Search Results for: emptying nest

Coping with the Emptying Nest: Easy Does It

A new crop of college freshmen heads out soon, and parents everywhere are preparing for “the big day.” We thought it appropriate to revisit writer Chris Little’s excellent series on “The Emptying Nest” including this piece reminding parents that “Easy Does it.” Wishing everyone the best!

Off the Merry-Go-Round

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By Chris Little

If you’ve got fledglings on their way out of the nest, I know you’ve also got images of them as toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners dancing around in your head. “How fast the time passes!” we all say. “It seems like just yesterday I dropped him off at kindergarten!” Yup, yup—it does feel like yesterday, doesn’t it? We tear up a little. Those were the good old days, right?

But I want to ask you to think back just a little farther, to those first days of parenthood, when you were fresh home from the hospital with your infant. I’m sure you can remember how happy you were. But can you remember how scared you were? How worried? Overwhelmed? My husband drove home from the hospital with our first baby at 25 mph—in a 50 mph zone! I remember alternating between passionate love for the little squirt, and…

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Updates from the Emptying Nest: Getting Ready for Fall Break and Thanksgiving Vacation

4042911267_a4124b6191By Chris Little

This morning it’s just 23 days until my beloved first-born, now a bona-fide college freshman, comes home for his first Fall Break. And after that, just a month or so until Thanksgiving. It seems like I’m only beginning to get used to setting one less place at the dinner table, and already I’m thinking about how soon he’ll be back. (Hooray!) Here are some things I’m doing to get ready:

1. Talking with him about travel arrangements. I’m not looking at bus tickets though—he’s a big boy and he’s got a credit card, so he can do the actual planning and ticket buying. But I know he’s got his mind on other things (his studies, right?), so I’m doing a little friendly reminding (read: gentle nagging) so he’ll take a look at transportation options sooner rather than later. After all, bus seats fill up fast for weekend and holiday travel—not to mention plane seats, for those whose kids are further afield—and I’d like to avoid having to drive out to pick him up if I can.

2. And appointments. Okay this doesn’t matter so much to my son, who’s happy to slip into pretty much any friendly neighborhood barbershop when he needs a trim, but if you’ve got a suave son or daughter who’s committed to a particular hairstylist, you might remind him or her to call soon for that Thanksgiving-weekend appointment. The same goes for the orthodontist, physician, or dentist … we all know freshmen who get their wisdom teeth pulled the day after Thanksgiving—if yours needs to be one of them, getting an appointment early will save a hassle later.

photo (3)3. Planning a few favorite menu items. I know my son loves my chicken potpie and baked spaghetti casserole, and those lemon bars I make in the summertime, so I’m beginning to think about when I’ll be making them over his break. And I think I’ll pick up an extra set of food storage tubs so I can send him back to school with some leftovers to heat in his microwave…

4. Talking about activities. I certainly don’t want to fill up all his time, but is there anything special he’d like to do as a family, or as an extended family, while he’s home?

5. Managing my expectations. I’m pretty sure my dear freshman will be happy to see us when he gets home—but he’ll also be eager to check in with his high school buddies, and to sleep late in his own bed. Chances are we won’t spend hours and hours sitting cozily on the couch together with mugs of tea talking about his feelings and hopes and dreams. I can daydream about those conversations, but I’m trying to stay realistic: He might spend the weekend asleep or out of the house! I have to be okay with that, and so far I am.

It’s going to be great to have him home — to set four places around the table again! — but I’m sure it won’t be exactly how I imagine it. And it’ll go by so fast, and then he’ll be gone again. So these days I’m  enjoying looking forward to his visit, and doing what I can to make sure things go smoothly.

Of course I’d love to hear how more experienced empty-nesters approach vacations. What do you do to plan? How do you prepare? What are the best parts? The most challenging parts?

First image: Some rights reserved by lynn dombrowski. Second image: My dinner plates!

