When I thought about my youngest child going off to college, I worried I’d miss him and his bear hugs—his messy room, not so much. Never mind what the hubby and I would talk about or what I would do with all those free hours. But when the time came, I actually felt relieved. I was busy with a job I loved, he was at his dream school, and all the nagging about filling out applications was finished forever.
But reactions differ among parents, from “Where’s the party?” to “Why doesn’t Costco sell bigger boxes of tissues?”
“Having a child go off to college can be bittersweet,” says Teri Friedman, PhD, a Rye Brook psychologist (pictured). “You might be happy that he is doing what he is supposed to be doing, but sad because you’re going to miss him.” Running low on Kleenex, excuses to call your freshman, topics to talk about with your spouse, or just feeling, well, kind of low? Friedman, herself a recent empty-nester, offers some helpful suggestions:
1. DON’T stalk them on Facebook, and don’t insist they call you all the time. Just let them know you are available to talk, listen, and give advice.
2. DO use your child’s preferred communication mode—probably texting—even if it’s not yours. You’ll be more likely to get a response.
3. DO understand that after they call you to complain, cry, etc., they will usually feel much better. “Try to let it go and not obsess over it,” says Friedman. “You are their safe haven.”
4. DO refrain from negative commentary and judgment when they share their newfound passions, whether curling, clog dancing, or the guy or girl in the next suite.
5. DO let them know you love them but that you are doing fine. “They want to rely on and not worry about you,” says Friedman.
6. DO keep generational boundaries. Do not share marital woes, et al., any more than you would when they lived at home.
7. DO some proactive planning. Make sure you are busy, especially for the first few weeks they’re gone.
8. DO engage in activity—do not wallow in melancholy or let inertia take over. Take up an old interest or try something new.
9. DO make some fun plans with your spouse (or close loved one), alone or with friends.
10. DO reconnect with your own friends.
11. DO resurrect your career if stuck on the parenting track. Or, volunteer.
“And remember,” says Friedman, “before you know it, they’ll be back.” Most kids want to be home for the holidays. Some may even surprise you and make the trip for no reason other than that…they miss you.