Real Talk: Midlife By Design

Ep. 27 | Navigate Your New Role with Your Adult Child with Pamela Henkelman

February 08, 2022 Ericka, Curator of Zest / Pamela Henkleman Season 2 Episode 27
Real Talk: Midlife By Design
Ep. 27 | Navigate Your New Role with Your Adult Child with Pamela Henkelman
Show Notes Transcript

This is an episode for the mamas out there whose babies had the nerve to grow up and begin needing them less in their daily happenings of life.

It's not like you don't know this was going to happen. So why does it feel gut wrenching at times? It can be challenging transition for you to surrender to because it's leaving a gaping hole in your why, your purpose and that sense of clear identity you've had for the last multitude of years.

So what now? Luckily, today's guest is going to give you some guidance on this important topic that will help you begin to shift towards a new role that comes with becoming an empty-nester.

Pamela Henkelman helps midlife moms navigate their changing roles with their adult children through an intimacy with God. She enjoys supporting moms because they feel disoriented and unsupported in this unfamiliar season of life.

Stay connected with Pamela  and find out more about her work with the quick, access links below:



We're inspired to become the #1 Resource for Midlife Women. Go get access to articles, expert insights and more at  The Zestful Movement

Ericka (00:07):

Midlife. What does it mean to you? I believe that midlife is a place to recognize, reprioritize and redefine your purpose. It's a place of new beginnings, new personal growth, and new adventures. Midlife is a chance to release your outdated labels and begin designing your second life journey. How? With heart-centered experts, tangible tools and a supportive community. Why? Because if not now, then when? Now, that's real talk. I am Ericka, your host and curator of Zest. Let's begin building your midlife by design together.

Ericka (00:42):

If you're enjoying this content, leave a review on Apple Podcast and share this podcast with someone you care about too, as it truly helps to keep the zesty energy flowing. Visit, where you'll find more resources cultivated for your midlife journey.

Ericka (01:09):

Pamela Henkelman helps midlife moms navigate their changing roles with their adult children through an intimacy with God. She enjoys supporting moms because they feel disoriented and unsupported in this unfamiliar season of life.

Ericka (01:28):

This is an episode for the mamas out there whose babies had the nerve to grow up and begin needing them less in their daily happenings of life. It's not like you don't know this was going to happen. So why does it feel gut wrenching at times? It can be challenging transition for you to surrender to because it's leaving a gaping hole in your why, your purpose and that sense of clear identity you've had for the last multitude of years. So what now? Luckily, today's guest is going to give you some guidance on this important topic that will help you begin to shift towards a new role that comes with becoming an empty-nester.

Ericka (02:04):

Pamela, welcome to Midlife by Design.

Pamela (02:08):

I am so happy to be here.

Ericka (02:10):

I am grateful that you're here, because I think this is really considered a hot button topic. And honestly, if you're a mom or a parent... For me, I'm kind of entering into this phase, having an 18 year old, an almost 21 year old, they kind of have one foot in the door, one foot out the door, and it's very apparent that the relationship is shifting. I know what I want out of it, but I don't always have clarity from them of what they want from me, if that makes sense, right?

Pamela (02:40):

They probably don't know.

Ericka (02:43):

So I have to ask you, when did the reality of becoming an empty-nester hit you and how did you begin the process of shifting your role as a mom? What I'm really interested here is what was your motivation to change, and was it a one side approach for yourself?

Pamela (03:00):


Ericka (03:01):

Or were the kids involved? I'm going to assume no. But what does it look like for you?

Pamela (03:05):

Kids had no idea. Well, because we have five children, the emptying of my nest actually took 12 years.

Ericka (03:12):

Oh my goodness.

Pamela (03:14):

Some people are just like, one, two, boom, they're gone. And so my nest slowly emptied out. I think it's so unfamiliar, especially when you have many children, your life... I parented children for 30 years.

Ericka (03:34):

That's a long time, right?