Coping with the Emptying Nest: Easy Does It

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By Chris Little

If you’ve got fledglings on their way out of the nest, I know you’ve also got images of them as toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners dancing around in your head. “How fast the time passes!” we all say. “It seems like just yesterday I dropped him off at kindergarten!” Yup, yup—it does feel like yesterday, doesn’t it? We tear up a little. Those were the good old days, right?

But I want to ask you to think back just a little farther, to those first days of parenthood, when you were fresh home from the hospital with your infant. I’m sure you can remember how happy you were. But can you remember how scared you were? How worried? Overwhelmed? My husband drove home from the hospital with our first baby at 25 mph—in a 50 mph zone! I remember alternating between passionate love for the little squirt, and a panicky feeling of “Oh no! What have we done!”

And then, as the days and weeks wore on and we began to get the hang of baby-care, there was the big Identity Crisis. Gone was Freewheeling Me, who could go out for dinner or a movie without much thought. And since I’d decided to take some time off, then work part-time from home, gone was Career-Oriented Me, who got to spend the day with peers and colleagues doing rewarding work for which I received both recognition and a paycheck. I can still remember how, until I found some play groups and other social groups, I felt a little lost, a little lonely. Remember those days?

No, I’m not trying to bring you down! I just want to remind you that when you first became a parent, it probably took some time for you to find your way, and to work out who you would be in this next phase of your life. The point I’m trying to make? That as your kids grow up and make their way out of the house, you can expect it to take some time for you to adjust to this new phase, too. And it could be a bumpy ride.

I remember that when my mother-in-law’s youngest headed off to college, she tried out a succession of interesting new hobbies—teaching parenting classes at her church, attending Native American retreats, even engaging in some drumming circles—before she settled into her authentic path of jewelry-making, tennis playing, and working in her husband’s office.

Another older friend took some time out to write a novel and learn to paint watercolors when her youngest started his freshman year in college. “It takes a while to figure out where you fit in,” she told me. In fact, I’ve read it can take from 18 months to two years to regain your footing as you transition from parent with kids at home to parent with kids out in the world.

Other parents head back into full-time work, which can provide the stimulation and structure they’re missing now that they don’t work the carpool circuit anymore.

Whatever direction we ultimately take, we need to be patient with ourselves—we floundered a little when we became parents, and we can expect to flounder a little now. We should be gentle with ourselves when we find ourselves feeling a little lost. And pay attention to the little whispers we hear that might point us toward our next adventure. So here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from friends and other experts who’ve been through the emptying nest:

3235483251_7f3a9d7b34Be true to you. Allow yourself some sadness if that’s how you feel. Part of living a rich life is being present to your feelings, even the sad ones. But get help if things get too dark or you can’t find your way out.

Reconnect. You’ve finally got a little more time for yourself, so don’t rush to fill it. Check in with your friends and see who wants to go out to lunch. Work in the flowerbeds. Start a journal—writing regularly is a great way to explore and work through deep or difficult feelings.

Nurture yourself. Often we put our dreams and desires on the back burner when the kids are around. Now is your chance to move them to the front—even the little ones. Get that pedicure you’ve been putting off for the last 18 years. Have a massage. Rent the chick flick you could never talk your sons into watching with you. Start that exercise routine you always promised yourself.

Draw closer to your partner. This is a great time for you and your spouse to regain your pre-parenthood closeness, and taking time to share your feelings about this transition is a great step in that direction.

Relish the positive. Sure, you’re sad the kids aren’t loitering around the kitchen while you cook. I hear you! But look on the bright side: The bathroom stays cleaner. The carton of ice cream in the freezer lasts longer. The water bill is smaller. And there are fewer shoes and socks lying on the living room floor. It’s okay to enjoy these things!

Take credit. Give yourself the opportunity to feel proud of yourself for having raised that little infant into a functioning adult. That’s quite a feat! Allow yourself to feel that sense of a mission accomplished.

And through it all, keep your eyes peeled for what feels interesting or exciting to you—those are clues to what the next exciting new phase of your life is going to look like!

