Facing the Challenges of the Parents' Empty Nest

For most parents, a child has been under their roof for 18 years. Now, in the blink of an eye, they are embarking on a life all their own — better known as college. In many ways you might think, "This is the day I've been waiting for — I have my life back!" The flip side to that, of course, is the sentiment of missing your child's presence in your home, and adjusting to your new "empty nest." So, like many parents of college-bound children, you may be wondering how to be both supportive to your child and adjust to your new chapter of life, as well. The most important thing to remember is that this is undoubtedly going to be a time of adjustment for both you and your child. With the right approach however, this can be the positive experience that it is intended to be for both.

Being a positive force in your child's new life

We all have a protective nature as a parent. Don't feel guilty about it. The trick is figuring out the best way to channel it. One of the most difficult things to do as a parent who is in the position of sending a child off to college is "letting go" and avoiding the tendency to become "over-involved." It is best to be in the position of a consultant to your child versus being a problem-solver. The goal is to enable him to figure out how to independently work through new challenges that he may face day to day.

Here are some helpful tips to remember when parenting "from a distance":

Do more listening than giving advice.

You may have the urge to rush to your child's rescue when she calls you to tell you that something is wrong with a roommate situation, problem with a professor, or dislike of the school's meal plan. Offering empathy without actually problem-solving is your best bet in such a situation: discuss different ways for her to deal with the issue versus coming up with all the answers yourself.

Treat your child like a responsible adult.

If you interact with your child in a way that shows you trust his judgment, he is far more likely to make responsible decisions. Your confidence in him reinforces his own competence level. Conversely, if you continuously show a lack of support in his decision-making ability, he may receive the message that he is not capable of coping on his own. Be sure to let him know you believe in him — and remember to believe it yourself.

When to step in.

There are, of course, times when you will need to step in and come to your child's aid. As a parent, it is sometimes difficult to determine when this may be. The most obvious however, is if your child's physical or mental health is at risk. Naturally, you will want to support her immediately in such a case.

Remember — you have spent 18 long years raising your child to the best of your ability. Give her the opportunity to shine and make it on her own — chances are, she's earned it.

Taking Care of YOU

You will most likely be feeling many strong emotions when your child leaves for college; separation, sadness, and worry to name a few on the not-so-great end of the spectrum. On the other hand, you will likely feel excitement, happiness, and hope for his bright future. Again, remember that it's normal to feel all of these things, and that this is not a permanent state of being.

The following are some helpful ways to cope:

Keep a daily log.

Whether or not this may seem like a silly idea to you, it has proven to be highly beneficial for parents who have just sent a child off to school, or who are experiencing "empty nest" syndrome. A log is a safe place for you to express the emotions you are feeling without any outside judgment. Logging your feelings can also be a constructive means for you to map out what it is that you want out of this new stage of your life, as well. If you want feedback and don't mind sharing your thoughts, start a web log (or "blog").

Take a time out.

Sometimes it's very easy to forget that there's more to life than earning a living and taking care of children. We can easily lose sight of ourselves as individuals when maintaining a strong focus on our roles as parents or professionals. Let this new stage of your life be an opportunity to get back in touch with a hobby you may have or planning that trip you've always wanted to take. Sometimes, doing something as simple as taking a day trip to a spa, renting a good movie, or trying a yoga class at your gym, can prove to be a much-needed refresher. The better you take care of yourself at this transitional time, the more useful you will be to yourself and your child.

Find a support group.

The most comforting thing to know through this whole process may be that you are not alone. Virtually every parent who is in the same position as you is undoubtedly experiencing feelings, in some capacities, that are similar to your own. Take this opportunity to reach out to others in your situation. Seek out support groups that may meet in the public library, community center, church, or even online.

Put off additional life changes for now.

Remember to respect the fact that this chapter of your life represents a big change to which you will need time to adjust. As we all know, change, both bad and good, can be stressful. If at all possible, try to avoid overwhelming yourself by taking on too many life-altering changes like accepting a new job or moving into a new home.

Although every parent's situation is unique, if you maintain a constructive and supportive outlook on your child's college-bound years, you are likely to get the most out of this new-found chapter in both of your lives. And remember — this is said to be the best four years of your child's life! Make it the best four years of your life as well, and enjoy the journey!

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