University and kids: Is the glass half empty or half full when they leave the nest?

I remember the day I left for university like it was yesterday. 

I was so excited to start the next phase of my life in university. I wasn’t thinking at all about my mom’s empty nest.

I was a fresh 18 years old and was off to West Chester University in Pennsylvania.  I couldn’t wait to be a part of the unbelievably amazing Golden Rams Marching Band, have some space from my family and truly start my independent life, even though I was only moving an hour away.

I was also the first-born, the oldest of five girls.  My family had experienced some pretty serious trauma with my father’s death by suicide  just a few years before it was time for me to leave the nest. As much as I felt parental about my younger sisters, I knew I needed to leave, for my own personal sanity.  Those were not easy years for any of us.

My stuff was all unloaded into my new room.  Groovy, large black and white stereo, favorite albums, some posters, a new comforter and my tiny, square rental fridge.  I was ready.  I was pumped. I knew I would just LOVE going to college.

empty nest syndromeI walked my mom out to the car and noticed that she had started to tear up.  I was confused by this.  My thoughts were, “what is your problem?  This is the happiest day of my life!”

Clearly, we were not thinking the same things. My mom told me that she held it together until she got on the highway, and then she had to pull over and have a cry.  She told me that years later.

Flash forward 32 years to my own first-born leaving the nest.  Like me, he was only going less than 1.5 hours away by car. His rental fridge was also waiting for him in his dorm room.  Unlike me, however, his stereo was neither groovy nor large. The biggest thing he brought was a printer.  Things had definitely changed.

While he was looking forward to starting a new chapter as well, he was not leaving a chaotic and traumatic home life.  Thankfully, things like that had definitely changed too.

And I reminded him of this important fact the time he casually said how excited he was to get away….

Thoughts are so powerful.

There are so many ways to think about what it means when your children move on to start their own lives.

– Are you genuinely excited for them? Or are you focused on what it means for you not to have them around on a daily basis?

– Are you proud of how confident and independent they are as they embark on their new adventure? Or are you preoccupied with thoughts about how they aren’t ready?

– Do you think they are ready to be without you? Or are you having difficulty thinking about your life without them?

– Do you think you can trust them? Or are you having difficulty dealing with the idea of less control?

empty nest syndromeAll of these thoughts are a normal part of YOUR transition into being a parent of older kids.  Some might even call them young adults, lol.

And we all know what that means….we’re older parents. Middle-aged parents. Closer to being grandparents than being parents of babies…. EEEEEK!

Just like when my mom and I were on different planets when she dropped me off as a freshman at college, it’s easy to see how there are many different ways to think about the neutral fact of your kid leaving for university.

Some thoughts will lead you to feelings of fear and being anxious.  Other thoughts will lead you to different feelings…like feeling confident that you raised an awesome kid who is ready for these challenges.

If your thinking isn’t serving you, the good news is that you can change your thoughts.  New thoughts will lead to different feelings, and ultimately different outcomes….outcomes that will make this huge transition easier for you to cope with. Be kind to yourself though….this is a big one!

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