The Real Problem With My Son’s Empty Bedroom

When it comes time for teenagers to move away from home, there are two types of parents. There are those who leave the teen’s empty bedroom exactly the same, like a shrine to their childhood. And then there are the parents who break out packing boxes and start remodeling the room before the kid’s out of the driveway.

What to do with a teen's empty bedroom after they leave for college?

I always thought I’d be the latter, because I’ve had my eye on my son Seth’s bedroom for a long time. I work from home, with one of the rooms in our finished basement serving as my office. I soon discovered that, as much as I love the privacy of a basement office, going hours without natural sunlight is not good for your physical or mental health. No matter how loud you play your music, those buzzing fluorescent lights will eventually bring you down.

Seth’s bedroom, on the other hand, is like a sunlight receptacle, especially in the morning. For several years now, particularly on cold winter mornings, I’ve imagined myself working in that room, sunlight spreading like warm joy across my desk. The college years would finally bring me a bright, sunny office.

[More on advice for college freshmen from recent grads here.]

Now my son is gone, having left for his freshman year of college. For months beforehand, I’d envisioned myself sliding his bed and nightstand over and moving a desk into his bedroom before he’d gotten out of the driveway. When he came home during school vacation I’d go back to the basement office, but the rest of my days would be filled with natural light. If I felt really daring, I’d imagine painting the walls and moving my books and records upstairs, too. Dare to dream, as they say.

We’ve taken the first step, sort of. My wife and I moved a writing desk into the room, small enough that nothing else in the room needed to be moved. But it’s proven too small for me, although my wife uses it almost every night for the college classes she is taking.

As for turning Seth’s bedroom into an office, that hasn’t happened yet. I tell myself that it’s a lot of work, the type of work that I’d ordinarily have a young, strong teenager help me with. But the real problem seems to be that it’s always been Seth’s room. I can still picture him in there, playing Jack Johnson songs on his guitar and singing along. Almost two months after he left for college, I’m still not used to his being gone. Walking past his empty bedroom on weekend mornings, I’ll notice the door is open and wonder why he’s up so early. Then I’ll remember he’s gone. It happened again this morning, in fact.

[More on what parents need to remind themselves on the road back to their empty nests here.]

My wife spoke to our son this week, and he’s all for moving his bedroom downstairs. He’s wanted to do this for a long time, since his junior year of high school. Problem was, the only stairway to the basement is in our garage, meaning our son wouldn’t have had to enter the house to go to and from his bedroom. Day or night, he could have come and go as he pleased, without us knowing. Of course, you want to trust your teenager, but trust can only take you so far.

But now he’s an adult, and I don’t feel as nervous about his coming and going as he pleases. Plus, it’ll only be during holidays and summer break. I don’t deal well with change, though, and the thought of Seth’s bedroom no longer being his bedroom is hard for me.

Maybe when the cold weather hits and I’m shivering at my desk, it’ll be easier. But I don’t think I’ll start switching rooms until Thanksgiving week, when I’ll have a young, strong teenager home from college to help me.

More by Gary Sprague:

In My Son’s Empty Room: How Did it Go By So Fast?

How to Ruin Your High School Grad’s Last Summer of Freedom 

High School Graduation and the Heart-Rending Optimism of Youth 

About Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

Read more posts by Gary

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