We know this day is coming. We hope for it and work hard, yet we can find ourselves wishing it away when it arrives. For 18 years, we prepared to take our kids to college. We cultivate their independence, encourage their achievements, and sit alongside them through the roller coaster ride of college admissions.
But after the boxes are unpacked and the twin XL bed is neatly made, there is nothing more to do than say goodbye. Nothing more to do than take a deep breath, walk away, and return home to an empty nest.
What to think about when you are driving home to your empty nest
The ride or flight home can feel like forever, and that empty, cold feeling — part tears and part fears — can seem all-consuming. I get this. I did this. I sobbed my way home after dropping each of my kids. But at some point, each time, I reminded myself that there is a different way to look at this.
Sure, a few tears escaped (okay, more than a few), and the feeling of loss was, briefly, all-consuming, but there are things we need to remind ourselves of that can make this day of triumph instead of sadness.
So, as the drive home drags on and you begin to dread the (nearly) empty nest, here are a few thoughts to hold onto.
1. Your teen is already a huge success.
Any teen who has made their way into a freshman class already knows something about hard work, deferred gratification, and the value of education. Sure, there will be ups and downs in the coming weeks and years, but sit back for a minute and feel great that your kid has learned three of the building blocks of successful adulthood.
Your kid has chosen to invest in themselves with their education (even if we are paying the $$, they are putting in the hard work) and has shown great maturity by starting on this very independent journey.
2. While you are proud of your teen, feel slightly proud of yourself.
You raised a college student. You raised someone who has successfully taken the first steps toward adulthood. This was, God knows, the most difficult thing any of us have ever done. Whatever goes right or wrong in our lives, we have this moment.
3. Keep patting your back because you also raised a good person.
Your teen is entering the world as a kind, caring person. When you look across their face, the one with only the merest traces of their childhood self, you look at a person who will make the world better. So reflect momentarily on the wonderful fact that your life and many others have been made better by the fantastic person you brought into the world.
4. Remind yourself that you took him to college.
They are not going to war, jail, or a place so far away that we cannot reach them. Despite parents’ fears about college, the simple fact is that campus life is safer than the real world. We have always wanted this for them, and now they have it.
5. This is 2023
We do not have to communicate by courier pigeon, telegram or even old-fashioned mail. There is every chance your kid will text, Snapchat, or Facebook message you before you even get home. You will probably Facetime or share Instagram posts before the week is over. And on that note, we can stalk our kids electronically (not saying we should, just saying we can), so the next time we see their happy faces may be hours from now rather than Thanksgiving.
6. This is one of the most exciting moments in our teens’ lives.
This is a moment that may set them off in a new direction. They may be just about to meet lifelong friends or even spouses. They will learn things they never imagined. Sure, it means they are away from us and that the daily connection that binds us together is slightly weakened. But we are parents, and long ago, we learned that a few tears are a fair price to pay for bettering our children’s lives.
7. The adventure will not be theirs alone.
We learned about dinosaurs and Pokemon from our kids. They brought current music, sports, the latest apps, and tech into our lives. As their world expands, ours will as well.
8. Finally, as we say at Grown and Flown, “parenting never ends.”
It certainly doesn’t end after college drop-off. Our kids will face many real challenges, and yes, even risks, as they navigate their college years. We may have stopped giving directives, but we should not stop giving advice.
A mountain of research shows that kids manage the risks of alcohol and drugs better when they have attentive, interested parents. Yes, this is a tightrope we walk. We need to let them know we care, that we have expectations and concerns, and, at the same time, honor their independence. It is not an easy dance, but whoever said parenthood was easy.
So, as you make your way home to younger siblings or an empty nest, know that you have raised a wonderful person headed for great things. This may be a moment of sadness, but temper that feeling with enormous pride in your teen and yourself.
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