goodbye to your kids when they leave the family nest for college is a deeply
emotional experience for most parents.
If your son or daughter is a freshman this year, you’re probably still
trying to adjust to your new life as an empty nester. All of your guidance (aka worrying, nagging) and
encouragement throughout the gauntlet of college applications has made the
dream come true. No more SAT prep. No more agonizing over whether it’s better
to take AP courses or go for the higher GPA in regular courses. Gone is the pressure to find the perfect
assortment of extra-curricular activities, summer internships and community
service in order to write an outstanding college essay. What a relief, THAT’s
over and yet, how can you NOT miss the baby you’ve loved and nurtured for 18
years? The adorable toddler you dropped off at nursery school has emerged from
adolescence (hopefully) and is on his/her way to adulthood.
Many newbie empty nesters might be
wondering whether their son or daughter is happy at college. Is he making new
friends? Is she getting along with her
new room-mate? How are his classes? Is
she studying enough? Partying too much? Maybe you’re sad because your son
doesn’t call unless he’s in trouble or needs money. Or worse, maybe your child is calling home
too often, lonely, anxious or unhappy.
Going away to college is a BIG transition as well as a milestone for the
whole family. It’s natural to grieve, but how can parents move on?
are many ways to adjust to an empty nest if you focus on the freedom and
opportunities a child’s departure provides. If you’re a single parent, maybe it’s time to
start dating. A stay-at-home parent can
go back to an old career or start a new one.
Married parents can enjoy greater intimacy as a couple (or separate if
they’ve stayed together just for the sake of the kids). Weekends no longer revolve around children’s
activities. Parents are free to go to
museums, plays, movies or a walk in the park on the spur of the moment. And instead of policing homework, TV time,
and video games during the week nights, Mom and Dad can go out for a romantic
evening or meet friends on a Wednesday—now that it’s no longer a “school
my twins Max and Sarah left for college five years ago (and have since
graduated), I remember what it felt like to be a newbie empty nester as if it
happened five minutes ago. With both twins leaving for their respective
colleges only a day apart, I experienced instant
empty nest. The first night Henry and I
sat down to dinner with only half a family, our dining area felt like a
“Deadly quiet, isn’t it?” Henry remarked sadly.
sighed, “but somehow we’ll have to get used to it.”
guess that means we’ll have to talk to each other.” He smiled.
we made the transition pretty quickly. That first year as empty nesters my husband
and I went to more rock concerts than any other time in our marriage. We saw the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Paul
McCartney and Rod Stewart. I started to
feel more like a teenage groupie than a middle-aged mom. We went out for dinner sometimes during the
week and went shopping for ourselves
on the weekends.
missed the whirlwind weekends with the kids more than I did as a stay-at-home
Mom who saw them 24/7. He loved
coaching Max’s Little League baseball and football games on Saturdays. And he
cherished his father/daughter brunches with Sarah when he taught her French and
then took her for swimming lessons. At
the same time, he worried about me
losing my identity and falling apart.
What would a stay-at-home mother of twins do in my newly empty nest?
as it turns out. I went back to
writing—my first love. I decided to
write a memoir about raising my unusual twins—a daughter on the autistic
spectrum and a son with mild ADHD who needed open-heart surgery at age three. During my kids’ college years, I wrote (and
rewrote) Picture Perfect Family in
Monday night workshops with Jacob Miller, attended writers’ conferences and
started my blog, The Never-Empty Nest,
in 2012. (Check out my interview about Empty Nesters today on Fox 5 News with
Ernie Anastos at 6 PM or on myfoxny.com). Apparently there are lots of fellow
empty-nesters writing blogs and memoirs, according to “The Empty-Nest Book
Hatchery” in The New York Times 10/12/14
Sunday “Styles Section.” Better jump on board before the trend turns into a
ways, having kids in college gives parents the best of both worlds. You still see them during vacations without
having the day-to-day responsibilities.
Plus with today’s technology, it’s easy to stay in touch via text, email
and Skype. Most baby boomer parents will
remember that during their own college days, communication with Mom and Dad
meant using a telephone—maybe even one of those obsolete phone BOOTHS that our
kids don’t even remember. If you’re
lucky—as Henry and I have been—your kids will invite you up to visit after
Freshman Parents’ Weekend. Max joined
Vassar’s rugby team, so Henry, Sparky (our now-deceased Norwich terrier) and I
were all able to watch our son’s home games.
It was a lot of fun (except when Max was carried off the field with a
twisted ankle). Even more fun (for me) was
watching Max perform in his sketch comedy group, laughing AND feeling proud
when the rest of the audience howled at his jokes.
didn’t see Sarah as much because Landmark College in Putney, VT was 4 ½ hours
away from New York City as compared with the much easier 2 hour drive to
Vassar. Still, we went to see her perform in a play and listened to her sing in
her choral group. In between, she sent
us long emails and talked to us on the phone more often than Max did. Little by little, we all got used to new
rhythms in the days and months that followed, as all four of us moved forward
with our lives.
before you know it, your children are graduating! Some of them will have jobs and move out of
the nest for good. Others (including
mine) boomerang back into their childhood rooms while they look for jobs and
spend more and more time sleeping at boyfriend’s and girlfriend’s apartments.
College is only the beginning of an empty nest, a four year transition. But don’t worry. By the time they graduate from college,
separation may feel more comfortable for EVERYONE than a return to full-time
togetherness. My best advice to empty nest newbies: Enjoy your children’s
college years—their freedom and yours—as you watch them spread their wings.
Labels: ADHD, AP courses, autism, college, empty nest, Fox 5 News, freshmen, heart surgery, homework, Landmark College, married couples, nursery school, parents, rugby, SATS, single parents, twins, Vassar