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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!

 

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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?

Home is Not a Place: Strategies for Staying in Touch with Your College Student

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By Chris Little

Sleepaway camp. College. Junior year abroad. A post-graduate fellowship in Europe. A job transfer to another coast. As our kids grow up, they increasingly will find themselves presented with opportunities to do things far from home. If they take those opportunities, we should rejoice! And pat ourselves on the back for raising kids with the self-assurance to explore the world far from their hometown.

And of course, we may mourn just a little bit. We also may secretly hope they’ll change their minds and come right on back home! I’m here to tell you that it’s perfectly fine to have those feelings—just not to share them with the kids!

It’s 95 days to First-Year Move-In Day at my son’s university. So naturally I’ve been remembering that first day of kindergarten, when his teacher literally had to peel him off me (both of us sobbing). I’m fairly confident we won’t see a replay of that drama come August, but still, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what his leaving will mean to our family. How will we maintain that sense of family-ness that provides the foundation for our lives—or at least my life (I realize the kids may not feel quite the same …).

It’s done me good to keep in mind that just because my son will be off at college, he’ll still be part of the family. Because our home is not a place. I like to think that we can be connected no matter how far from the kitchen table we may roam. Nice as that may sound (or awful, depending on how well you get along with your family), it seems to me that it will be comforting to have some strategies planned for making those connections felt, especially when my family is far flung. So I’ve been picking the brains of folks whose kids are older than mine for ideas for staying connected (but not too connected). Here’s what I’ve learned:

4729801304_d50a7c1dae_bConstant Contact?

Okay not constant contact, but surely regular contact. I’ve heard over and over again that it’s important to let your college kid take the lead regarding how often—and by what means—you keep in touch. (Within reason, of course—it seems appropriate to request at least a weekly check-in!)

That said, there’s still plenty of room for creativity. For example, if you think your kid would enjoy them, send photos and videos as attachments to your texts and emails. If your family is like mine and you love watching goofy YouTube videos after dinner, send a few of your latest favorites to your college kid.

But keep in mind that there is definitely such a thing as too much contact. FaceBook and Twitter seem like a great way to keep in touch—but this strategy has a double edge, as any parent who’s winced at her son’s or daughter’s late-night posts can tell you. In fact I’m considering not following my kid on Facebook or Twitter … until the grandchildren arrive.

LARGE-FRB-01-main-900x695A Little Touch of Home

Everyone loves getting real live mail—especially if it’s a care package from home. These days you can buy a prepaid Priority Mail shipping box at the post office and send anything that’ll fit inside for the same flat rate. I’m going to stock up on a few boxes to have around when inspiration—or a tough exam week—strikes. Here are some ideas for filling that box that I’ve picked up from friends with kids away:

  • Favorite home-baked (or store-bought) goodies—include enough to share with roommates!
  • Gift cards to local restaurants and shops.
  • A few of your kid’s favorite childhood toys—Play-Doh and Tinker Toys could be a lot of fun in the hands of some creative college kids, don’t you think?
  • If your kid needs downtime, how about a couple copies of her favorite magazines, or a Netflix membership?

Other ideas:

Don’t forget greeting cards and letters. When I went off to school my little sister sent me all kinds of greeting cards—Congratulations on Your Retirement cards, Bridal Shower cards, Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary cards—just for fun and so I’d have something in my mailbox. I loved it. Also it kept my roommates wondering …

Make a local delivery. When I was a freshman and away from home for my birthday for the first time, my family called a local bakery and had a birthday cake delivered to my dorm room. Great birthday surprise! It might take a little research, but you can probably find a bakery or pastry shop that provides a similar service in your kid’s college town.

Face Time

Sometimes the best care package there is, is you. Just ask first to find out when is a good weekend. Take your college kid and her roommates out to dinner someplace nice, see if she needs anything from the local Target. But respect her space and her privacy—there’s no need to hang out in her dorm room, and don’t expect to dominate her free time for the entire weekend.

What else?

These are some ideas I’ve picked up as I prepare to watch my first-born leave the nest. What strategies have worked for you to stay connected to your fledglings? What lessons have you learned that we should keep in mind?

Images: Some rights reserved by Sam WolffKeith Williamson, and the U.S. Postal Service.

The Senior Year, The College Search… and Tissues

By Karen Hendricks

First day of school, senior year, my daughter holds a photo of her first day of kindergarten...

First day of school, senior year, my daughter holds a photo of her first day of kindergarten…

The past year has been a wonderful, emotional roller coaster of a ride. It’s my oldest daughter’s senior year in high school, so the past few months have been a blur of college applications and visits, special moments like homecoming, decisions, excitement, anxiety and plenty of tissues (for me).