But first, let me know: How are you—or how do you plan to—find your way through the empty nest transition? It’s less than a month before my first heads off to college, so I need all the ideas I can get!

Images: Some rights reserved by © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography and akk_rus.

The Reluctant Fledgling: Encouraging your child when she’s anxious about leaving the nest.

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By Chris Little

You know the classic scenario: Mom, once eager for reluctant Junior to start grade school, ruefully sees the roles reverse when it’s time for Junior to leave for college. Of course, the classic scenario is only occasionally the truest one, and it’s not unusual for high school grads to be less than eager to leave the nest.

At this point, I don’t appear to be the parent of a reluctant fledgling, but I recall having been one, and I know people whose kid has been one, so I wanted to think about this facet of the emptying nest: What do you do when your kid doesn’t feel all that ready to leave home?

First of all, I guess we should consider the fact that some kids simply aren’t. That’s okay! Talk things over: Maybe a post-graduate year spent working at the local diner is a good fit—and/or doing an awesome internship at a nonprofit in town. Taking classes at your community college, or commuting to a school nearby, also might be a good way to ease into the next phase of life. All of that is perfectly fine and can help your kid get her feet under her before she leaves home.

Other times, you might know your kid is ready to leave the nest, and she might even know it too, but for a variety of reasons, she’s feeling some anxiety about it. I’ve been asking friends and reading up on some strategies for encouraging the reluctant fledgling:

1. Treat it all like a big adventure from the get-go. Focus on the positive: College is going to be a fun and interesting ride, for the most part, with some inevitable bumps along the way. If you run into questions you don’t know the answer to (How do I drop a class? What if I get locked out of my room?), no worries—there are folks around whose job it is to help you.

2. Talk about the nitty-gritty details. Sometimes it’s simply the unknown that has your kid flummoxed. So help him with as many details as you can gather: Here’s how to get money out of an ATM. Here’s how to get from your dorm to your dining hall. Here’s the bus to take to get to the train station. That kind of thing.

3. Let your kid know you—and her home—are always there for her. Maybe what your kid needs is a frank (and frequent) reminder: “We’re your family, and this is your home, and we will be here for you when you want to come back.” And mean it: This is probably not the kid whose room you want to convert into a study the week after she heads off to college!

4. But not too much. As a parent, your instinct is to help and protect your offspring, sure. But now is when you start dragging your feet when it comes to stepping in to fix things (if you haven’t already!). It’s time for your kid to leave the nest, after all, and she can’t do that if you don’t let her learn to fly! So resist the impulse to bring her home for the weekend the first time she says she’s homesick. Don’t get involved in negotiations with her roommates about having a boy over for the night. And please, please, please don’t call her professor to complain about her grade on her first English essay! (Yes, that’s happened!) Listen to your fledgling’s worries and struggles, but don’t rush in to rescue her—that’s the refrain I’m hearing from moms and college administrators.

5. Offer some helpful advice. You may, however, share a little wisdom. Reassure your college kid that some homesickness is normal, typically transient—and not a sign that she’s made a huge mistake. Encourage her to get involved in a new club or activity, go for a walk or a swim, and simply give herself some time to adjust.

6. Make a plan for staying connected. This is where scheduling a weekly chat will help. And sending those fun-filled care packages.

So these are a few ideas I’ve been able to collect for cheering on your kid’s first attempts at flight. What about you? What has helped you cope with homesickness in the past? How have you helped your child deal with homesickness when he’s had the far-from-home blues? What are some ways you’ve found to encourage reluctant fledglings?

Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Step into your dreams!

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Image: Some rights reserved by Grand Canyon NPS

by Chris Little

In my last few posts I’ve been exploring adapting to the empty(ing) nest, that dicey time when you’re transitioning from being a mother with kids at home to a mother whose kids are off at college or otherwise on their own. I’ve written about the importance of reconnecting with your own dreams and desires, and about how volunteer work can help you engage meaningfully in your community outside your home, about how you might want to consider investing more in your work as your kids are home less and less. Now I’d like to explore the possibility that this transition time can be the time to start a new career entirely!

