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Counselor offers tips for empty-nest parents
Sending a child off to college is one of the proudest and most exciting moments of the parenting experience, but after you’ve furnished that dorm room and said your farewells, the reality of your quieter new lifestyle sets in. Learning to live in the so-called “empty nest” can be a difficult transition even for the toughest parents.
Clinical psychologist Kelly Miller of the UIndy Counseling Center offers the following tips to help empty nesters survive the transition and enjoy their newfound freedom.
1. Prepare yourself
A feeling of loss is perfectly normal, especially in the early weeks, so plan accordingly. Schedule dinner or movie nights with friends, get reacquainted with your partner, sign up for a class or pick up a hobby that you have put aside. Don’t let the uncertain economy keep you from making the most of your free time; it doesn’t take a lot of money to make positive changes in your life.
2. Adapt to your changing role
Your relationship with your child is not coming to end. You can continue to be an influential source of wisdom and support in decision making and problem solving, as your children establish their adult identities and grapple with issues they will face throughout their lives.
3. Maintain stability
Don’t make too many major changes to your lifestyle right away. Selling your home or taking off for a long cruise may sound great, but you and your offspring both need some sense of stability. And hold off on renovating your son’s or daughter’s room; even an independent young adult appreciates familiar surroundings when feeling lonely or homesick. Keep your most meaningful traditions and rituals intact, but remain open to developing new ones as the family transitions to new adult relationships.
4. Seek support and information
Talk about your feelings, especially with other empty nesters, and take advantage of the resources available, including websites such as activeemptynesters.com and emptynestmoms.com. Helpful books include “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years,” “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters,” and for your son or daughter, the more lighthearted “How to Survive Your Freshman Year.”
5. Expect surprises
Some experiences will be good, others more challenging. The point is, you can’t prepare for every contingency and you will have to learn to “roll with it.” By keeping your sense of humor, staying flexible and changing your perspective from “loss” to “opportunity,” you will be able to manage the surprises more easily.