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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?
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.
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
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.