As your kids have grown older and begun to stretch their wings, of course you’ve grown into an older, wiser woman, too. Over the years you’ve learned some things about yourself, about what you need and what you love. But maybe you’ve had to set some of your dreams on the back burner so you could attend fully to the kids. Sometimes those dreams have evolved and changed over the years, as we’ve grown and matured.

Either way, now is the time to begin thinking about what you might do with your life, if you could do anything. What do you love to do? Can you begin to take steps to make that love your life’s work?

Liz trained to be a biology teacher in college. When she started her family she stayed home with the kids and got involved in volunteering for their schools. In her free time she stayed in shape by taking yoga classes, and she found she loved the way yoga made her body and mind feel. So as her kids have gotten older Liz has taken some teacher training classes and now teaches a few yoga classes each week. It’s not full-time, but it’s something she loves and looks forward to expanding into as the kids leave the house.

Deb did some freelance writing when her kids were at home, and picked up an adjunct position teaching English as a Second Language at the local community college when they were at high school. She found she loved working with her students, so after the kids moved out she went back to school for her master’s degree, and now she’s teaching full-time.

As moms who are “off the merry go round” we can find ourselves in a unique position as our kids leave the nest—we really have the opportunity to start a brand-new chapter in our lives. Sure, we may be a little sad about closing the chapter where we were home with the kids. But we can also be excited about writing this next chapter. Here’s how:

1. Look at your dreams.

Maybe you have a dream for what you’ll do in this next phase of your life. Or maybe the seeds of that dream are in hidden in your life right now. So take some time to think about who you’ve become over the years. What’s important to you? What do you love to do? What activity would you (or do you) do for free?

2. Lay out a plan for making them a reality.

This may take some time and energy, but you owe it to yourself (and your children and your spouse!) to put some thought into making this next phase of your life as rewarding as your child-rearing years have been. Ashley is taking classes so that when the kids leave home she can start a career as a counselor. Susan went back to school to learn massage therapy. Rebecca translated her love for cosmetics into a career as a Mary Kay rep. All are still available to their families. All continue to struggle to maintain good work-life balance. But all are negotiating this sometimes sad, sometimes surprisingly exciting time with optimism toward the future.

3. Step into it!

Remember, our goal is to raise independent kids who can manage their own lives, so if the kids don’t seem to need you any more, congratulate yourself on a job well done. But remain available for the times they stumble and need your help. And take a few steps toward making the rest of your life as rewarding and fulfilling as the last eighteen or so years have been!

So, what are your dreams for your empty(ing) nest years? What are you looking forward to getting into after the kids are out of the house?

 

Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Invest in your work

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Image: Some rights reserved by San José Library

By Chris Little

In my last two posts I wrote about adapting to the empty(ing) nest—how do you manage the transition from being a mother with kids at home to being a mother whose kids are off on their own? I suggested, first of all, taking some time to reconnect with yourself and your hopes and dreams after all those years of child-focused living. Then I suggested expanding your nest—broadening your circle of concern to include not only your immediate family but your local community, and investing in that community through volunteer work.

Now I want to think about investing more in your work. Many moms who step “off the merry go round” of full-time work remain connected to their careers through part-time, home-based, or freelance work. If you’ve scaled back your work for the kids, then as the kids move out of the house, now might be the time to pick things up again. Because even though we’ve loved being home with our kids, having work we love can be immensely rewarding and provides a sense of purpose for a lot of us, especially as we transition out of the intensely child-focused years.

I’m thinking of my friend Wendy, who had done project-oriented and volunteer work at our local arts council for years. As her kids got into middle school and high school, she stepped into a part-time position there. She’s still home when the kids are, and she’s involved in an organization she feels strongly committed to, so that as her kids move on out into the world, she’ll have a meaningful focus for her energy and talent.

