It’s that time of the year again. Drive any highway and you will see minivans and family SUV’s loaded up with XL twin sheets, mini refrigerators and free-flowing maternal angst. Yes, it’s time for college freshmen to head to school. I’ve done that trip three times, our nest getting a little emptier and a little quieter each time. While every family’s journey through this time is unique, I have learned there are three ways your life as an empty nester mirrors that of your college freshman.
You will have to embrace new things in order for this new chapter to be successful and fulfilling. Have you been pouring over those glossy brochures from State U, pointing out to your
eye-rolling attentive child all the opportunities to get involved? Have you been encouraging him to check out some clubs, go to the dorm mixer, and gently pointing out that coming home every weekend to visit the Home Town Honey (also known as the HTH) might not be a great idea? Well, take your own advice. In order to fill all those hours that you spent cheering from the sidelines, acting as a taxi service and a short-order cook, you need a new hobby, a distraction. Did you let some passion fade into the background while you were raising a family? Have you thought about volunteering at church or in your community “if only I had the time”? One activity I took up was bridge, which didn’t make me less of a geek, but it got me out of the house and introduced me to a whole new group of (equally geeky) friends. Just as your college student will grow by engaging with new people from all over the country and from different backgrounds, you, too, will benefit by getting out of your social rut. My new friends (and those “pre-kid” friends I finally have time for) are in different seasons of life than I and don’t know me primarily as a mom. How freeing to be Susan 2.0, all the better for my motherhood experience, but not defined by it. And speaking of freeing . . .
You will be a little flummoxed by your new-found freedom. In the wee hours of the morning one day soon after school starts, your little darling will look around the library where she’s been studying (or, more likely, the fraternity basement where she’s been drinking) and realize she doesn’t have a curfew. She doesn’t have to text you to tell you when she will be home. She will be thrilled and a little unnerved at the same time. And likewise, there will come a day (at a MUCH earlier hour) when you realize you don’t have to make dinner if you don’t want to. You don’t have to go to another parent-teacher conference. There is no one to pick up or drop off. So embrace this sometimes-disconcerting new freedom as a gift for all the years of selflessly giving to your kids. Go to a movie on a Tuesday night. Much giddiness will ensue, I promise you.
In moving forward, you will have to leave things behind (but not necessarily get rid of them entirely). She might want to leave her special stuffed bear on her bed at home, to seem grown up to her college friends. He might need to take a break from the HTH in order to grow up a bit and be ready for a more mature relationship. They will have to make hard decisions about which old interests will have to give way for new intellectual and social pursuits. While you might be staying in familiar surroundings, you will have to give up daily interaction with your baby and yes, it might be tough at first. You’d think we parents would be good at giving things up by now. We gave up feeding, bathing and carrying them as they grew, we gave up use of the car when they turned sixteen and we gave up a good portion of our sanity in the high school years. Yes, giving up being tangibly needed on a daily basis, especially for moms, is even harder than making it through prom night. But when we give up our need to be needed, we give our kids the gift of self-determination and the confidence to navigate the world on their own.
So congratulations on a job well done! Be excited for your kiddo, but be excited for you, too. Because, while you might not be the one moving into that dorm room, you, too, have a new future. Fill it with new experiences and old friends. And if that need to be needed keeps nagging at you? Nothing some good works and charity won’t fix! Oh, the places you’ll go!
Dear Heavenly Father, please grant to all those young people leaving the family home this season the wisdom and grace to embrace new experiences while not forgetting the important lessons from their past. Keep them close to You and keep them safe as they journey away from home. Grant we, their parents, the wisdom and grace to joyfully give our children wings and to embrace our new season of life with that same joy.