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Parenting Kids Who Are Away From Home

All over the place, parents who are facing empty nests struggle with this tough topic: how to be a parent to kids who are away from home. As both a psychologist and a mother, I didn’t quite know how to manage being a parent when my darling daughter went to college.

I remember driving away from school after dropping her off and thinking, “Who are these strange people, and why are they stealing my daughter?” I kid you not. This is what I was contemplating as I drove off, sobbing and not knowing what I was going to do with myself. I felt sort of crazy having anger at her beautiful college.

Remember that your kids still need you to parent them—just in a different way.

I managed to survive this process, though. I learned from my own experience as a mother and by listening to the stories of other parents in similar positions. I have also helped a lot of mothers and fathers in my therapy office who've battled with this same issue. Here are 10 tips to make the struggle easier for you:

1. Remember that your kids still need you to parent them—just in a different way. Don’t think for a second that your parenting days are over. What they need from you most is to LISTEN when they call. They don’t necessarily need you to say anything or solve their problems. They just need you when they want to vent. Who cares more about the minutiae of anyone’s day than a mother?

RELATED: Setting Boundaries When Your Adult Child Moves Home

2. Take care of yourself. Part of being a good parent is modeling good and healthy habits. It will be wonderful for your child to come home for vacation and see parents who are healthy and enjoying life. Remember that you are your kids’ most influential role models. You also want to give the message that your well-being is not contingent on their being home with you all the time. Kids who are worried about their parents tend not to cope well when they are away from home. They feel worried and sometimes guilty.

3. Send care packages every now and then. Your kids will love this. Include a little of this and a little of that, and throw in a few treats for their friends. There is not a child around who doesn’t love a surprise package.

4. Respect their rooms. Please don’t turn their rooms into storage space—at least, not yet. They need to know that they have their special place to come home to.

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5. Continue to maintain your relationships with the parents of their friends. You can learn how your own kids are doing through their kids and what they share with their parents. Being in the company of other parents going through the same process will feel very supportive.

6. Express interest in all aspects of your child’s well-being. Ask not only how their grades are, but also about fun activities, exercise, etc. You do not want to be seen as a parent who is only concerned about their academic performance. I can’t stress this enough.

7. Let your child know what is happening in your community. My daughter used to love this. I would send her articles from our local community paper that I knew would be of interest to her.

8. Let you kids know what you are doing. The relationship should be about sharing aspects of your life and them sharing aspects of theirs. This represents a more mature relationship.

RELATED: Getting Through the FIrst Few Weeks After Your Kid Leaves

9. Make them feel more grown up by recommending movies and books—whatever might be of interest to you and them.

10. Figure out together how and how frequently you will communicate. I suggest touching base by speaking at least once per week. It’s important to hear their voices.

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