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My oldest is leaving for college, and I'm a wreck. Advice, please!

By November 20, 2009 - 8:16am
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Hello everybody, just wanted to ask if anybody out there can give some advice. My thing is that I have two boys ages 18 years old and a 2 year old. My oldest son will be graduating high school this year, and is going away to college. He will be going out of state, I am having a difficult time with this. I want my son to succeed but I am an emotional wreck. I try not to think about it, but as times goes on, ( ordering cap and gown, graduation pictures etc..) it is hitting pretty hard. I try to preoccupied myself with my school work and my other son, but I still think about it. You see my son and I have been through so much, and for me to see him going away to better himself and become successful is very emotionally hard. I now others have gone through this, so any advice you have is greatly appreciated.

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I believe it is because we have been through so much together, and he has always been there for me. You see his father has been incarnated since he was 6 years old, we are divorced. I know that I will get through this, but it is emotionally hard knowing that he will not be there every morning when I wake up. I know I have to let him spread his wings and fly....but, I will miss him terribly. My boyfriend says I am crazy, but I'm just so in love with my two boys. My boys are my world, each one is special in their in own way in my heart. My oldest because like I stated previously we have been through so much together. He changed me in so many ways.

Thanks so much for this website, it has helped me in writing out my thoughts knowing people will not tell me I am crazy.

December 1, 2009 - 2:52pm
(reply to house)

You are very lucky to be so in love with your sons, and they are very lucky indeed! It melts my heart!

The "letting go" process can be taken in baby-steps, depending on what your older son's wishes are. I remember being so excited to "finally" leave my parent's house for college (only 1 hour away), and I think I lasted two days of being independent before calling home...which I did every day (or twice a day), as well as drove home on the weekends (the excuse was to do laundry).

You sound very close to your boys, and your son's moving to college may actually bring you two closer with new, mature topics of conversation. You will miss him terribly, and then each day will be better and easier as you talk with him on the phone, and realize that you can enjoy some time away from him too. All of your feelings are OK, normal and very healthy!

Take care...we'll be thinking about you.

December 1, 2009 - 3:33pm

How are you doing? I've been thinking about you and your medical issues (Her Option) that you posted about, while trying to physically heal from this procedure you are also trying to emotionally manage your son's leaving for college. This is a rough time for you, and I'm glad you are able to talk with us.

Susan provided some great advice and resources, and I wanted to know what you found helpful. Also...do you enjoy journaling, or think this would help you? I'm wondering if you have been able to sort-out your feelings, as it sounds like your sense of loss (from your son's leaving for college) is compounded by the fact that you and him have "been through a lot" together.

You also mentioned, "...and for me to see him going away to better himself and become successful is very emotionally hard."

These are some profound feelings that you are having, and perhaps writing them down (or speaking with a counselor) to help sort out them all out would help. You no doubt have feelings of sadness, loss, physical fatigue from your medical procedure, but are also feeling some mom-guilt that you should be happy for him, or shouldn't be thinking about how his leaving effects you. Is this some of what you are feeling?

If so, I think it is very helpful to sort out and identify the different thoughts and feelings, even the "yucky" ones that "moms aren't supposed to feel" (you know--the ones that makes us sound selfish because we're actually thinking about ourselves and not just our kids!). What specifically are you worried about? If you can identify the gamete of thoughts and feelings, then you can specifically problem-solve each one and it really will provide some guidance to how to move forward. You can problem-solve in many ways: journaling, talking with a trusted friend or family member (who won't judge), or a counselor.

Please let us know what you decide to do, and I hope you will hear from other parents who have gone through this same thing.

Another resource for you: many colleges and universities have Parent Groups, as all of the parents are going through the exact same situation you are, at the exact same moment. These groups are typically run through the Student Affairs/Student Life (or similar) department; you can call and ask!

November 24, 2009 - 3:19pm
HERWriter Guide

Dear House

Thanks for your question - it's a really good one, and I promise you that you're not alone. A lot of parents feel at a loss with their "kid" grows up and flees the nest. Empty nest syndrome is often harder on mothers because they may have been more involved in the day to day aspects of their childrens' lives, as well as the PTA and sports. Often, stay at home moms find the transition especially hard as they not only miss their kids but they also begin to wonder about the direction their own lives are now headed, if they don't have an established career to focus on.

But whether a work outside the home mom or at-home mom, it's important for all parents (male or female) to have work and/or other interests separate from the children in order to lessen the void. However, do know that it's very normal to feel like you do. It's worrisome to think that your 'baby' will be exposed to so many new experiences (most great, some not so great) and you won't be there to guide him along. You also have to relinquish some of your control (for want of a better word) over his choices. And it's naturally sad to see this phase of your life end. Wasn't it just yesterday when you had him in your arms as he entered life? Wasn't it just yesterday that you groaned about changing his diaper for the second time in an hour? Wasn't it just yesterday that you bought him his first backpack for kindergarten? How dare he grow up so quickly!

However, it's certainly not the end of your life, just one phase of it. We have a wonderful piece on Empty Nest Syndrome here on Empowher and it should help you :

**With all the trials and tribulations that come with raising children, many parents joke that they can't wait for their kids to grow up and get out of the house. But when that time finally comes, some parents find themselves feeling sad, lonely, and even depressed. Here's how to prepare for and cope with your feelings when the kids fly the coop.

