As the days slipped away before the cross-country college trek, my anxiety climbed. How could I leave our only child without dissolving into tears? What would I do with myself once we got home? After all, she’d been the focus for 18 years. I’d maintained a part-time career, but most of my resources – emotional, mental, financial, you name it – were directed at someone now marching out the front door. I reminded myself: this is what’s supposed to happen. She’s supposed to grow up and leave. And I’m supposed to…what?
Here’s eight ways to navigate the seismic transition to an emptier nest:
1. Embrace the positive.
Watching your child transform into a confident adult is exhilarating. It’s a reset button for you, too. Now you can devote time to your own interests (finally!) and, in any combination, your spouse, other kids, friends, cousins-twice-removed, and random strangers. Not to mention, you’ll have a smaller grocery bill, a cleaner house, and less laundry. Revel in the new freedom.
2. Don’t rush home.
No need to rip the Band-Aid off. Instead of racing back to an empty house, take a sharp left turn out of the college parking lot, and head somewhere new to take your mind off the sadness of saying goodbye. Take a trip, take a hike, or just take yourself to a movie. Whatever you do, take a moment. Gather your energy before starting your new life.
3. Stay busy.
Suddenly, your calendar has blank pages that, for 18 years, were jammed with parent-teacher conferences and swim meets. Be proactive. Before you drop your child off, buy tickets to a September football game. Make October reservations at that impossible-to-get-into restaurant. Anything to keep moving – and too occupied to pester your child at school.
4. Get texting.
It’s okay to insist that your child picks up when you call. It’s not okay for him to go dark. Remind him that he knows how to dial the phone, too. Plan on short texts, unopened voicemails, and calls that end abruptly – but agree on a schedule. If you know you’ll Skype with your child every Sunday night, you can relax. (And include Skippy. Your child misses you AND your pet.)
5. Set new goals.
Run a 10k. Study Portuguese. Enroll in photography classes. Play the trombone. Your child is on an exciting adventure, and you can stretch yourself, too. You might not be a wide-eyed freshman, but inspiration can strike at any age. Dust off the dreams you had as a teenager, or make a list of new projects. What intrigues you? Give it a whirl.
6. Prioritize your health.
Now is the time to exercise, sleep, and eat well - not comfort yourself with Oreos. The more effort you devote to your well-being, the better you will feel. Meditation, here you come. Lower your stress; lower your blood pressure; lower your butt to the floor and do some crunches. You don’t want to gain your own Freshman 15.
7. Don’t redecorate just yet.
Unearth the crusty dishes and vacuum the floor you haven’t seen since the Bush administration, but save the overhaul of your child’s bedroom for a year (or four). The yoga studio can wait. Your child’s world has been upended even more than yours, and when she returns, the familiarity of her childhood room will be a relief. Do a once-over with the Swiffer and call it a day.
8. Write a letter.
Before you leave the dorm, tuck a note under your child’s pillow to reassure him that although everything in his life has changed, your love never will. Tell him that you believe in him and that he has been your deepest joy. After all, this transition isn’t about you – it’s about your child and his newfound independence. This is what you’ve raised your child to do: leave you and conquer the world. They’ve got this. So do you.