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The Big Good Bye: With Kids Off to College an Empty Nest Awaits

The Big Good Bye: With Kids Off to College an Empty Nest Awaits

Many of you, those of you whom this post is intended for, will be crying when you read this. This is not because I am about to dazzle you with the sort of pathos and sentimentality that would elicit that sort of emotional response. You will be crying, because you have already been crying for a few days now.

Hi empty nesters! How are you doing out there?

This is the time of year when many college-age children pack up their tattered belongings and their well-worn rooms and make the momentous leap into adulthood, or at least college. This is also the time where the parents of these children experience the profound sense of impermanence that ultimately comes with parenting. While they may be your children, they are not yours to keep. As big hearted and munificent as this sentiment might be, it is still one hell of a bitter horse pill to try to choke down.

Sure, for many parents this transition heralds a new chapter of freedom in a life that had been structured around dutiful parenting. Time to take up a hobby, reacquaint yourself with your spouse, friends, family, or even yourself. Maybe it is time to rethink career paths, personal relationships, and spiritual wellness, and physical well-being. But really, you have to get through the loss and the crying first.

While I am years and years away from having to scoot my own children out the door, and have somewhat of a luxury in tackling this issue in the abstract. I have seen, firsthand, how incredibly difficult this can be for parents (single parents, and otherwise) as well as children (while it seems that children seem to fare better than their parents). Close friends of mine, who have a daughter who is off to college this week, are having a hell of a time contending (or should I say meeting) with her absence. Even in the age of constant contact (cell phones, email, Skype, Facebook), the physical separation, as well as the watershed nature of the separation makes for a lot of conflicted feelings. But ultimately, a parent’s job is to raise children, guide them, and then launch them into adulthood with relative equanimity.

OK, maybe I didn’t make anyone cry, but I probably didn’t stop anyone from crying either. Instead, I will put it in the reader’s hands to vent, provide support, or debunk the empty nest myth entirely. If you, or your children, are off to college and contending with this sort of passing, we want to hear from you. Is it as wrenching and game changing as everyone says it is? Is it just far too relative to define, or are there absolute truths shared by all? Is advice superfluous in the face of a puffy-eyed parent?

Read more: Children, Family, Love, Mental Wellness, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

43 comments

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2:16PM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

I had the thought of raising my children adults so when I see my children off to live their lives it is with a sense of acomplishment. I also spent 24/7 with my kids when they were younger,sometimes the children and myself(all 8 of them) would
fall asleep in my double bed while I told them a bedtime story. Spend as much time with your child when they are children. (It would be a little hard for me to rock my 6 foot plus kids now.) Remember the newr car,bigger house CAN wait,,,children don't.

4:48AM PST on Mar 7, 2011

Thanks for the article.

1:10PM PDT on Sep 25, 2010

I’m the youngest of two, and I left home for college about a month ago. As I was packing for school, I honestly hadn’t given much thought about missing my parents. I was too preoccupied with missing my friends. The first few weeks when I was acclimating to college life, I didn’t miss my parents so much as something familiar. It’s tiresome interacting with new people all the time. Most of the time I ended up texting a friend or calling my older sister. I could tell that my parents were missing me, though. My family doesn’t usually openly discuss our feelings. Now that I’m gone I feel like my parents appreciate me more. I’m no longer part of their busy schedule. They seem very happy when they interact with me now that I’m gone. It shows me that they appreciate and love me, something that I didn’t always hear (though still true) when I was home. I think that my parents and I communicate more now that I’m out of the house. Knowing that they care and miss me makes me miss them that much more. I don’t feel “homesick” for my parents, I just crave familiarity. I enjoy hearing from my parents, but I think ultimately they miss me more than I miss them.

3:16AM PDT on Sep 23, 2010

They can stay forever with me if they want.

6:55PM PDT on Sep 21, 2010

This is the time when you have to shift the gear after about 20 years of nestling. So a sense develops in the meanwhile that this is to continue till the end of life. And changing the gear at this stage is also somewhat difficult. We develop rigidity by this time. We should have lessons for this change, as we get lessons for life after retirement. Parents' schooling is needed at this stage. The society should develop this facility.

2:55PM PDT on Sep 19, 2010

I'm the youngest daughter of 2. My sister is currently in grad school 4 hours from home, and I'm an undergrad 2.5 hours from home. For my parents, this has been an extremely hard adjustment. I am a sophomore in college, and this is obviously my second year of leaving my parents with an empty nest. I came home for the summer to work and live at home and this made my parents really happy. However, when it came time to leave, it was even harder for my parents the second time around. They had adjusted to me being gone, then I came home and they got used to having me around again, and then I left them for the second time. The entire week before I moved back to school, my mom walked around the house crying and moping and it made me feel horrible. I love my parents so much and I really miss them while I'm away. But I wish my mom could find a way to deal with it better. She makes me feel guilty for leaving.

5:44PM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

I miss my Mommy!!!

4:33PM PDT on Sep 13, 2010

Just packed off number 6 to grad school!! It is sad, but also nice being able to use the bathroom whenever and for however long I want. Waiting in line with 8 people in the house was horrible. But, I enjoy my mornings reading the paper, sitting where I usually do and not being pushed to do what she wanted to do. Finally, Peace! I love my children dearly and miss them all terribly, but I need my space too. And she is home every weekend to work at her job. So, we still bond.

8:29AM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

I love this stage of my life... one last child left and about to be gone... finally a time to myself, to watch MY movies, to step out.

8:34PM PDT on Sep 10, 2010

empty nests....

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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