Living With an Empty Nest

When the older of Nancy Hebert's two daughters left for college, it was a relatively easy transition for Nancy, because her daughter attended a local college, just minutes away.

"I missed her, but it wasn't a very big lifestyle change," says the 49-year-old legal secretary from Rhode Island.

But when her younger daughter left a few years later to join the Air Force, Nancy's whole world seemed to turn upside down. "I fell apart," she says. "I was surprised by how hard it hit me."

Because empty nest syndrome is not a clinical medical diagnosis, it's hard to find statistics on how many people experience it. But as the children of baby boomers grow up and leave home, it's clear that millions of parents may identify with Nancy's story.

Learning About the Symptoms

While specific circumstances vary from family to family, the feelings parents experience also vary. These may include:

* Sadness
* Loneliness
* Emptiness
* Uselessness, or no longer having a purpose in life
* Guilt (for example, if the relationship with the child was strained before he or she left)

In some cases, parents may experience symptoms associated with clinical depression or adjustment disorder, including:

* Difficulty concentrating
* Fatigue or lack of drive
* Inability to seek or derive pleasure
* Changes in eating patterns
* Excessive worry or anxiety
* Indecision

People experiencing any of these symptoms should see their doctor.

Accepting the Grief

One of the first and most important things parents must do if they're having difficulty with the empty nest, say the experts, is to acknowledge that they've experienced a loss and that it's okay to grieve that loss.

"It's a real form of loss," says Sandy Wasserman, co-author, with Lauren Schaffer, of 133 Ways to Avoid Going Cuckoo When the Kids Fly the Nest . Wasserman and Schaffer, both mothers who have gone through empty nest syndrome, contend that "the amount of time you invested in the relationship [with the children] is proportional to how much you suffer once they leave."

Seeking Support

An equally important step parents must take to cope with their loss is to seek out support, says Robert L. Smith, PhD, executive director of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. Dr. Smith recommends engaging the assistance of friends, family, or community or religious groups.

And "if someone is really down in the dumps and maybe shows signs of clinical depression, they should definitely seek the help of a counselor," says Dr. Smith.

Preparing While the Nest Is Still Full

One way to potentially lessen the blow when the kids leave is to prepare for it before it happens.

"It's helpful to start preparing and acknowledging in advance," says Dr. Smith, who recommends that all family members communicate with each other about their feelings regarding the impending lifestyle changes.

Wasserman recommends that parents get particularly involved in their kids' senior year in high school and try to "enjoy the process of the child starting to leave."

It's also important, Dr. Smith says, for parents to have activities or interests in addition to those related to the children. Wasserman and Schaffer put it more bluntly: "Have a life." This may mean a job, volunteer work, or hobbies or activities unrelated to child-rearing, so that when the kids leave, it's not as if the parents' entire lives are walking out the door.

Shifting the Focus

Focusing on the positive aspects of an empty nest can also help parents deal with their sadness.

One such positive aspect is having more time to devote to activities you may not have had enough time for before, such as travel, paid or volunteer work, or a new hobby. For example, when Wasserman's kids left, she seized the opportunity to pursue a lifelong passion—learning to play the mandolin.

Hebert has even enjoyed some "benefits" of an empty nest, including not hearing the phone ring all the time and not worrying what time her daughters will be home.

Perhaps most importantly, Schaffer and Wasserman want parents to remember that if their kids are ready and willing to fly the coop, it's usually a reflection of good parenting.

"If they're ready to leave," Wasserman says, "then we've done a good job." **

Does this place things in perspective for you, a bit, house? Do you think you can use some of the tools suggested here to help in your situation?

November 20, 2009 - 12:39pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Susan Cody)

Susan, thank you so much for your advice.
I feel like everything that you mention is exactly how I feel.
My daughter left for college 4 days ago. I feel like I am in mourning.
I have a 21 year and a 16 year old and an 18 year old she is the one away. My oldest and I never seem to see eye to eye on much and my son is always at football practice. My 18 year old and I are very close, talk about everything and are what mothers and daughters should be at least what I think it should be. My home feels gloomy like this ugly feeling sucking the energy and the happy out of me. Don't know what to do.:( ,Terilla

August 22, 2011 - 3:54pm
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Terilla

Thanks for your post and I'm sorry you're feeling this way. My kids are 5, 6 and 7 and I've already said what an awful feeling it's going to be when they all leave one after the other, in quick succession.

What about your husband - do you have one? Or a partner? Have you had a tendency to focus on the kids and the kids alone? What was your relationship like before kids? And throughout your marriage - do you have time alone - a life together as well as one with the kids? Do you have outside interests?

I think it's a great thing to be so involved with kids, but don't do it to the point where you end up feeling like you have nothing once they leave. It sounds like you need to take up some interests! And get involved a bit with your son and his interests so you don't "lose" him when he moves away too. It seems like you have compartmentalized your kids - you get on with one, not the other and the youngest you don't see very much. This can and should be changed!

And it's not too late to change all that! Stay in contact with your oldest, even if he/she is slow to respond - keep trying! Show up to football practice and keep maintaining your already healthy relationship with your 18 year old. I know it's so hard to see her go, you must be missing her terribly.

Let me know what you think!

August 23, 2011 - 9:18am
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