So you might be just beginning this parenting voyage . . . and can’t even bear the thought of your chubby little gem growing up to leave home one day.

Or maybe you’re well into this thing called parenting and you realize that in a few years, your oldest son or daughter will be heading off to college. I don’t know any parents who are really excited about this prospect. I wasn’t. Neither was my wife.

But time doesn’t seem to care much. In what seems like a heartbeat, my kids have grown up to be twenty-two and eighteen. And recently, we drove over a thousand miles to drop our youngest son off at college on the other side of the country. Whether you want it to happen or not is a bit irrelevant.  They go. And no, they don’t always come back. (And honestly, for the most part, they shouldn’t.) We were designed to become adults. And much to every parent’s surprise, it happens to all of us. With that in mind, how do you prepare yourself for that moment, even if it’s five, ten or fifteen years down the road? Sure . . .there’s a lot you can do to prepare your kids, and we write about that a ton around here. Although my wife and I are pretty early into this journey, we’ve thought and prayed about it a lot over the last few years. Here are 3 things any parent can do before your kids leave home.

1. Become best friends with your spouse (again).

My wife Toni and I had a moment of realization about 6 years ago when our then 16-year-old son got his driver’s license and drove away with his brother in the car.

We stood there in the living room watching them pull out, turned to look at each other and both gasped, “What just happened?”For the first time in sixteen years, we were alone and our kids were gone, on their own. Legitimately. No one ran away. There was no crisis. They were gone. We were alone, a state we barely remembered.

It was the first time we realized we were going to have a LOT of time together over the next few decades. After all, we were both in our early forties.  As we thought about it (and actually researched it a bit) we realized couples take three paths when the youngest leaves home:

1. Split up. Yes…the divorce rate actually spikes when the youngest goes to college.

2. Live Separate Lives. Other couples stay together but pursue parallel lives—he has his friends and hobbies, she has hers.

3. Become Best Friends Again. We picked this option.

We worked hard on our relationship. Our focus was so much on the kids that we kind of lost sight of each other.  And we still had issues to work out.  By the grace of God (and with the help of some good Christian counsellors), we got the junk out and built a future together.

We started pursuing more shared interests and even a few shared hobbies. We carved out time for more date nights. So what happened?

We love being together again. As in seriously love to be together again. We resolve our differences more quickly than we used to. And remember, one of the best gifts you can give your kids is a strong marriage.

2. Prepare to fill the hole. 

No matter how hard you work on your relationship as a couple, when your kids leave, there will be a hole. A big one.

You can sit and sob…which almost everyone does for at least a few minutes.  But your identity was never intended to revolve around your kids.

You were designed to worship God, not your family. Remember?  And your kids are designed to worship God, not you.

Consequently, your identity is not tied to how good your kids are, how bad your kids are, or how close your relationship is to your kids. Your identity revolves around Christ.

So that’s a bit of theology. But what does this mean practically?

Well…it means you will have a LOT more time.  What are you going to do with it?

For us, I’ve been slowly ramping up my writing and launched a podcast. I’ve been cycling more, and last year my wife got a bike so we can ride together.

My wife went back to work full time and even changed her career path.  If work or career isn’t a big part of your future, find something meaningful to do with it—paid or not.

It’s a great opportunity to volunteer, serve or just be an incredible friend to the people around you.

Fill the hole with good things, and you’ll be surprised at how many good things happen.

3. Let them go. 

It’s hard, I know. But you need to let them go.

Chances are you will want to connect with your kids more than they want to connect with you. Even in high school.

That’s okay.

While you never want to stop fighting for your relationship with your son or daughter, sometimes the best way to fight for them is to give them a bit of space.

Your kids were designed to leave home. (If you don’t believe me, just read the first two chapters of the Bible. . .you’ll see. And think about the alternative: 38-year-olds living in your basement playing video games. . .)

Don’t hover over them when they’re in their final years of high school.

Be around. Always be ready to respond. Just don’t try to control everything they do.

They will appreciate your influence more and probably want to hang out more often.

Let them figure some stuff out on their own.

Not to the point where they drown, but, seriously, remove the water wings. And remember, learning to swim always involves some struggle. So let them struggle.

Teens and young adults who learn the consequences of their actions early will make far better decisions by age twenty-five than people who were rescued by parents who just couldn’t let go.

Your desire to act in the best interest of your kids often isn’t about your kids—it’s about you. So do what you need to do to let them go.

That’s what I’m learning. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but in the end, you can end up with kids who are, well, men and women.

What do you think? What are you learning? Is there anything you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!