It seems like yesterday that she was a pint-sized ballerina beginning ballet classes at the age of 3. Her love of dance has always been obvious, as much a part of her personality as her sweet, caring nature. I tell people all the time that I don’t know which she did first—walked or danced. Today, on the brink of her college years, dance is a natural career choice for her—it’s what she’s always dreamed about doing. And it’s made the college search all the more challenging. More on that, in a moment…

As parents, we prepare our children for lots of milestones through the years, but preparing them (and ourselves!) for the college years takes parenting to a whole new level. It’s excitement and exhaustion, encouragement and heart-break, all rolled into one experience. Which college is right for my daughter? What if she loves a college that we can’t afford? What if she’s not accepted to her top choice? We faced all of those questions during the past year… But the actual search was made a bit easier thanks to lots of helpful advice from moms who had been through the college process before:

  • Most college applications are due around the holidays, but encourage your son/daughter to complete them as soon as possible, through the fall season. You’ll receive acceptance/rejection letters earlier (at least you know where you stand), it opens more opportunities for scholarships, and the holidays will be more enjoyable.
  • Visit colleges during the school year to get the true feeling of each campus while classes are in session.
  • Take pictures because after you see several colleges, you’ll forget exactly what each one looked like. (Although at one of the colleges we visited, photos were not allowed while on tour.)
  • While it’s great to talk with admissions counselors, it’s even more helpful to talk to current students. Ask them the “real” questions such as “What are the dorms like?” and “How’s the food?” They will give you the honest truth.

Choosing to major in the arts, however, results in a college application process unlike any other. Whether it’s dance, theater or visual art, either an audition or portfolio of work is needed in addition to the standard academic application. Did I mention, it’s extremely competitive? And often subjective? We learned that most colleges see about 300-400 potential dance majors through the audition process, but only 50-60 are accepted, and with some students ultimately selecting other colleges, a freshman class of 25-30 is the end result. Armed with those cold, hard facts, we guided our daughter through the application and audition process at nine colleges. Most dance auditions span 3-5 hours, and although sometimes nerve-wracking for both students and parents, they’re actually great opportunities for the students to work under the actual dance professors to see if their teaching styles and programs are a good fit. We mapped out the audition dates on our calendar, beginning in October and ending in March. I give all credit to my daughter who was very organized, prioritized which college auditions to attend when they fell on the same dates and then registered for all of her audition dates. It actually was an amazing mother-daughter experience, a team effort. She focused on dancing her best; I focused on driving (or purchasing the correct train tickets) and learning as much as I could about each college and dance program.

Earlier this week, May 1, was the national date for college decisions. Thankfully, my daughter made her choice a few weeks earlier. After the dust settled from all of her auditions, she was accepted at three of the nine colleges to which she applied and auditioned—and I’m told 33% is a good percentage! Sadly, she was not accepted by her top college choice and that presented a heart-breaking impasse for a few weeks in February. But, she made an excellent final decision that we as parents support, that puts her right in the heart of the dance world in New York City. Attending college in the Big Apple presents its own share of questions and worries, but I also know it’s the best decision for her future.

This journey has led me to draw a few conclusions and (hopefully helpful) advice to other parents:

  • Enjoy and savor every moment of your child’s senior year because it probably goes by quicker than any other school year.
  • Take time to talk with your teen about college and career choices during the summer before their senior year, if not earlier. Once senior year begins, it’s hard to find the time to truly evaluate these life-changing decisions. Uplift and encourage your teen as much as possible. Believe in his/her abilities and talents.
  • We learned the most about those colleges we visited during fall open houses, but unfortunately a lot of them fall on the same dates. Prioritize and try to attend your top one or two college choices.
  • Don’t let the bottom line be a deterrent. Private colleges often offer more grant or scholarship money than public universities, which ultimately can result in similar prices.
  • Shut out any sources of negative energy and focus on what’s best for your teen. This can be very difficult and painful, especially when unsupportive comments come from family members or friends. Whether it’s a college or career choice, I feel that unsupportive comments are a result of two things primarily: that person’s own expectations projected onto your teen, or simply jealousy. I lost a girlfriend who didn’t understand the rigors of the college application and audition process and actually became upset because I wasn’t available to participate fully in a soccer carpool for our younger daughters. Looking back, I can see signs of jealousy in her actions. My fellow Off the Merry-Go-Round writer Jennifer previously wrote about the importance of letting go of “toxic relationships” and this is one situation that fits the bill.
  • In a similar vein, be prepared to handle attitudes or misconceptions about your teen’s career choice. Just because children enjoy the arts, does not mean the family is snobby or stuck-up. We are as “normal” as anyone else! Similarly, I see other teens and family friends battling other stereotypes: College athletes are not necessarily at the bottom of the academic ladder, for example. For that matter, teens who choose not to go to college should feel secure in their decisions to pursue trades or employment directly after high school–and not looked down upon. I wish we were all more supportive of one another, especially our youth.
  • There’s a wonderful opportunity for your teen to show grace and feel community support. Thankfully, overall, our family has received only a handful of negative comments, while the vast majority are warm and positive. For weeks, it seemed like we couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone congratulating our daughter. The entire family has been overwhelmed and thankful for the community support.

Although my daughter has chosen a competitive career path, I also see her drive, dedication and passion for her career choice… all the ingredients for success and happiness. The main reason I will need lots of tissues over the next few months? Because my tears are tears of joy…

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?