By Kimberly Blaker
As you prepare to see your adolescent off to college, you flashback to all your child’s milestones, special moments and fun times you’ve shared together. It feels like only yesterday, your toddler said his or her first word. Soon after, you dropped your child off for the first day of kindergarten, prepared your preteen for puberty and took your teen shopping for the high school prom.
But now, in an instant, your adolescent is headed out into the world, more or less on their own. This is a turning point at which you no longer have much oversight or say in your child’s life. It can be both scary and exhilarating for parents and kids alike. Of course, you’ll worry about your teen’s safety and well-being. But you’ll also revel in your young adult’s enthusiasm, excitement and dreams for the future.
Parents’ feelings about their own life without their child’s daily presence and parenting responsibilities are often met with a mix of emotions as well. Many parents look forward to this point in their lives and the freedom they haven’t enjoyed in nearly two decades. Some parents may even feel conflicted or guilty for looking forward to ‘me’ time.
At the same time, many parents (even those same parents) feel a sense of loss. After all, they’ve devoted 18 years to caregiving and raising their child. Many parents lose their sense of self while raising a family. In fact, being a parent can become one’s identity. As a result, parents may feel an even more significant loss when their kid heads away to college.
So how do you survive this transition? Learn to embrace it.
A heart-to-heart. Write a letter or talk to your adolescent when you see him or her off to college. A letter is best because your kid can save it and reread it to absorb and ponder what you have to say. You’ve already taught your child the importance of manners and doing their schoolwork. So skip that stuff. Instead, offer wisdom about life and your appreciation for your adolescent’s admirable characteristics. Also, avoid dumping on your teen. It’s okay to say you’re going to miss your kid. But don’t overdo it and leave your child feeling guilty or responsible for your pain or loss.
Connection and space. Decide how to maintain communication with your college student. Phone calls, texting, email, video chat and getting together in person offer ample opportunities to preserve your relationship. But don’t overdo it. Your young adult needs time and space to experience their newfound independence and blossom.
Explore. You now have a lot more free time. Don’t let that downtime become an avenue to needlessly worry or mope. Instead, be proactive and set out on a mission of self-discovery. Have you thought about going back to school, work or changing your career? Now’s a good time to explore your options. How about a new hobby, volunteer work, or focusing on your fitness and health? You can also broaden your horizons. Try out different music genres, visit art and history museums, go to plays and sporting events, or explore cultural restaurants or cooking.
Travel. Plan something exciting. Consider a trip to someplace you’ve always dreamed of going. Or perhaps plan a long road trip or multiple weekend road trips throughout the year. Whatever you choose will help busy your time with the planning, give you something to look forward to and remind you of the upside of an empty nest or one less child to raise.
It gets easier. Remember, whatever grief, loneliness, worries or self-doubts you experience, they’re a natural part of this transition. With each week and month that passes, it’ll get easier. One day, you’ll wake up and discover you’ve fully embraced your new life – and feel real joy for your child’s newfound independence.
Quotes from local parents:
“Two of the most shocking things about a first child are when the nurse tells you to go home the day after she is born (without an owner’s manual) and when you drive away after dropping her off at college (again, without instructions on what to do next).” —Wayne Grovenstein, father of Isabelle (’20) and Charlotte (’22) Grovenstein.
“The last one to leave hits the hardest but focusing on their excitement helps you to be happy too.”
—Nikki Conzett, mother of Joshua (’18) and Nicholas (’21) Conzett.
“We are glad she waited a year. Now we are getting excited about everything she gets to experience this year away from home. Of course, we also get to fret about all the usuals—Will she have enough money for pizza? Will she wake up on time for her classes?” —Carol Cross, mother of Lucy (’19) Johnson.
Kimberly Blaker is a freelance parenting writer. She’s also founder and director of KB Creative Digital Services, an internet marketing agency, at kbcreativedigital.com