(This post was originally published August 2012. I’m re-posting today with a few updates, a nod, and a smile for all those parents who are gently pushing their off-spring out of the nest.)
This is not what I had planned to write about today. Today I was going to write about Virgos, those born under the sixth astrological sign. Being that August is our birth month, I was going to pen a little shout out to all my Virgo earth sign peeps and wish them a wonderful day. I was going to give all the Virgos permission to take a day long break from all the planning, the list making, the fact checking and the other various quirks that make Virgos the fabulous organizers of the world.
What changed my mind? I looked out the window.
This morning when I rolled out of bed, and pulled back the curtains, and peered down and across my driveway, I spotted neighbor John busily loading the car for his daughter’s maiden voyage off to college. I had completely forgotten that today was the day that she would be leaving the nest. My heart skipped just a bit as I sent out a mental cheer to my neighbor:
“It’s going to be OK.”
It is indeed that time of year when all over the country thousands of parents are packing up their offspring and beginning the transition from parent of a high school graduate to parent of a college freshman. I will not lie to you: this may be one of the most difficult things you will ever do. The act of physically separating yourself from your child, the soul that you have been working to protect and support and love for the past eighteen years, seems to be the most unnatural and cruelest of all of life’s challenges. You know, intellectually at least, that this is the best possible thing for your offspring. However, if you’re being healthy about it, you should also be acknowledging that this is emotionally difficult.
I am no expert. I am not a psychologist, there is no Ph D. behind my name; I in no way profess to be anything other than a parent who has lived through what you are experiencing. But, I can tell you this: It’s going to be OK. Here are just a few additional things I wish someone had told me before my son Jimmy went off to college four years ago:
- Practice this mantra: they are away, they are not gone. They are away, the same way they were away at camp or visiting relatives last summer. You will see them at Thanksgiving or parents weekend.
- Do stay in touch, but don’t “hover.” Texting is your best friend. A random daily text lets you know they are OK, they are alive and up and out of the dorm. We are very lucky to be parents in the technology age.
- Everything, in all probability, is not going to be perfect. The roommate may not be the best fit. Your straight-A high school student may struggle a bit academically. That tennis team they thought they were a shoe-in to be selected for: it might not happen. If you also went to college, try to think back to that first year – it is unpredictable and a little overwhelming. As much as you are going to hate it, you’ve got to let your kid figure it out. I’m not saying abandon them – just the opposite. When they need your help, be there for them 100% – but it’s a fine line you are going to be walking the first year.
- Your child will probably get homesick – this is NORMAL. The key is to discern homesickness from depression – I acknowledge, it can be a difficult call.
- It’s OK for you to be sad, it’s normal for you to be sad, but please don’t let that spill over to where your child feels guilty or worries unnecessarily about you. I’m not sure I was always the best at this. My son told me just this week that there were times when he worried about how I was doing.
- For additional advice regarding surviving and thriving in your new empty nest you can check out: http://parentingteens.about.com/cs/emptynest/a/tipsempty.htm I also like 7 Tips for Parents to Manage Empty Nest Syndrome by Huffington Post blogger John Tsilimparis.
If all goes well, and it most likely will, your child is going to have a blast. My son, in my opinion, had an amazing time at college: he graduated this past May and starts his Ph.D. program this month. He found his way, made great friends, and evolved into the man I always dreamed he would become. I love and cherish the time that I now get to spend with him, but he’s begun to have his own life and priorities – and it’s great! I don’t even cry anymore when he leaves after a visit – this did not happen overnight; but you will get there, I promise.
One last time, just for good measure – deep breath – it’s going to be OK.
Do you have advice for the parents who are sending their children off to college?
PS – and of course HAPPY BIRTHDAY to all the Virgos out there. We should plan to meet up soon…