By Vicki Little
Once we have children, some of the biggest moments of our lives are actually the biggest moments of their lives. All of their milestones become our proudest moments. Those big turning points – such as graduating from high school and leaving for college – change our lives just as much as theirs. But when they head off on their great adventures, many parents are left with a hole in their heart that echoes in the empty room their children left behind. Empty-nest syndrome is a real thing, but there are things parents can do to alleviate the sadness that’s caused by this change.
- Ease your mind by making sure your child is prepared. It will help ease those long, worrisome nights if you know that your child is safe and has everything he or she needs.
- Take advantage of the school’s family orientation weekends and spend time exploring the campus and meeting your child’s resident advisors and roommate.
- Make a packet of important information, including insurance cards and policies (car and health), bank account information, health records, and a copy of their birth certificate.
- Help them research and set up a safety device that works for them, such as an app to check in with family and friends, pepper spray, a sound alarm, or anything else they need to feel safe. Check out On Watch On Campus, Circle of 6, and BSafe.
- Have those talks you feel are important: about sex and dating, safety, drinking, and above all – no matter what, you will be there when needed. You are only a phone call away.
- Spend quality time with your child before he or she leaves. Most likely your college-bound child will be relishing a newfound freedom from high school. He or she will want to spend time with friends, too, before heading off to college. But what matters most is the quality – not quantity – of time you spend together. Make amazing memories: Go on a trip, mark something off your bucket list, or try something new together. When you are together, unplug and give your child undivided attention. Be understanding if plans need to be rescheduled. There is a lot happening right now. Schedule time with your child, but be flexible, and see this as your time to finally hang out as more of a friend than a parent. You have done a great job raising your child – now take time to celebrate.
- Make a list of things you want to do, or need to get done. You have spent the past 18 years taking care of your family, and now you will finally have time to do the things you have always wanted to do. If you don’t fill your time with things you want or need to do, the hours can seem endless and lonely. So before your child leaves, make a plan for yourself so you will have plenty to keep yourself occupied. It doesn’t just need to be a checklist of errands that can be finished in a day. Think big! Is there a class you have always wanted to take or a group you have always wanted to join? Have you thought about redecorating the basement but never had the time? Put it all on the list!
- Talk with other people that are in your stage of life. You are certainly not alone in how you are feeling, so reach out to others and help one another through this time. You can start by scheduling a coffee with the parents of your child’s friends to get together after they leave. Or join a group at your church or synagogue or at your local library or rec center that have similar interests as you. The point is to find other people to support and talk with so you can form more relationships during this next chapter in your life.
- Redefine yourself. According to Guy Winch, Ph.D., the best thing to do is redefine yourself from the large role of parent and caregiver. Make a list of the different roles you play, and then see which ones you can expand on and spend more time in. He offers the examples of re-igniting your relationship with your spouse or jumping back into the dating pool. If you have been thinking of going back to school, now would be the perfect time to do that. Try to start doing these things before your child leaves so it won’t feel so awkward when you are missing them so much.
Vicki Little is a preschool teacher with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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