For Parents, It’s Hard to Let Go

From the New York Times International Weekly that came with the papers today, written by: Tess Felder

As teenagers set off for college, there is so much to be done: the packing, the organizing, the getting them there and settled in.  But when the checklist are checked off and the bustle dies down, parents are left with a question: What do we do now with this extra time and empty space?

One thing parents should do, experts say, is recognize the loss and grieve properly.  And this goes for men as well as women.

Writing in The Times recently, Liza Mundy reflected on the subject after she and her husband returned from taking their daughter to college.  What struck her, she wrote, was that her mother-in-law had called to sympathize with her as a mother.  But what about fathers? “The empty-nest transition is harder on fathers than conventional wisdom might have us believe,” she wrote.  One friend who shed tears the night before driving his son to college told her, “I don’t think my dad, one of the Greatest Generation, did anything of the sort.” The difference these days is partly that many men are more open about having such emotions, and partly that they have had the benefit of playing a more active role in their children’s lives along the way.  Since the 1960s, American men have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children, from 2.5 hours a week to 7.3, according to Pew Research Center data cited by Ms. Mundy.

And now there are many more ways for parents to stay connected to their children who are living away from home.  Ms. Mundy’s husband, for example, now sends his daughter a brief e-mail every morning.

Then again, some parents not satisfied with a mere daily message are choosing a different approach: When their children move out, the parents move in with them.

Writing in The Times, Penelope Green explained that some parents are buying or renting houses or apartments to be close to their children at boarding schools or colleges.

“Families, particularly affluent families, have the ability to be family-centered in their choices of where to live,” Ruth Kennedy Sudduth, director of the residential division for a high-end real estate brokerage, told Ms. Green.  “It is a quest for meaning and a better life.”

That does not mean these parents will still spend every weekend with their children, though.  Nancy Garcia Ponte of Rhode Island, moved into an apartment near the boarding school where her daughter is a freshman.

The school encourages local parents not to spend time with their children for the first few weeks, to give them a chance to adjust to their new surroundings.  “And they only get two weekends away per trimester,” Ms. Garcia Ponte said.

Of course, if parents can’t get their children back in the house, there is another option: pets.

This, Julie Salamon wrote in The Times, is how she ended up filling some of the emptiness in her home.  Just days after their daughter left for college, she and her husband got a puppy.  “The reason, I persuaded my husband, was to help her younger brother feel less alone—even though we already had two cats,” she wrote.

They did not bring home another pet when her son left for college five years later (one cat and the dog still remained), but she held on to the feeling that animals can help a house in transition feel like home.

“Now the dog and the cat crowd onto our bed, the way the kids used to,” she wrote.  “Animals may not replaced humans, but they fill the gaps people leave in their wake.”

And this, is still, the EMPTY NEST, comin’ on too strong, and, using P-E-T-S as a diversion is still NOT a good way to manage if you ask me (but hey, who asked Y-O-U, right???), the point is, you NEED to reconstruct your minds, and prepare yourselves ahead of times, and just keep on telling yourselves, that those babies that were in diapers won’t stay in their diapers too long.  Reconstruct your minds, then, everything else will be fine!

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Filed under Coping Mechanisms, Empty Nest, Life, Loss, Maturation, Properties of Life

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