big issue. You want to help, but what they really need is a sense of their own independence.”
  • “Well, there’s so much to balance. How often do you talk on the phone, how often do you see them? How much advice do you give? It’s so easy to do too much or to do too little on every question.”
  • “This is what I’ve waited for. Other than Christmas and a summer reunion, they’ve got their freedom – and, hey, so do I!”
  • “The hardest part was the first year after he left home – and then the first year after he was married. Those two times nearly tore my heart out!”
  • “What it means to me is that I can go back to my painting and my music. I can get a life again!”
  • “Well, the key thing is that you’re just turning them back over to God’s care. He gave them to you for twenty years and now you’re giving them back.”
  • “For me, it’s finding that dynamic tension between assistance and independence – because they need both.”
  • “One word – grandchildren. That’s the part I’m looking forward to!”
  • “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to work I go – and I’m looking forward to it!”
  • “It’s like someone peeled off a part of you.”
  • “For moms especially, it’s almost unbearable. Your whole priority – all that you’ve lived and worked for – is suddenly gone.”
  • “I think it’s the payoff. After all, the whole goal of parenting is to work yourself out of a job.”
  • “If you’ve taught them well – if they’ll keep the commandments and go to church – they’ll be fine.”
  • “Empty nest what?”
  • “You’d better be ready for it, because it happens so suddenly, and it’s gut wrenching.”
  • “I just wish I’d prepared more for it, thought about it more before it happened. I wish I’d had a plan for how we’d handle money needs and other things. We’ve just tried to figure it out as we go along. We should have had a strategy.”
  • “I say make it a totally empty nest. Leave yourself. Go on a mission or a long trip if you can.”
  • “It’s like a career change – only worse.”
  • “It’s like a big promotion – more money, more time – only better!”
  • “Well, one thing it does is force you to reestablish and recreate your relationship with your spouse.”
  • “Oh, I don’t know – I’m not ready to think about that yet.”
  • “The only way our nest will ever be empty is if we leave. The kids certainly don’t plan to.”

How do you respond or react to the notion of empty-nest parenting? More important, how do you plan to carry it out?

The Twelve Month Program

There is no “crash course” or “quick fix” when it comes to good empty nest parenting. It’s all about really thinking it through – each and every aspect of it. This on-line and interactive course will help you do exactly that. Working at your own pace and spending as little as a few minutes each week, you can answer the questions, fill in the blanks, and develop your own ideas and strategy for the kind of empty nest parent you want to be. Each of the twelve units are designed to be worked on and thought about for a full month. Thus, in its entirety, it is a one-year program dedicated to making you an exceptionally good empty nest parent and thus improving the quality of your life and the lives of your children and their families.

The course materials are divided into quarters. Each quarter is composed of three units or “months.”

Schedule by Unit

First Quarter: Understanding What’s Happening and How to Make the Best of It

  • Unit One: What to Expect, and Why it Matters so Much (Questions to answer about the who, what, why, when and where of Empty Nest Parenting.)
  • Unit Two: The Emotions of Empty Nest Parenting (Questions about how you felt (or will feel) when your child leaves. Exercises on balancing his new needs and your new needs.)
  • Unit Three: Eleven Essential Elements of a “Together Family” (Eleven things that make the difference between success and failure. You go through a series of personal questions to help you see how to apply each one.)

Second Quarter: Getting Ready for Predictable Events Before They Happen

  • Unit Four: How to Prioritize Relationships Over Achievements (A workbook on four key ways that you can keep your relationships with your children growing despite time and distance.)
  • Unit Five: First Things First – Your Empty Nest Marriage (As important as the children are, your marriage is even more vital and is the key to your ongoing success with the kids. A self-evaluation exercise.)
  • Unit Six: When the Child Leaves Home for the First Time (How to be ready for it emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Questions to answer that will prepare you.)

Third Quarter: The Most Common Empty-Nest Questions – and How Hundreds of Parents Have Answered Them

  • Unit Seven: Your Child’s Work and Career (Ten key questions. You answer them and then compare your answers with those of dozens of other empty nesters.)
  • Unit Eight: Your Child’s Marriage (Ten questions to answer and compare about when your child gets married.)
  • Unit Nine: Your Child’s Children (Your Grandkids) (Ten key questions to answer – and the answers of other parents to compare.)

Fourth Quarter: Building Your Own Personal Strategy for Empty Nest Parenting

  • Unit Ten: Emotional and Social Empty Nest Parenting (Workbook fill-ins to help you develop a proactive plan for good communication and feelings.)
  • Unit Eleven: Physical (Financial) and Mental Empty Nest Parenting (Workbook pages for a clear financial strategy so everyone knows in advance what to expect, and so you can find the balance between your assistance and their independence.)
  • Unit Twelve: Spiritual Empty Nest Parenting and the Development of an Extended Family Mission Statement (Forms and fill-ins to get it all in writing so that your strategy and mission statement will include and involve your children and grandchildren.)

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