Pamela (03:35):

That's a long time. So my life was centered around their activities, what they were doing, yada dada yada, and it was time and I wasn't sad about a lot of things. I missed the commotion more than anything because we were a loud, musical family. We did theater and music and art. We couldn't do math if our life depended on it. But-

Ericka (04:00):

I'm in that club too. No worries.

Pamela (04:01):

But we raised a family of creatives, and so I just missed hearing the music, hearing them singing, going to all their activities and all that stuff. I just missed the commotion. I missed the piles of 30 pairs of shoes at the back door.

Ericka (04:22):


Pamela (04:23):

I missed that a lot, but I was ready because it had been 30 years. I'm like, oh my gosh, it is time to do something different. What can I do? What can I do? And actually it was when I was 51. I think it was three years before the last one left that I actually started writing. So that was kind of the thing that... I had been a communicator all my life. I've been a speaker for years and I've always loved speaking, and for 20 years people have said, "When are you going to write a book? When are you going to write a book?" And I got to thinking, "Well, my gosh, if I'm going to write a book, I'd better figure out how to write a book."

Ericka (05:00):


Pamela (05:00):

Yeah, so when I was 51, then I started blogging... Or no, maybe I was 53. I don't know. Who can do the math? I guess it was only three years ago. Yeah, it was exciting. I was looking just forward to time with my husband and I. We have a great marriage. We did a really good job of maintaining our connection through those years, and we knew that we were just going to celebrate each other once we got these kids grown.

Ericka (05:32):

That's actually really powerful there, Pamela, because I don't know. I'm listening to you, and first of all, I'm thinking five kids, holy moly, because I've got two. I think for me, my role was clearly a stay at home mom and so my purpose was within my children and my husband actually worked and traveled. So his working was a traveling husband, traveling father. And so this unit of three was very much like my home, my purpose, my existence. And I can clearly remember... So like my moment of reality was at a stoplight and I was sitting there and I started, once... Math is a topic somehow and I don't know why between the two of us. But I started doing a little bit of counting forward and I realized that I had less time with my daughters than I had already experienced.

Ericka (06:20):

I literally started crying at the stoplight. And it was like a moment of panic if you will. And so I stayed in that. I stayed in that for a long time because I really didn't know what to do. And so for me, the turning point was creating a garden, her senior year of high school, and that kind of helped me get into the mood of transition. And for you, it sounded like you already had this goal of wanting to be a writer, wanting to create a book. And so for you, it was beginning to learn how to write.

Ericka (06:51):

So would you say to parents, wherever they are, whether they're ready because they're like, this is enough or whether they're like, "I don't know if I'm ready to do this yet." Would the solution to move forward be find something that you can engage yourself in that gives you a little pause, perspective and maybe room to grow into something new?

Pamela (07:11):

I think so too, this is the season. This is the season. We have given and given and given and poured out for decades.

Ericka (07:20):

Yes. Yes.

Pamela (07:21):

And it's time to do what lights your heart on fire.

Ericka (07:25):

I like that.

Pamela (07:28):

It's time for that.

Ericka (07:29):

It is. It's time for that. And so we just have to embrace that and begin taking actions towards that. So when those children began to leave the house, I think this is also really pertinent new timers or their kid just left for college or something along those lines, but they're leaving. So before your kids left, one, you set an expectation for yourself that you were going to set your heart on fire and do something that was meaningful to you. The second part of that was, did you also set or how did you set an expectation for your children of what communication was going to look like? Did you try to set a tone for them once they left the home with them before they left or was it just Hodge Podge?

Pamela (08:08):

Yeah. This is what is most jarring for a mom because how do you go from hands on, responsible for everything to, "Oh my of, gosh, they're an adult now. And they are 100% free to choose whatever they want." And how do we navigate that? And this is where most moms feel lost. And these are the moms that I talk to. I talk about, I write about how to navigate her changing role because how do you move from the one who does everything to just a supportive role?