And there’s my friend Karen, who loved working as a substitute teacher when her kids were young, so she decided to go for her teaching certificate while they were in high school. Now she’s starting a full-time teaching career as her youngest is beginning to look at colleges.

Here are three steps for investing in your work as the kids move out of the house:

1. Think about your work: Is it a good fit?

Do you love your work? Is it meaningful and exciting and a good use of your time and skills? In short, would you like to do more as your schedule opens up? Some women find that their interests have changed over the years they’ve been focusing on their families, and their old careers just don’t excite them anymore. But others can’t wait to dig a little deeper and commit themselves a little more. So take some time to think about whether your work is still meaningful to you, or whether you’d like to go off in a different direction (which I’ll write about in my next post!).

2. If it is, consider taking on a little more.

Talk with your supervisor to see if you can pick up more hours. If your work is freelance or home-based, look around for a few potential new clients you can approach. Take some people out to lunch. Do some work on a pro bono basis (that is, [volunteer]!) Tell your friends and colleagues you’re looking for a little more work. It may take awhile to get re-established, but that gives you time to slowly transition from being child-focused into a more work-centered life.

3. But don’t overcommit!

As you get more into your work, you might be tempted to overcommit. Be careful to maintain balance in your life. Although your kids might not show it, they still need you around, and you never know when they’ll want to talk. In fact, I know moms who chose to step off the merry-go-round during their kids’ high school years, so that they’ll be available for them after school, and for college visits, etc.

But inching your way back into the working world as your children begin leaving home can be rewarding for both you and the kids, and it can definitely smooth your transition into being the mother of daughters and sons who live outside the home.

So how about you? Do you do part-time, freelance, or home-based work in addition to parenting your kids? Do you love it? Are you thinking about investing more in your work as the kids leave home?

Coping with the empty(ing) nest: Expand your circle of concern

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Image by Klest, via Wikimedia Commons

by Chris Little

So, in my ongoing exploration of the transition years when the kids are getting older and leaving home, last time I wrote about the importance of looking within, of getting to know yourself again after what so many years of raising the kids, when our own concerns are often placed far into the background.

In this post I’d like to talk about another strategy for coping with this sometimes-painful transition: expanding your nest. When the kids were little, after I had stepped off the merry-go-round of my full-time career to devote my time to raising them, my focus was pretty much entirely on my family and my home—my nest. I stenciled walls, mixed up batches of homemade play-dough, baked bread, made scrapbooks, the works! Sure, I taught some Sunday school and helped out at the kids’ school, but for the most part, my focus was on my young family. Nothing wrong with that!

But I find that as the kids inch their way out of the house—they’re 15 and 18 now—I’m finding that I have a little more space in my life, a little more time and energy, and a little more interest in looking outward and broadening my circle of concern to include more of my community.

In a way, I’ve begun to think of my entire community as my nest. And it strikes me that getting more involved in my community through volunteer work might be a meaningful strategy for transitioning out of the child-rearing years into my life as a mom with children who are out in that world themselves, instead of living at home with me.

Doing meaningful volunteer work doesn’t pay, of course—but it’s work that our communities desperately need. And who is better positioned to do this work than those of us who aren’t tied down to full-time careers? What’s more, in addition to helping make our communities richer, healthier places, we’ll be setting a great example for our kids.

So here are three steps to keep in mind as you think about expanding your nest to include your community:

1. Take stock of your heart.

What do you love? What are you really good at? What excites and motivates you? How do you spend your free time? Focus your energy on these things, and volunteering will feel meaningful and rewarding. I know a mom who always loved to play tennis with her kids, so as they grew up and out of the house, she started a young peoples’ tennis league in town, and now she’s teaching kids of all ages to enjoy her favorite game.

2. Take stock of your community.

What’s going on in your community that interests or excites you? What’s not going on in your community that you would like to see happen? If you’re concerned about funding cuts to your kids’ schools, it might be meaningful for you to volunteer for the high school sports booster club. If you love to exercise, how about teaching a fitness class at the local YWCA?

