I like to share my story about my empty nest experience with parents so they can see that I indeed survived, and they will too! That does not mean it was a quick or easy transition. And even though many years have passed, I still remember how painful it can be.
Before I took my oldest daughter off for her first year of college in Boston, a dear friend gave me some sage advice: Whatever you do, don’t let her see you cry.
Honestly, the thought of tears hadn’t occurred to me at that time. Here she was about to embark on a great adventure, the culmination of what she had been working on for years. But then, after I got her settled in the dorm that day, I smiled brightly, gave her one last hug, told her how proud I was, walked toward the shuttle that would take me to the airport – and immediately began blubbering like a baby. I cried almost the whole way back to Texas. I’d been so focused on the excitement of her accomplishment that I hadn’t really thought about how much it was going to affect me.
Parents of new graduates, I’m here to tell you: Empty nest syndrome is real.
And so, go ahead and enjoy the glow of accomplishment from your child’s high school graduation. Anticipate the fun of taking him or her to college for the first time at the end of the summer. But gently prepare both yourself and your child for the many changes that are going to occur over the next couple of months, so you’re not caught as unaware as I was.
For new graduates, the summer after high school is a time of transition. Many students seem to feel that a diploma means they are newly minted adults, no longer subject to curfews or family rules. Parents, meanwhile, sometimes want to cling more closely to their graduate, knowing that they only have a short time remaining before that child is gone. It’s a recipe for a miserable last couple of months together.
What works better, in my experience, is when both parents and children realize that they are entering a new phase of their relationship, and start working on it while they’re still under the same roof, rather than separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles.
Graduates – yes, enjoy some new freedom, but remember that freedom comes with responsibility. You’re soon going to be making your own decisions on everything from what to eat for dinner to whether to study or party, so now is the time to learn how to make sound ones. Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice and reassurance from the people who know you best, mom and dad.
Parents – relax the curfew, chill on some of the chores. Better to let your child test some boundaries and make some of their own decisions, while you are still right there to provide backup and guidance.
And practice that happy smile and cheerful demeanor for the day you finally drop your child off to begin that first year of college. Even the most confident freshman has fears and anxiety, and they need to see that you believe in them. Because, after all, you do! Getting your child launched into the world is what you’ve been working toward since the day you brought that baby home. Celebrate with them and let them see how proud you are.
There’s plenty of time to cry on the way home.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 14 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to email@example.com. You just may see your question answered in a future column.