Ericka (08:44):

Yeah, totally.

Pamela (08:44):

We talk about learning how to be a good listener. We talk about letting go of expectation. We talk about respect and honor towards our adult children. A lot of discord in relationships with our adult kids is because moms still want to tell them what to do. And that is not our right any longer. We have to understand this, this shift and yes, it's hard.

Ericka (09:08):

Yes, it is.

Pamela (09:08):

And it's hard. And this is where the grace of God comes in. Without the power of the holy spirit and God to help us get through it, I don't think we could do it. Because it's such a shift.

Ericka (09:21):

It is a shift because I think that's the whole thing, we're so clear. We're so clear of who we're supposed to be as a mom. And then all of a sudden, the kids start pushing back and you're like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa."

Pamela (09:28):

What happened?

Ericka (09:28):

But if you dig in, that's not necessarily what you're looking for. So it is this process of surrendering.

Pamela (09:38):

Yes, absolutely.

Ericka (09:39):

And so if you have a mom who's in that challenge and doesn't really want to surrender, what are some key things, besides faith, what are some key things that she can do to realize that it's going to be okay regardless of what the outcome is? How does that work?

Pamela (09:57):

I think it's kind of understanding boundaries a little bit. It's understanding what I'm responsible for and what they're responsible for now. What happens is we often feel this, well, if this kid doesn't turn out great, then it's my fault.

Ericka (10:11):

Oh, I love... So it's guilt.

Pamela (10:13):

IT's guilt and it's fear of failure. So ultimately, it's turning it back on us when really the liberty is in letting it go and knowing these are adults. I remember clearly when one of my children was struggling as a teenager and one day I was praying about it and... Oh no, what happened is I was sharing a story with a friend and she had her mom up from the South and I was telling her this story. And she looked at me with her warm brown eyes and said in her little Southern drawl, "Well, honey, he's just working on his testimony."

Pamela (10:50):

And I was like, "Oh, oh, okay, well, oh, well I guess you're right." I burst out laughing because it was true but it made me pause for a moment. And it made me realize, I felt like the holy spirit said to me, "I'm writing his story. You are not." And see, we think we're the authors of our children's stories. And if they turn out great, then "Ooh, what a fabulous mama I was." But if they don't turn out great, "Oh my gosh, I was such a failure." Well, neither of them are true. Both of them are fallacies.

Ericka (11:25):

Well, honestly, yeah. I think that's very inspiring, insightful. Because we do, we attach and it's natural that we attach. We carry these children or we bring these children into our lives when they're small and we nurture them and we love them and we direct them and we guide them. So I think it's really natural to assume then, to make that correlation, that who they become or what they choose to do is because of us. And it's either our victory or our fault. And I think that's really hard to separate ourselves from that. So that is powerful. They have to find their own way.

Ericka (12:00):

I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter, my mother-in-law said I would be disappointed in the person they become.

Pamela (12:08):


Ericka (12:11):

At that moment, I was like, "Well, geez." But I think what she was trying to say was, they're not always going to be what you want them to be.

Pamela (12:15):

Yeah. For sure.

Ericka (12:16):

And they're not always going to do what you think they should do. But in that moment, I kind of affirmed to myself that I have this gift of carrying a child and my goal is to love, nurture, protect, and encourage. It's not my goal to decide who they become.

Pamela (12:32):


Ericka (12:33):

So that became really clear to me in that moment. But I understand why it's hard. I understand why it's hard. So when you're dealing with a client who refuses to believe that or accept that, and I think more so if your child is doing things you don't understand or don't agree with.

Pamela (12:48):

Exactly, yes, yes.

Ericka (12:50):

Okay. So when you're not in alignment and it's hard for that mom to be like, "I hear you, I hear you Pamela, but I'm so upset or I'm still frustrated." How do you get them to move? How do you get them to move away from that so they can have a better relationship?

