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By Tracey Barnes Priestley
For the Times-Standard
My only child leaves for college in a few weeks. I couldn’t be happier for her. She has worked hard in school and is going off to the college of her choice.
But my heart is breaking. How’s that for a drama queen? I can’t imagine this house without her around. I’ve known this day would come for years. It’s what I always wanted for her. But now that it’s only a few weeks away. I find myself dreading her departure.
I’ve been divorced for years, which I’m OK with. As long as I was raising her and working, I didn’t think too much about being on my own. I just did what had to be done. But when I think about an empty house, I can’t imagine how I am going to fill up my time. I have friends and all but they aren’t going to be here to watch bad chick flicks and eat popcorn with me. Doesn’t that sound silly? I hope you understand what I mean.
Surely there are things I can do to make this aching stop.
–Dreading the Future
Dear Reader: While there are those who actually look forward to their children leaving home, I wasn’t necessarily one of them. I’m sharing this with you so that you can begin making this transition with the knowledge than many parents experience loss when their children leave home. While the severity and length of their reactions vary, it it always an adjustment.
Naturally you are sad, your heart even “aches.” Why wouldn’t it? Clearly, you are a woman who has enjoyed parenting. Given the fact that this pivotal role is shifting, it’s little wonder that you’d feel some real pangs of loss.
I appreciate that you are reaching out for support. You and your daughter will benefit from your ability to manage this transition. Remember, that while you may feel your parenting role is coming to an end, it’s simply being redefined. So here’s a gentle reminder; it’s always up to parents to be a positive model. The last thing any kid needs when they take off for college for the first time, is a parent who is struggling emotionally. To help you stay positive, reach out to family, friends and other parents who have adjusted to their own empty nests. Not only will this help you manage but it will take pressure off of your daughter.
Begin planning now for those first few weeks of your empty nest. Make “dates” with friends for coffee, the movies, anything that will get you out of the house and connected with others. (I’d even make a invite friends for an “chick flick” evening — you may be surprised to discover how many people would love to share in the silliness with you.) Not only will this carry you through your initial adjustment, but it will also serve to strengthen existing friendships while helping you recognize what other activities you might want to include in your life.
Talk to your daughter about arranging a weekly “Skype” session together for the first few weeks. Undoubtedly she will be riding her own emotional roller coaster. Regular connection will do both of you some good.
Take time to begin identifying how you will want to spend your time. Make a list of the things you used to love to before becoming a parent. How much does each thing cost? Is it a solitary pursuit or one that involves others? Slowly begin to add these activities to your social life.
And finally, I hate to say it because most of us hate to hear it, get some exercise if you aren’t already. Not only will a good cardio workout improve your spirits but it may also get you connected to others. Consider it a great “two for one” deal!
Sure, there will be days when you may have to concentrate on simply pushing through but in time, the aching will stop. Both you and your daughter are on the verge of creating new lives. I hope you can ultimately embrace the opportunities you have, just as as your daughter is embracing hers!
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.