3. Step into it! But strive for balance.

It might take a little courage to step into volunteering in your community, especially if you haven’t been involved previously. Start small, and be careful not to overcommit. And remember that the work you do, no matter how small it seems to you, makes your community worth living in—and worth coming home from college to visit! And I can only think it will make your own life richer and more rewarding too.

So I wonder, what volunteer work is meaningful to you? How do you find ways to engage meaningfully in your expanded nest?

Next time I’ll write about another strategy for adapting to your empty(ing) nest: Investing in your work.

Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years

Final school concerts, awards assemblies, graduation ceremonies… chances are your family calendar is dotted with these events over the next week or so (maybe longer, if you’re making up lots of snow days, ugh!). Along with these milestones and rites of passage, come lots of welcome changes but also bittersweet moments for us as parents. We thought it was the perfect time to revisit Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s blog post “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years.” Sniff….

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

If You Have to Say Goodbye

When you are only able to have one child (for whatever reason), simply put–you treasure him extra much. It’s not that I love my child more than anyone else loves theirs, it’s just that there is no little one coming behind him as a distraction from my sadness at seeing him grow up and move forward in his life. I think I just hold him a little tighter sometimes because of that.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

This fall is going to be so incredibly difficult for me because I do not want to let my “baby” go. Although I was able to stay home with him and have a lot of quality time together, I don’t think parents ever feel as though they have had enough time for that. And no matter how hard you try to slow time down, it still won’t stop.

Kalli Dakos’ “goodbye poems” can bring comfort to children and their parents during difficult times of loss and change. Still, I can’t freeze my son in time. This fall, he is beginning a Pre-K program at a private school where he will attend through 12th grade. Don’t get me wrong – we found an amazing school that incorporates all the educational and personal philosophies we want for our little boy. Once we looked at the benefits to our son having a whole-child education in a smaller classroom and campus environment, it was a no-brainer.

My son’s new school also offered a 5 full day summer camp program with different weekly themes. What a great way for him to adjust to his new school in such a fun way! Perhaps the fall, then, would be less of a shock. We chose two sessions separated by a week between. The beginning of the first week was somewhat hard for my son to acclimate to, especially the first day. He was in a new environment and experiencing a rather long day even though rest and quiet time was built in. After a couple of days, he adjusted fine yet every once in awhile he would fuss at morning drop off–wanting me to walk him to his group’s classroom meeting place instead of going through the carpool line.

I was so torn in these situations. I knew that having him become comfortable with this drop off routine would benefit him for the fall, yet he is still so young and I didn’t want to force him nor upset the start of his day. I decided to go easy and help him adjust slowly over a two week camp experience. After the two weeks we had an opportunity to enroll him in the final two weeks of camp, and he was very excited! He had done it. He had successfully adjusted, and enjoyed his time at camp and on the school campus! This Monday, drop off was a snap…for my son.

It was me who did not fair so well. Sigharen’t you going to miss me? Luckily my fellow blogger, Chris, wrote a wonderful piece on adjusting to the “emptying nest” and I found her tips applicable to my situation too. Her blog also offered fresh perspective on what these early years have really been about – and they weren’t always easy for sure!

Let me add a few suggestions for those of us sending young children off to Pre-K or kindergarten this fall. We can do this!

Saying “Goodbye” with Grace

* Pack plenty of tissues! Don’t leave home for that first day of school without them, or walk your child to the bus stop without a wad stuffed in your pocket.

* Try hard to wait to cry when your child is out of sight. This is something I likely will not achieve, yet it is a noble goal. I am pro showing-your-feelings-in-front-of your-children (within reason), yet at such a young age kids sometimes still confuse emotions. And, you really can’t explain “bittersweet” to them. The more cheerful, upbeat and excited you are, the more likely they will follow suit in their responses to going off to school.

* Establish sacred alone time. Carve out time for just you and your child amidst the busy school week in any way you can. Sneak in a moment of reading time cuddled up on the couch, sing songs while your child sits in the bathtub, listen to their school experiences while you’re cooking dinner. You don’t have to spend large blocks of time staring into your child’s eyes to have spent quality time together.

