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Empty Nest: What’s Next for Parents?

High School Graduation announcements have all been mailed. Senior pictures and name cards have been spilling out on kitchen counters all over the country. Gifts are received, thank-you notes written and dorm lists are being made. Packing begins.

High School Graduation Announcement
Photo Credit: Jostens Graduation Guide


There is so much to do that you can’t imagine your house being silent or the chair sitting empty at the kitchen table. It seems everywhere you go, the car is full of laughter with your child, their friends and recently purchased college supplies. There’s no thought to the passenger seat belt hanging un-clicked and the radio tuned to your favorite channels. But the day comes and you drive or fly home with their seat empty beside you.

For moms, the sobbing may begin on the way home, or it may take a few days. Worries may begin immediately with thoughts like, “What if they get lost in a dangerous part of town?  What if they fail a course? What if they have a dispute with a roommate? “Have I taught them how to cook and do their laundry? ”

My worry was always about their safety and keeping our relationships strong. I guess you could say that as my children matured and no longer suffered with separation anxiety, I was starting kindergarten and really just wanted everybody to stay home. My thoughts were that college would teach them how to be independent. Did I really want them to be independent of me?

Cap and Diploma

The answer no matter how difficult, is absolutely YES! Raising healthy, well-adjusted young adults has to include a life separate from their parents. The send-off to university is a vote of confidence in them. High school taught them to follow a schedule, to study, and develop relationships. College will teach them to respect others’ schedules, to set and achieve goals, how to create a life that provides them a living while positively affecting the lives of others. It’s all a good thing, no matter how much we miss seeing them everyday.

I know that reading this will not magically heal your grief or erase your worries, but my hope is that it reminds you of all the reasons you’ve been talking about college since their Mother’s-Day-Out days. Here are a few tips to help you pass through the grieving stages to the “my time is my own again?!”  stage.

  • Grieve. This is a major life change.
  • Get outside in the sunshine as often as possible.
  • Make an agreement with your student on how often you will talk. Consider Skype, FaceTime, texting, email and the old-fashioned telephone. This generation loves video, so try snapchat or Vine, keeping in mind that they are very busy young adults.
  • Remember, like a friend said to me, “the only difference between a high school graduate and a college freshman is 3 months.” They may not have all the decisions made on day 1 and will still need your help.
  • Embrace the fact that you were once a person with dreams, hobbies and a personality all your own. Make a list of those things and begin to explore ways to fill your time.
  • Schedule time with friends and your spouse to begin your new experiences. If you wanted to travel, garden, skydive, or play an instrument before children, now is the time to invite other empty nesters to join you.
  • Adopt a pet. Begin rescuing a four-legged child for a change.
  • Each family is different and private. We all cope with change and emotions differently. If you don’t miss your child as you expected to, count it a blessing. As they say, “they’ll be back home soon enough.”

In the meantime, once you’ve graduated from the Empty-Nest School of Hard Knocks, send out your own announcements. Pack your own bag and send a postcard to your children from somewhere exotic. Invite others to celebrate with you and embrace this new stage of life. It is a new adventure.


Spending Your Inheritance

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