It’s September—back to school month! But, for moms of college students, particularly freshmen (or moms whose kids have joined the military), “back-to-school” has a different spin on it. Instead of seeing their children off to high school in the morning and anticipating their return at the end of the day, a lot of moms in my circle of friends (myself included) are right now saying “good-bye” to their kids for what might be months on end.
It’s exciting for the kids—who are off on a new adventure, and the start of the rest of their life. But it doesn’t always seem as exciting for Mom and Dad, who are left with an empty spot at the dinner table and a person missing from their household. I have heard from a lot of moms in particular lately who are really struggling with this.
My husband is the youngest of six children, and I remember my late mother-in-law having a tough time when he left for Marine Corps boot camp at age 18. In his haste, he forgot some record albums, leaving them scattered on the floor by the stereo, and a pair of his shoes in the middle of the family room floor. I think she left them there for at least three months! Bless her heart; she wasn’t quite ready to admit her nest was really empty.
I have launched four of my five children (most recently Tim, who is a freshman at Washington State University this year), so I understand this! I thought about my mother-in-law when it took me a couple of weeks after he left to go into Tim’s room and change the sheets on his bed, clean out his clutter, and make the room neat enough to use as a guest room when the occasion arises. I could relate a bit to how she must have felt, especially considering that Doug was her last to leave the nest.
There are a lot of ways we moms can react to our emptying nest. We can celebrate the season and grow joyfully into our new role as parents of adult children, or we can mourn the loss of the old season and try to hang on to the little people our children used to be—and to our role as their mommies. I see women go both ways.
Having a child leave home can produce feelings of sadness in both dads and moms, but it’s generally moms who feel it most. More often than not (and I realize there are exceptions) it is mothers who are the front line nurturers. Whether we work outside the home or not, we still tend to be the primary day-to-day caregivers in the first 18 years. Because of this, we are the ones who often experience the strongest sense of loss.
In Parenting for the Launch (to be released late October), I share some things moms can do to help navigate (and enjoy!) this “new normal.” Here are a few of them:
- Find some positives about the new situation and actively take advantage of them. Do you now have an empty bedroom you can redecorate and turn into another kind of useful space? Do you have more time in your schedule now that you can use to go back to school, start or resurrect a career, or volunteer?
- Build new friendships or renew old ones. The ability to spend more time with friends is a great benefit of your transition from full-time parent to parent-with-kids-launched.
- Spend some more time with your husband (when was the last time you went on a real date?)
- DON’T inundate your child with calls, texts, or Facebook messages. And, don’t let yourself feel the loss all over again if your child fails to reply as frequently as he or she once did to your calls or texts. DO schedule regular phone or Skype calls (decide these in advance). Treat his or her time with respect, as you would any other adult in your life.
- Revisit, or maybe learn for the first time, the power of prayer. When you are no longer the one caring for, reminding, protecting, and encouraging your now-adult child on a daily basis, you can entrust them to the hands of One who can. I believe prayer is the biggest and best thing we can do for our kids … to put them daily before God and ask for His love, wisdom, direction, and protection over their lives.
I tell Hillary, our youngest, how great it’s going to be for her this year as an only child, because now she will have her parents’ undivided attention, to focus on her every need (and every move). So, why does she run screaming from the room when I tell her that?
(Don’t worry; I’m just kidding, Hill.) 🙂
How have you handled “the launch?” What has been your experience? Please share your stories and encouragement; there are other moms who would like to hear from you!