Saying goodbye to your kids when they leave the family nest for college is a deeply emotional experience for most parents. If your son or daughter is a freshman this year, you’re probably still trying to adjust to your new life as an empty nester. All of your guidance (aka worrying, nagging) and encouragement throughout the gauntlet of college applications has made the dream come true. No more SAT prep. No more agonizing over whether it’s better to take AP courses or go for the higher GPA in regular courses. Gone is the pressure to find the perfect assortment of extra-curricular activities, summer internships and community service in order to write an outstanding college essay. What a relief, THAT’s over and yet, how can you NOT miss the baby you’ve loved and nurtured for 18 years? The adorable toddler you dropped off at nursery school has emerged from adolescence (hopefully) and is on his/her way to adulthood.
Many newbie empty nesters might be wondering whether their son or daughter is happy at college. Is he making new friends? Is she getting along with her new room-mate? How are his classes? Is she studying enough? Partying too much? Maybe you’re sad because your son doesn’t call unless he’s in trouble or needs money. Or worse, maybe your child is calling home too often, lonely, anxious or unhappy. Going away to college is a BIG transition as well as a milestone for the whole family. It’s natural to grieve, but how can parents move on?
Although my twins Max and Sarah left for college five years ago (and have since graduated), I remember what it felt like to be a newbie empty nester as if it happened five minutes ago. With both twins leaving for their respective colleges only a day apart, I experienced instantempty nest. The first night Henry and I sat down to dinner with only half a family, our dining area felt like a mausoleum.
“Deadly quiet, isn’t it?” Henry remarked sadly.
“I guess that means we’ll have to talk to each other.” He smiled.
Henry missed the whirlwind weekends with the kids more than I did as a stay-at-home Mom who saw them 24/7. He loved coaching Max’s Little League baseball and football games on Saturdays. And he cherished his father/daughter brunches with Sarah when he taught her French and then took her for swimming lessons. At the same time, he worried about melosing my identity and falling apart. What would a stay-at-home mother of twins do in my newly empty nest?
Plenty, as it turns out. I went back to writing—my first love. I decided to write a memoir about raising my unusual twins—a daughter on the autistic spectrum and a son with mild ADHD who needed open-heart surgery at age three. During my kids’ college years, I wrote (and rewrote) Picture Perfect Family in Monday night workshops with Jacob Miller, attended writers’ conferences and started my blog, The Never-Empty Nest,in 2012. (Check out my interview about Empty Nesters today on Fox 5 News with Ernie Anastos at 6 PM or on myfoxny.com). Apparently there are lots of fellow empty-nesters writing blogs and memoirs, according to “The Empty-Nest Book Hatchery” in The New York Times 10/12/14Sunday “Styles Section.” Better jump on board before the trend turns into a cliché.
We didn’t see Sarah as much because Landmark College in Putney, VT was 4 ½ hours away from New York City as compared with the much easier 2 hour drive to Vassar. Still, we went to see her perform in a play and listened to her sing in her choral group. In between, she sent us long emails and talked to us on the phone more often than Max did. Little by little, we all got used to new rhythms in the days and months that followed, as all four of us moved forward with our lives.