The Kids Are Gone...Now What?
When your child moves out, it could shake you to your core. Here's how you cope.
Around this time of the year, I talk to the parents of college-bound teens about their feelings of letting go. They often experience what I call the “empty room syndrome.” The empty room syndrome is that somber feeling most parents get when they walk by their child’s old room, or when they come home from work expecting their child to be there. Even if you have a spouse and other kids, there’s still an adjustment period the entire family goes through.
It’s a scary thing to realize your child is leaving home and going off to create their own life, but this is a time of self-exploration for both you and them. During the transition keep these things in mind:
If you’re married:
The demands of parenthood can sidetrack most couples. They don’t spend much time together because they are busy working and taking care of the kids. Once the kids move out, you and your spouse may discover there’s a bit of distance between you—a distance that didn’t present itself before because everything was devoted to family time instead of quality time. This is your chance to redefine your marriage. What are the things you and your spouse enjoy doing together? What type of quality time do you like to share? What are the things that attracted you to one another before there were kids in the picture?
It may be a frustrating process to start because you’re not used to spending that one-on-one time together anymore. But be patient. Understand that this is the time to rediscover things about your marriage.
If you’re a single parent:
There’s often a greater sense of separation anxiety for single parents, especially for those with only one child. For 18 years, it’s been you and them. Now, your child is off to college and your day-to-day routine is no longer dependent on their needs. Use this time to explore things about yourself. Do something different. Take a vacation. Pick up a hobby. You’ve made many sacrifices for your child, now it’s time to take advantage of this new sense of freedom you now have.
Excepting your child is becoming a young adult:
Your decisions, actions and attitude at this point in your child’s life will determine the depth of your relationship with them moving forward. Helicopter parenting will only hinder their growth. Independence is a crucial part of becoming a responsible adult. You must give your teen space.
The Bottom Line:
It’s natural to worry about what their lives will be like away from home. Surely, we want to shield our children from harm. And we pray that they make good decisions, and choose good friends and perfect mates. But we must also trust the values we’ve taught our children and trust that when faced with difficult decisions they will make good choices. If they don’t, we have to allow them to learn from their mistakes. Your role is to guide their decisions carefully and gently without judgment. Let them know how much you love them as a parent and how proud you are of them becoming a young adult.
In the meantime, take care of you and avoid the empty room blues. Discover. Explore. Do. Enjoy life as you embrace a season of change. Allow your kids to move into this new level of freedom and liberty on their own. While you continue to be the strong parent you’ve always been, only now you’re doing it from afar. The best thing about it all—seeing your children grow into their own person, establish independence, and transition into adulthood.