A Conversation with Parenting Expert Jim Burns

Here is a guest blog from Liz Yokubison. Her blog is about Jim Burns and you might learn some new things about him. Also, her book, They’re Ready, Are You?, is a great book to help launch your kids into college. Liz interviewed Jim for this blog and Jim said he totally enjoyed his conversation with Liz. You can check out her website at lizyokubison.com.

A Conversation with Parenting Expert Jim Burns

If you haven’t had the chance to listen to Jim Burns speak, or read one of his many books, let me introduce you. Jim is a bit of an icon in terms of parenting principles and insights, both in the secular and Christian realms. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year, is a best-selling author, has a master’s degree from Princeton and a PhD from the University of Greenwich in London.

Which may lead you, if you’re anything like me, to be more than a little star struck. And expecting a larger-than-life personality. But Jim is the most down-to-earth, kind, and accessible parenting expert you could ever meet.

About a year ago, I read his best-selling book: Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out. It felt like the next stepping stone in the parenting journey from my own book. So, I reached out to see if Jim would like to collaborate.

After writing a guest blog for his organization, HomeWord, I learned that his newest book, Finding Joy in the Empty Nest, was being released on May 10th of this year. It seemed like the final book in the trifecta of parenting wisdom: from sending your kids to college, to parenting adult children to making the most of the empty nest. I asked if I could interview Jim for my own blog and was beyond thrilled when he agreed.

From Youth Pastor to Parenting Authority

Jim Burns started his career as a youth pastor, speaking to a quarter million kids per year, but quickly realized he could help more kids through their parents. “A lot of people with a youth ministry background make this transition because parents are in desperate need of information, says Jim. “So, we started our ministry as Youth Builders – part parenting and part helping student pastors around the world.”

In 1985, Jim created HomeWord, an organization which provides resources to parents based on four key pillars: strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids, and healthy leaders. Over time, Youth Builders merged into HomeWord, and Jim’s ministry has continued to thrive.

Married to his college sweetheart Cathy, for 47 years, Jim understands the value in ministering to parents. “I always wanted to help kids make wise transitions,” reflects Jim. “If I can help a parent help their kids, then that’s even better. I think part of it is personal, since I was one of those kids and Cathy was one of those kids. Church ministry was important for both of us.” Jim and Cathy are proud parents to three daughters, three sons-in-law and three grandchildren. So, he has experienced parenting on a very personal level, three times over!

Parenting Principles for Parents of College Students

In a culture of helicopter parenting, one of the trickiest things for parents of teenagers, and soon-to-be college students, is learning when to let go of day-to-day decision making. Jim suggests when kids are around age 15-ish, depending on the child’s maturity level, parents should make the transition to the consulting stage of parenting. “This is when you’re literally beginning to let your kids make most of their decisions. What’s really hard is that they’re not always making them from a good place, plus their immature and you’re still paying for stuff,” says Jim.

The consulting stage is an important aspect of parenting. Why? Because your kids still live in your house. Which should be a sanctuary of love and support, if or when they make a wrong decision. After all, experience is the best teacher and it’s better for everyone if kids have a safe place to land.

When your child heads off to college, the natural progression is for parents to move from the role of consultant to mentor. “Mentoring is a transitional stage,” says Jim, “a time to personally tailor your parenting to your child. When they’re in college, your day-to-day parenting is over.” He suggests giving them a passport to adulthood by changing your interactions from parent-to-child to parent-to-adult. And yes, this means biting your tongue, more often than not, to avoid giving unsolicited advice, which can be taken as criticism from your adult kids.

Does this mean that your college student will make decisions consistent with your values every single time? Not likely. If your grown children make choices you don’t agree with, even if they’ve violated every value you have, they still have one question at the end of the day. “Do you still love me?”

“You can’t want it more than they want it,” cautions Jim. “Broaden the relationship and be a safe person for them to come to when they fall. Really good parents can still have good kids that make bad choices.”

Finding Joy in the Empty Nest

At the age of 68, and having served for 48 years in ministry, Jim shows no sign of slowing down, as evidenced by his most recent book, Finding Joy in the Empty Nest. What started out as merely a chapter in his Doing Life with Adult Children book, kept getting longer and longer, so he pulled it out and wrote an entire book on the subject.

Jim openly admits that if you’re having the perfect time in the empty nest, then this book isn’t for you. But, if you’re like me, and found the empty nest a bit too empty, then it is a great resource.

When my twins went away to college, I mourned the previous stages of parenting. I missed having them at home and being involved in their daily life. And Jim says that is perfectly healthy. “Be in touch with why you’re mourning,” he advises. “Change and loss are the same a lot of times.” But then pretty quickly you need to ask yourself “Now What?” Acknowledge that this doesn’t feel good right now and figure out what you can do to feel better. Then reboot, reinvent, and remodel your life.

Jim suggests writing out a dream bucket list, by yourself if you’re single parent, or with your spouse if you’re married. Ask questions like, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life? What have I wanted to do, but was too busy to try?”

Examples include getting in shape, dating your spouse again, getting a degree, reinventing your career, or planning a trip each year with your grown kids. Experts say that the average age when most parents enter the empty nest is 48.7 years old. Which means that many of us will spend more of our lifetime enjoying our adult children, than in the earlier stages of parenting.

Jim openly admits that this exercise forced he and Cathy to have goal conversations and reconfigure their life and their marriage, that they were previously too busy and overcommitted to focus on. When I asked him what he personally feels is the best part of being an empty nester he replied, “I honestly think that reconnecting with Cathy on a deeper level and putting some of the energy we were putting into our kids into our marriage is the best part. We have more serious fun in the empty nest and can focus on that more.”

In terms of his research, Jim has found that empty nesters who are proactive and focus on the “Now What?” do a lot better than those that let their extra time get absorbed with things they don’t control. And they are the folks who discover their purpose and passion in the next phase of life.

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Liz Yokubison

Liz Yokubison is an author and writer whose work has been featured in SKI, Yoga Journal, and Women's Adventure magazines. Her first book, "They're Ready. Are You?" is a parent's guide to surviving the college transition. She also writes monthly blogs for parents sending their kids to college on her website, lizyokubison.com. A proud mother to twin college graduates, Liz lives in Park City, Utah with her husband.

  • About HomeWord

    HomeWord helps families succeed by creating Biblical resources that build strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids and healthy leaders. Founded by Jim Burns, HomeWord seeks to advance the work of God in the world by educating, equipping, and encouraging parents and churches. Learn More »

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    HomeWord is non-profit, donor supported ministry. If you would like to partner with HomeWord in our effort to help more parents and families you can make a donation. Your investment will allow us to expand this ministry by offering more resources to families and churches in need.

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