Pamela (13:04):

Exactly. It's about understanding our part and understanding their part. And that I feel like our role never changes. We're giving these children to love unconditionally. And I feel like that's our job for their whole life. I want my home to be a place where you are welcome here no matter what, no matter what you're facing, no matter what you're going through. Even if you make wrong decisions, even if your lifestyle isn't something I choose, you are always mine and I will love you. And so my responsibility is to take care of those internal things, those questions, those doubts, those fears. We work that out vertically with God. And then we keep our relationship with our child on the horizontal plane in a healthy way, as much as we can.

Pamela (13:57):

Now, I understand that there are going to be some situations where it's really bad, where the child might be toxic. And that's where boundaries come in. We have to put up our own boundaries. If they're asking money or if maybe they're an addict or whatever. And so we have to have boundaries to keep them safe, to keep us safe.

Ericka (14:19):

So for the listener who maybe isn't as faith bound, when you say that vertical relationship, like I'm sending the prayers up. What does that look like? So if you're not a faith-based person, how can they have that same experience or something similar? And I want clarity so if I'm sending prayers up, hoping for the best outcomes for my child, especially in a challenging situation, even it's just something simple that it's not even catastrophic. I just don't understand. I just don't understand. Do I still have that conversation with my child or do I just pray on that? Do I have faith on that? And then just-

Pamela (14:58):

I think we wait. I want to get a t-shirt that says, "Midlife mom, zip your mouth shut." Because there is so much we can gain by just being quiet and waiting.

Ericka (15:15):

Powerful. Okay.

Pamela (15:16):

Just wait. Let God do it. Let God do work. Let God move . Our job is to trust.

Ericka (15:22):

Okay. So it's trust. So even if you are not faith based, it's about trusting. It's trusting process and knowing that they're going where they need to go. And do you think it's helpful... I'm curious. So do you think it's helpful if, when we're in those moments, that we reflect back on our own selves at that stage in life and realize that we didn't have it all [crosstalk 00:15:43]

Pamela (15:42):

We didn't have it all figured out. We stumbled. And that's how we learned. I feel like parents, we want to rescue our kids all the time and you and I know that pain is the best teacher there is.

Ericka (15:54):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pamela (15:55):

And if we rescue them, we're stealing the lesson from them. So let's come alongside and support them, but let's not rescue them.

Ericka (16:05):

I love that. I absolutely love that. So it really is about pausing. It really is about stepping into faith. My favorite and the funny but truth one is keep your mouth closed.

Pamela (16:19):

Yes. You got it.

Ericka (16:20):

And just have clear boundaries where needed and where necessary. I love that. So you've gone through this five times. Has it gotten any easier or is it just really based on each individual child and how they show up in the world?

Pamela (16:35):

Oh gosh. I think it's gotten easier because I'm better at it than I used to be.

Ericka (16:40):

Okay. I like that honest answer. So would you say... I'm going to jump in just really quick as an addition. So would you say that it's really about us learning to [crosstalk 00:16:49].

Pamela (16:49):


Ericka (16:50):

... versus what our children are actually doing?

Pamela (16:52):

Yes. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. And that's what I write about. Because you know that we cannot, cannot nor should, we control anyone. We are only responsible for ourselves and how we show up in this relationship. So I can't control what my child will do nor should I, but I can control all of myself, all of my responses, all of my attitudes. And when I'm angry and upset, I can talk to God instead of wailing at my child, which is not going to do any good in the long run.

Ericka (17:27):

No, it's not, it's not. Especially if you want to have those long lasting adult relationships.

Pamela (17:32):

Yeah. And I do.

Ericka (17:34):

I do too, because I really want to continue to be the person that my children come to with their stories, whether they're triumphs or whether they're their challenges. I want to always be a person that they can come to and confide in and celebrate with. That's really important to me. So I think that's powerful. So silence, it's a virtue.

Pamela (17:56):

It's a virtue.

