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If you’ve ever had a child leave home to attend college raise your hand. We have just returned from moving Boy #4 into his college dorm and I’ve got a few things to share about this process. I’ve dealt with this strange phenomenon three times now so I was very matter of fact about it as we prepared for his impending departure from our home. Ah, we know the drill. We’ve done this a couple of times now. Piece of cake. Right?
Wrong. I’m sorry to tell you that you never get used to it and it doesn’t get any easier with experience. But, you should know that your life is about to grow in ways you might not have even anticipated. Being the parent of a grown (or mostly grown) person is a fabulous thing. I like to use the term “mostly grown” because that is how I view college aged kids. They still have a bit of growing to do before they are ready for the challenges that lie ahead and being on their own accelerates that growth like nothing else can.
If you have a child leaving the nest in the coming years there are some things you should be aware of. First, a few items to be noted:
- “Empty Nest” does not necessarily mean a truly empty nest. I went through all of the same feelings when Boy #1 left for college and I still had three more at home.
- Carry Kleenex and be prepared for sudden and poorly timed emotional outbursts. It typically hits me when I’m driving or doing some other mundane task like watching television, doing housework, etc.
- Men do not appear to suffer from empty nest syndrome. Do not expect your husband to understand your feelings because apparently men are pretty happy about the fact that kids grow up and leave home. Men are strange creatures.
Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s talk about how to best prepare. There are definitely things you can do to make yourself and your college student feel better.
- Get organized. We feel more in control when we are on top of things.
- Visit the school your child will be attending. Tour the campus and drive around the college town to familiarize yourself with the setting. You will be visualizing your child in this setting for the next four years so let’s get an accurate picture.
- Check the Housing and Residential Services section of the college’s website for dorm room layouts and a checklist of items that first year students should bring with them.
- Talk to your older kids who’ve already been through this or your friends’ college aged kids to find out what they really should bring with them. These are the experts. You probably won’t see an Xbox 360 listed on the school’s checklist.
- Shop in advance before the hoards of college bound kids and their empty nesting parents are clogging the aisles of Target and The Container Store.
- Cook and bake to your heart’s delight. These last few weeks are the time to make them all their favorites. They will be eating most of their meals in the campus dining halls in the coming months so go for it. They will come home during school breaks with a deep appreciation of your home cooking. This even applies to those of you who don’t consider yourselves very skilled in the kitchen. Mom’s stuff is always the best.
- Dream about the future. Not your child’s, but yours. You’ve put your heart and soul into this person for the last 18 years and the fact that he or she is heading off to college means you’ve done your job well. Once they are gone you will have more time to truly shift your focus and jump full steam into something that you might have put aside. This should be an exciting time for Mom too.
- Keep busy. Be productive. This is an easy one.
- Make their travel arrangements for their first visit home. This is typically Thanksgiving and it comes very fast. Traveling over the holidays requires advance planning and tickets do sell out. How will they be getting home? Book flights, buy train tickets, etc. This will give you peace of mind and will also help ease their feelings of home sickness if there is a plan in place for them to come home to visit for the holidays.
- And, most importantly, be positive and be aware of your child’s emotions. There will be nervousness, uncertainty, excitement, and most likely they will feel a bit overwhelmed. Project your confidence in them, your excitement about what their college experience will be like, and what their future holds.
If you’ve had a child leave the nest I’d love to know how the experience affected you and any words of wisdom you might have to offer.