After months of preparation including a sea of college visits, the seemingly never-ending application process, helping my daughter buy everything she needed for her dorm room and finally helping her settle into her dorm, the time had arrived – it was time to say goodbye.
We had spent the better part of the day unpacking boxes, hanging posters, organizing her clothes and making her dorm feel as much like home as possible.
“Mom, do you like this poster here or there?” “I’m not sure if I should hang my string lights over my bed or my window, what do you think?” “I think I brought too many shoes, I don’t have enough room for them all!”
The day was filled with excitement and laughter and, as I watched my daughter eagerly open each box and pull out all of the new bedding and accessories she had so painstakingly chosen for her dorm, I could see the anticipation in her eyes. She was ready. Seeing my girl so ready, so excited and so eager to start this new chapter in her life, brought me more comfort than I could have ever imagined.
Still, as ready as she was to embark on her new journey, we both knew she wasn’t quite as ready to say goodbye. And, neither was I.
We tried to keep it together. We tried to smile. We even tried to convince one another that everything would be okay. And, even though deep down inside we both knew it really would be okay, we still found ourselves fighting back the tears as we mustered up the courage to go our separate ways.
When I gave my girl that final, long hug and tearfully waved goodbye as I slowly made my way down the dorm hall, the swirl of emotion that came over me was dizzying. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I tried to convince myself that this was a good thing, that it was time to let go, that she was ready and that I had prepared my girl well. I mean, this is what’s supposed to happen, this is how it’s supposed to be…
When I returned home, I felt numb. It was as if every sense of normalcy in my life had slipped through my fingers. Nothing was the same.
From the number of items in my cart at the grocery store and the diminished pile of dirty clothes in the hamper to her clean, empty room and the noticeable void of activity and noise in the house – everywhere I turned was a constant and painful reminder that life as I knew it was never going to be the same. I did my best to prepare. I always knew it would be hard. But the truth is, I never realized it would be this hard.
The emptiness and loss you may be feeling since your child left for college is not only very real, it’s far more common than you might think. Finding a new sense of normalcy in your life can be a slow process that takes time. From a mom who’s lived through it and understands exactly how you feel, here are a few things you can do to ease the sense of loss and help you find your stride.
Give Yourself the Freedom to Grieve
When people think of grief they typically associate it with the death of a loved one, but grief comes in many forms. People can feel grief as a result of separation, the end of a time in their lives, or even profound change. This is a time in your life when you should allow yourself to “feel and grieve.” Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remind yourself that this is a process led by your heart – when you’re ready to embrace this change in your life, you will.
Focus on Your Other Children Still Living at Home
The year leading up to a child leaving for college is filled with paperwork, never-ending college discussions, college visits and sometimes, with anxiety typically at a high, a fair amount of arguing. Now is a good time to redirect your attention to your other children who may have been temporarily placed on the sidelines. It won’t be long before they head off to college too, so relish in the time you have with them.
Lean on Friends Who Can Relate
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Even if parents don’t discuss it openly, many are feeling the same sense of loss and loneliness that you are. Take the time to open up to friends who can relate to what you’re feeling and experiencing. Having someone to talk with who understands, first-hand, the immense changes you’re going through in your life will bring you comfort and help you begin to accept and embrace the positive side of change.
Find a Creative Outlet
If you’re like most parents, you’ve been so busy “parenting” that the idea of taking up a hobby or finding a creative outlet just hasn’t been on the top of your priority list. However, now that you have a little more time on your hands, maybe it’s time to begin thinking about what you want. What makes you happy? What brings you comfort? What brings you peace? For some, it might be scrapbooking, cooking, writing or painting. For others, it could be volunteering, learning photography, gardening or redecorating your home. The idea here is to engage in an activity that brings you a sense of fulfillment and joy.
Sometimes the best way to take your mind off of something you’re struggling with is to get busy. So, go ahead, make plans! Plan a weekend with your girlfriends, invite friends over for a movie night or barbecue, plan an evening at the theater or take time to enjoy a local festival. Use this time to reconnect with your spouse (since raising teens can sometimes put the kibosh on couple time) and enjoy a glass of wine and appetizers at a local restaurant or take a stroll through the park. Keeping your calendar full of fun things you can look forward to will help you get through those tough days.
Focus on Your Health
It may sound cliché’ – after all, it seems everywhere you turn the absolute cure-all for anything going wrong in your life is to exercise and eat healthy. Face it, who wants to spend time at the gym running on a treadmill when you’re feeling so down? A big package of Oreo cookies and a comfy couch has a much better ring to it.
However, if there’s ever a time for you to get moving, now is the time. Not only will you begin to feel better once you look in the mirror and begin to the see the positive changes in your body and in your health, it’s been proven that regular exercise can work just as well as medication for some people suffering from anxiety and depression.
Spend Time Outdoors
When you’re feeling low there’s nothing more comforting than being in your own home, in your own bed with all your own things surrounding you. But, sometimes, too much of a good thing is just plain bad. You need to break free from the confines of your walls and get outside. Start walking with a friend, take up golf, venture off on a hiking trail or go on a bike ride. The fresh air will do you a world of good and you’ll feel better about yourself to boot.
Take a Get-A-Way Trip
Sometimes a change of scenery is the absolute best medicine to offer a fresh perspective. A weekend trip to the beach, a few days in a little cottage tucked in the woods to relish the crisp fall air, or a fancy get-a-way to your dream spot will give you the much-needed time to digress from daily life and perhaps begin to embrace the positive aspects of this change in your life.
Go Back to Work
For years on end, you’ve dedicated nearly every waking moment to your kids. And, now that they’ve started a new, exciting chapter in their lives, perhaps it’s time for you to begin a new, exciting chapter as well. Whether your first and only child headed off to college or perhaps you just dropped off your last, now might be a good time to get into the groove of working again, (not that you haven’t been working your tail off for the last 18 years). Maybe you’d like to revisit the career you left behind years ago or find a new job that interests you – working is a great way to help you get a new lease on life, give you something productive to do with your days and, let’s not forget, the extra pay sure would be nice now that you’re shoveling money out the door for college expenses.
Find Ways to Stay Connected to Your Child
As difficult as it is to believe, you will eventually adjust to not seeing or interacting with your child on a daily basis. And, one of the best ways to help you through this adjustment phase is to stay as connected as possible to your child.
Whether you chat with them between classes once a day or plan a phone call once a week when college life isn’t quite so hectic, keep it light and on their terms. Remember, the last thing they need now is having the added stress of knowing you’re struggling and feeling depressed at home. Another great way to feel and stay connected to your child is by sending fun care packages. You’ll have fun shopping for them and they’ll absolutely flip (trust me on this one) when they receive their care package filled with goodies from home.
Sending a child off to college is bittersweet – on one hand, you’re proud and excited that your child is embarking on this new and exciting venture in their life, however, on the other hand, the thought of losing that day-to-day interaction and involvement in their life is unsettling. Most parents don’t understand the whirl of emotion until they’ve been through it and many who have experienced it simply don’t expect to feel the profound sense of loss that they do.
The important thing is to take a moment for yourself and work through the transition at your own pace. It might take some time, but by finding fulfillment in other areas of your life, you’ll soon begin to settle in and eventually embrace this new phase of your life.
Words of Wisdom:
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan watts