Ericka (17:56):

And it takes a lot of practice. And I was going to say practice behind especially when we spent so much time being vocal with them. Now it's really about silent and trusting process. So I want to bring to the forefront that your son recently got married. And I said, talk about a dynamic. I'm going to have to have you back to talk about that one. But one of the things that I really appreciated is that you had a post about the love and the prayers that you're showering on this new family member. And I'm wondering if you can delve into that just a little bit, because some of us may be in a phase where our children are just beginning to bring that first girlfriend, significant other into the home. You're in a place where your child's actually committed to having that significant other be a family member. So what is that dance and rhythm like?

Pamela (18:48):

Well actually we had two children get married. One in June, our daughter, and then our son in September.

Ericka (18:55):

Oh my goodness.

Pamela (18:56):

But I have prayed and we have prayed for our kids' spouses for many, many, many, many years, many years. And we watched them in relationships that, oh, Jesus, we wished they wouldn't have been in. But even in that season, we didn't want to lose relationship with them. And so we were very cautious. We were always slow to speak and we just kept praying. And eventually, we knew that they would see the light and things would be revealed. And that's exactly what happened. It was hard and it was horrible to watch our children walk through these, stepping away from difficult relationships, but it was good in the end.

Ericka (19:44):

Yeah. So it goes a little bit back to letting them learn their own lessons.

Pamela (19:47):

Yeah. Yeah.

Ericka (19:48):

And not trying to save them, which is hard. It is so hard.

Pamela (19:52):

So hard.

Ericka (19:52):

I love that. So that's a secret formula. Right? Have trust.

Pamela (19:57):

Have trust.

Ericka (19:58):

And know that things will come together in the process. I definitely love that. So to go back to empty nest a little bit, what would you say, looking back, I know that you were ready. I was not. And I'm not sure where our listeners are. But looking back on it, especially maybe with your first or second child. What would you say was your hardest moment of your kids leaving the family home? And then on the flip side of that, what did you find that was unexpectedly enjoyable about your empty nest?

Pamela (20:26):

Yes. I was... Oh my gosh. I thought I would, those moments when you're leaving them at college, you just are like, I cannot even possibly do this. Why am I letting my child live a couple hours away? It was only a couple hours. I thought my heart would break forever. It's just the not seeing their face every day. Because you just love their adorable faces.

Ericka (20:54):

Exactly. No matter what they come in, no matter what form it is. Whether they're happy, whether they're confrontational, it doesn't matter.

Pamela (21:01):

It doesn't matter. They're your babies.

Ericka (21:02):

Yeah. You just know that their whole being and their whole soul is in your home and no matter where they're at [crosstalk 00:21:08] Yeah, I get that. Totally.

Pamela (21:10):

And the safety of home, I think. Out there in the big world, it's so scary.

Ericka (21:13):


Pamela (21:15):

And will they make good choices? And will they be safe? And all those things.

Ericka (21:19):

Right. I totally get that.

Pamela (21:22):


Ericka (21:23):

And so now that you got past that five times over, what are you finding that's unexpectedly enjoyable about the empty nest?

Pamela (21:31):

You know what's enjoyable, my husband and I, are saying, "We can do whatever we want."

Ericka (21:37):

How nice.

Pamela (21:38):

We can do whatever we want. I'm like, "I don't want to cook tonight. Let's eat popcorn." I'm like, "Yeah, we can do whatever we want."

Ericka (21:45):

I like that. So it's like un-abandoned freedom.

Pamela (21:49):

It's freedom. It's just like, we cannot believe that we are in charge of our schedules. What we want to do, when we want to do, that's up to us. I'm like, I can't believe that.

Ericka (21:58):

I love that. I absolutely love that. And it's like, yeah, you have so much more free time now. And even though, I personally believe in the phase that I'm at. I feel like no matter what I do for the remainder of my life, I'm still an important role model to my children. Because they're still learning from us, how to show up in the world. But there has to be something said for them not being in the house, not being in your presence 24-7. It kind of lets you let the top button out a little bit, if you will. I can breathe a little bit. Maybe be a little more expressive in ways that maybe, I don't know, maybe you necessarily wouldn't around your kids all the time. Would you say there's truth to that?

