An empty nest can be a scary and drastic change to think about — especially when most of your life has revolved around being a parent. Transitioning to life without kids can be uncharted territory for some.
Whether the emptiness is years away or coming up within the next few weeks, it can be a difficult phase to come to terms with.
Susie Roush, of Dubuque, will be sending her son, Jacob, to school in August. But she isn’t sure she’s ready for him to leave.
“I’m ready knowing that he is excited to go,” she said. “I guess, yes, that makes me ready. But yet, I am not ready for the loneliness in the house. I just need to be excited for him.”
She knows it’ll be a weird adjustment, especially with her and her husband Ben’s newfound free time.
“I think of it as just being Ben and I and getting to do the things we used to do before we had kids,” Roush said.
The aspect she’s dreading the most is move-in day because she knows it’ll be an emotional time.
“The hardest part will be dropping him off and saying goodbye. Ugh! I don’t even want to do it,” she said.
But Jacob won’t need to worry. Susie said she’ll be sure to check in.
“Freshman year of college is the hardest for some kids, and I just want to make sure he’s doing well,” she said. “Initially, I’ll probably call or text him more, but eventually, I won’t.”
Barb Klein agreed with Roush. She isn’t looking forward to sending her daughter, Maria, off to the College of St. Benedict come August.
“I don’t think I’m ready,” Klein said. “I think it will give me a lot of free time not chasing all of her sports, but I might find myself getting bored.”
The biggest changes for Klein will be food, water and the distance.
“Meals will be smaller, and the water bill will be down,” she said. “But I think it will be nice going up to visit her because we have a lot of family there.”
Finances aside, Klein said she’ll miss the bonding time.
“We goof around a lot,” she said. “I’ll miss having that.”
However, she will have more opportunities to try different things.
“Not going to all of Maria’s things, I’ll be able to do things with my friends,” she said. “I want to do a cooking class when she’s gone.”
How to transition
The transition doesn’t have to be a bumpy road if you make a game plan ahead of time.
“When you’re a parent, you revolve your life around your kids,” said Valerie Gill, a private counselor who specializes in life transitions at Crossroads Counseling Center in Dubuque. “So now this may be a time to find yourself again or to spend more time with your partner.”
Time is a luxury, so having more free time for yourself can be a good thing.
“This could be a nice change, with less laundry and less money spent on groceries,” Gill said.
Creating stepping stones can help ease you and your child into the adjustment.
“They need to gradually gain independence before they get to college,” Gill said. “So, maybe the summer before they leave they don’t have a curfew because they aren’t going to have one in college.”
One thing that this generation will greatly differ from preceding ones is the constant communication they have access to through social media and phone tracking apps.
“I would really recommend to parents not to text their child very much,” she said. “Maybe once a week, you touch base with a phone call or Skype.”
Today’s parents didn’t have that continuous connection when they were in college. So, why keep the constant tab on your child?
“Let go of texting constantly or the 360 app,” Gill said. “You don’t need to know and you probably don’t want to know where your kids are all the time at college.”
And when it comes to drop-off time, make the goodbye short and sweet. Then, have a little celebration planned.
“Don’t go back home and cry in their room,” she said. “Have something for you to look forward to and celebrate your child’s independence.”
The most important thing is to always support and encourage them, but also let them figure it out.
“Encourage them to talk to professors, to advocate for themselves and to get involved.” Gill said. “College is the time where kids figure out who they are. It’s important that they know you’re there to be their anchor, but to also let them find themselves.”