* Use weekends for “regrouping.” Spend some quality family time together – better if it doesn’t involve big plans or a lot of running around since the school week will have held plenty of that. Just be together.

* Make your child’s bedroom a haven. No matter how much money you have to spend on your child’s bedroom design, there are many things you can do inexpensively to keep their room current to their age-specific interests. It also doesn’t take a lot of effort to keep it organized and clutter-free. If your child has a clean, calm place to retreat to for quiet rest, reading and play he will know where he can go to relax and recharge his energy.

My son is relaxed and comfortable in "outer space!"

My son is relaxed and comfortable in “outer space!”

* Get involved in your child’s education. There are many ways to do this, even for busy working parents. If you can’t volunteer in your child’s classroom or serve on the PTA, you may be able to take off a day from work to go on a field trip or offer to prepare learning materials at home. You are supporting your child’s learning experience as you sit down together to review homework assignments and prepare for the next school day.

* No matter how many children you have…You’ll always be sad when they leave the “nest.” There are many phases of your child’s life. You will say goodbye to them all.

One morning, I went into my son’s room to make up his bed with clean sheets. As I smoothed out the covers and neatly arranged his soft pillows, I realized that although he seems to be growing up more every day he still needs me. And in one respect or another he always will. So I might be saying goodbye to my son’s “baby” years, yet he will always be my baby.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

What was it like for you saying goodbye to the baby years? Did you find some ways of coping that we can all benefit from? If so, please share them with our OTMGR community!

Texts and Technology are Great, but it’s the Hand-Written Word that Matters

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By Karen Hendricks

I miss my college freshman daughter every day, but our daily texts or comments on social media help to fill in the gaps. FaceTime has become an anticipated weekly tradition as well… except that the five of us still try to talk all at once and we have to learn how to pace ourselves and take turns with conversation!

As wonderful as technology is at helping us keep in touch despite the miles between us, I cherish the written word so much more. A few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a care package FROM my daughter. It was a belated birthday gift–a college sweatshirt that I wear with great pride! But even more valuable: A hand-written letter that my daughter took the time to write. Written in her sweet handwriting, almost a page long, the letter expresses not only birthday wishes but thankfulness. Here’s an excerpt:

I just want to let you know how much I love you and how much I appreciate everything you have done for me. I cannot explain how much your support… and our family means to me. I am so lucky and blessed by God to have you, Mom! 

Do tangible things like letters hold more meaning simply because you CAN hold them? Although I enjoy her daily texts, this letter was much more meaningful and touching.

I sent her a college care package recently and included something written as well. First, I have to say that I have an obsession with paint chip samples. Ok, so, with paint chips on the brain, I came up with the idea to put together a little flip book using the paint chips as pages, and writing inspirational sayings, mom-isms and memories on the pages. She likes to put calendars with inspirational sayings on her desk, so I could imagine her getting a “daily dose of mom” via my flip book.

Hopefully it gave her a tangible reminder of how much her mom loves her too!

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To make your own flip book, you simply need:

  • paint chip samples of the same size
  • a Sharpie for writing
  • a hole punch
  • a ribbon or a binder ring to hold the pages together

How do you keep in touch with your college-aged family members? Do you agree that the written word is more meaningful?

Click here for fellow blogger Chris Little’s series on “The Emptying Nest”

Left Behind: How to help younger sibs adjust when a big brother or sister heads to campus

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By Chris Little

Until now I’ve been focusing on how the emptying nest feels to the parents (okay, mostly the mothers) left behind. But I’d like to spend some time thinking about how it might feel to younger kids left at home when an older sibling heads off to college. I’ve been doing some reading and found a great article by Dr. Kathy Zamostny, a psychologist at the University of Maryland.