Pamela (22:39):

I don't know. Well, maybe some ways.

Ericka (22:42):

I mean, not being like a false self, but there's a few things I don't want to model this. I want them to have a good model. But then when they're gone, you're kind of like, oh gosh, you could just breathe and be. No more bras in the house. All done. Maybe that's it. Oh, I think that's absolutely fabulous. I think it's great work. This conversation, honestly, Pamela, I was really looking forward to because I think it's important. I think it's necessary. And I think it's really fun to speak with other people that are walking the same journey. And when that person is 5, 10 steps ahead of you, I think it makes you feel like, okay, it's going to be okay.

Pamela (23:23):

Because we can do this.

Ericka (23:24):

Yeah. We can hear the joy in your voice, we can hear the laughter in your voice. We can hear the new happenings that are coming along with marriages and all of those things. So it's like, okay, this feels heavy. This feels overwhelming. This feels daunting. But there's so much more in store if we're willing to just surrender in the process and learn to trust what we created with our family and knowing that they're going to be okay. So I thank you so much for sharing that. It makes my heart full, so thank you.

Pamela (23:51):

You're welcome.

Ericka (23:52):

So I want listeners to know, how can they learn about you, more about you, follow you, understand your offerings and become part of your community?

Pamela (24:02):

Yes. You can find me at That's my website. And on Instagram, I'm at P. Henkelman and I just have lots of resources. I have such a heart for the midlife mom. I feel like she's the one forgotten mom. We're supported so beautifully when we have babies and toddlers, and school age, even high school and even college. But then, there's like this void and the world goes quiet and we're like, "What are we supposed to do now?" And so I just have a heart for her to know that everything she's feeling is normal and she's going to get through it and I'm going to be there to walk her through just that emotional overwhelm of the season.

Ericka (24:45):

I love that. I feel like I've gotten that in this conversation today and I'm sure that our listeners have too. And with you saying that it makes me feel like we should throw showers for empty nests.

Pamela (24:54):

We should.

Ericka (24:57):

[crosstalk 00:24:57] Right. It's like, woo. We should do that. That would be fun.

Pamela (24:58):

We should. Let's celebrate it a little more.

Ericka (25:03):

I agree. Because yeah, it's usually about Kleenexes and blankets and crying on the sofa with ice cream and whatever, but maybe we should be celebrating because it's like, we did it.

Pamela (25:11):

We did it.

Ericka (25:12):

We sent them out into the world and they're going to do well. So yes, I do love that. So can you tell me, before we go, Pamela, this is my last question. It's my favorite question, honestly, because everyone answers so differently and I have to know, how is it... And you can't say empty house. I have to know how is it that you define zest in your life?

Pamela (25:37):

Okay. It's not even about my house, but I would say zest is about joy, positivity and trusting God, no matter how the story unfolds.

Ericka (25:47):

I love that. And that's huge, right? Having that faith and having that trust. I think when we're able to do that, it leaves more space for the joy, don't you think?

Pamela (25:56):

Yeah, for sure.

Ericka (25:57):

Very good. Well, Pamela, this was delightful. You were insightful, fun, and I think given women, moms, a little confidence that everything's going to be okay, and really clear steps to help make it possible. So thank you. Thank you so much for being here today. It was an absolute pleasure.

Pamela (26:17):

Thank you. It was fun for me too.

Ericka (26:27):

I appreciate you holding space for these conversations to help you rediscover the essence of who you're capable of becoming so you can choose to live your life authentically without apology. Want transcripts for this podcast? Visit where you'll also find more resources cultivated to guide you in reprioritizing and redefining yourself for your design second life journey on The Zestful Movement blog. You can also become part of community by joining our weekly Essence of Zest newsletter during your visit to the site. Until next time, please do keep it zesty.