As flowers are blooming and signs of spring surround us, it is time to think of new beginnings. For parents of high school seniors this can be a time of change in the family. It is possible that parents have a child leaving home to begin a new chapter of his or her life. For many this is a time of excitement and rejoicing as the child begins new adventures in life. For others this can be a time of loss and feeling a sense of grief.
Parents who have raised a child since birth have worked to give him or her the tools to lead a successful independent life. Often parents work so hard at parenting that the task becomes the major focus of their lives for 18 years. The couple may even come to define themselves by their role as parents. It becomes their identity. When they have completed this task and the child is becoming increasingly independent and ready to leave the “nest”, parents experience a mixture of emotions. While parents feel pride and joy at seeing their child assume adult-like roles they may also feel loss both of the physical presence of the child in the home and a loss of their own identity as a parent.
What can a parent do to cope with an “empty nest?" First and foremost one must keep two things in mind. The (adult) child must not be burdened with a parent’s gloom and sadness. The child should not be made to feel guilty for growing up and beginning his or her own life. At the same time, the (adult) child should not feel that he or she is forgotten and no longer a part of the family. During this time of transition it is important to maintain a healthy balance in the parent/child relationship.
Parents must let their children know that they are very proud of them and their growing independence. They must maintain regular contact with each other and must “be there” for each other. Though a child turns 18 and becomes a legal adult, he or she will still need input from parents when making significant life decisions.
In dealing with the absence of one’s child in the home, it is healthy for a parent to look at the positive side of the situation. Look at this as a time to get involved in the community, engage in hobbies that you have put on hold during the busy parenting years and take the opportunity to reconnect with your spouse and other friends. As with everything in life, balance is the key.