It's coming and you know it's coming. You are doing everything in your power not to think about that day when your youngest heads out the door and you are left with a deafeningly silent house.
In the next couple of months, thousands of young people will head off to college, leaving their parents with a lot of time on their hands. Although parents understand their role has changed, they are not quite sure what that means. Everything is different. No more school sports. No need to buy so many groceries. The stuff strewn across the house -- gone. Wow!
Some parents are excited about this newfound freedom while others find this time rather depressing.
"Making this transition can be tough," says Pam Johnson, licensed clinical social worker and mother of two who have flown the nest. "You have to stay focused on the idea that your child is becoming his own person and pursuing dreams, which was the goal all along. Instead of lamenting the fact they don't need you anymore, think about what they do need and the opportunity you have before you. As parents, we often put off our own interests to focus our attention on the needs of our children. This is a new season filled with opportunities."
Johnson recalls when her daughter went off to college; she and her husband dealt with the transition differently. Her world had been turned upside down, but her husband seemed to be taking everything in stride. When she asked him about it, he explained that their daughter was happy and he felt confident they had given her a great foundation to stand on her own two feet.
If you are preparing for the empty nest, Johnson offers these suggestions for making the transition:
• Plan ahead. Don't wait until your child is leaving to think about how you will deal with the extra time on your hands. Have some projects planned to occupy your time. Be intentional about planning things you can do together on the weekend.
• Set limits for yourself. As your child settles into a new routine, there will be lots of demands on their time. Let your child make the first phone call and try to limit yourself to checking in once a week. E-mail is a great way to check in and be supportive without being intrusive.
• Be there when your child needs you. The first few months may be hard for your children. Encourage him or her to hang in there. Send care packages and cards. Make your home a refuge they will want to come back to.
• Consider the next thing. You have been given the gift of being a parent for a season of life. As that role changes, you will want to consider what's next. Keep your eyes and heart open to where you need to go in life and what you want your life to be about.
"Letting go is hard," says Johnson. "You want to let go of them gracefully. Here's a little secret: When they come home, you will be happy to see them come home and you will be happy to see them go because you will have transitioned into new routines and rituals that aren't all about them."
Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.