“When an older child leaves for college, it creates a hole in the family unit that presents both challenges and opportunities for those at home,” she writes. “On the one hand, younger siblings may experience a sense of loss when a close (or not so close) older sister or brother takes off for college that may be related to less support or companionship, or even a lower activity level with one less person in the home.”

That’s one thing: The house undeniably will be quieter. And with one less driver in the house, your younger kids might find themselves back on the school bus. What will that be like?

“A younger child’s role in the family may change with the absence of his big brother or big sister,” Zamostny continues. “For example, a second born child moves up to become the oldest, or perhaps an ‘only’ kid at home—which can have drawbacks and benefits. Some younger children may experience increased pressure when an older sib is no longer around to split the attention and scrutiny of parents or to buffer parental demands and reprimands.”

I’ve definitely heard from friends that the last one left at home can feel a little overwhelmed by all the parental attention! But there’s a flip side to that, too:

“Some younger siblings blossom socially when an older sibling leaves home, in part because there is more psychological space to grow and interact,” Zamostny writes. “Also, more physical space opens up—perhaps an extra bedroom that allows greater opportunities to entertain friends. In addition, the family car may become more available, time on the television or computer may be more abundant, and the house may feel more peaceful and quiet. An older child’s absence might also strengthen the bonds among younger sibs as they adjust to their shared loss by forging new relationships.”

The bottom line is, it might feel good and bad when an older sibling heads off to college—and it’s going to take some time to adjust. Here are a few suggestions to help ease the transition:

A-beautiful-hispanic-college-student-texting-on-her-cellphoneKeep them connected. Phone calls and emails are great for keeping your younger kids connected with your college kid. Skype is even better. I read about a pair of sisters who used to love to bake together. When one moved out of the house they continued the tradition, baking together over Skype with each in her own kitchen!

Plan a visit. Is your younger child old enough to spend a weekend at college her big sib?  Having some time together might help both kids adjust. Added benefit: Your younger child gets a chance to experience college life.

Keep up your traditions. Of course you’re going to save as many traditions as you can for when your college kid comes home—like maybe decorating the Christmas tree or baking holiday cookies, etc. But some traditions, like Sunday-night pizza or Monday-night football, should continue even in their absence. Life goes on, and when it does, that’s comforting to everyone.

Start new ones! This is also a good time to take up some new traditions. Did your eldest hate bike rides (or ice cream, or watching old movies) but your youngest always loved them? These differences in taste and personality point the way to new traditions—I think once my eldest is out of the house we’ll be eating a lot less ice cream but watching a lot more Glee!

Keep communication lines open at home. Many kids are missing their older siblings but don’t like to admit it. Checking in with your younger child from time to time, just to let her know you’re thinking about how she’s doing with the changes at home, can be reassuring. You might start this even before your college kid moves out—ask our younger child about her hopes and worries about this next stage.

Celebrate your team. Before and after your college kid heads to campus, make a point of celebrating your family unit. Does that sound hokey? It doesn’t have to be! Just try to notice—and share in a casual way—the times you’re especially enjoying the family-ness of your family. For me, it’s sitting around the dinner table long after dinner is over. I never want to be the first one to get up to clear the plates, and the kids roll their eyes when I bring a dish of cookies over—they know I’m trying to keep them there talking as long as I can! Celebrating your team will help your younger kids know that the family will continue even into September—and it’ll help your college kid know that as he sets off on his big new adventure, you’ve all got his back.

Keep your balance. As you adjust to there being one less place at the dinner table each night, you might find yourself leaning for emotional support on the kids still at home. Some of that is okay, but be careful about expecting them to carry too much of your emotional weight. Read here for some tips on keeping your inner balance so that you don’t push the kids off theirs.

I can see there’s no way around it: Having a child move off to college is going to change things at home—with an inevitable reshuffling of roles and family dynamics. It seems like the key is to pay attention to how that feels and be flexible, patient—and communicative—as you all adapt.

So of course I want to hear from parents who’ve already got a college kid out of the nest—how was it for the younger kids? How did you get through the change in a positive way? I’m eager for any tips I can find!