She’s leaving home

My oldest daughter is flying the nest and I’m already in tears about it.

Our elder has some strategies for dealing with the empty nest — and technology has a big part to play.

Dear EWC

My oldest daughter is about to turn 19 next month. She is currently traveling overseas for six weeks with her girlfriends. She will be coming home the last week of August. But then, in September, I am flying with her to Greece where she will be studying abroad. I already find myself in tears missing her. My heart literally aches. I am happy she has these opportunities, but it seems like she was just a baby yesterday. I know I cannot keep her at home forever. I am just concerned because just the past few weeks have been so difficult without her. I have no idea how I am going to get on an airplane in Greece and leave her there. We won’t see her again until Christmas break. I do have two more daughters. One is a senior in high school, so she will be leaving next year too — hopefully, she will choose a university closer to home. Then my youngest will be a sophomore in high school this year. I am divorced, so I don’t have a partner to share this emotion with. I don’t want my kids to see me crying all the time, and I certainly don’t want them to think I am not excited about this next season of their lives. It is so hard to let go. I miss my daughter, I miss having a house full of her friends, and everything is just too quiet. How do you cope with kids leaving home? Will this heartache get easier with time? How do I keep my tears to a minimum? Any advice is welcomed and appreciated.

William replies

Your situation is far from unique. I am the parent of four adult children, and I went through what you are anticipating several times. My wife and I are still together, so you have it worse in that you don’t have the proverbial shoulder to cry on. However, the problem is similar, and empty nest syndrome is something we all dread, and yet we all seem to have to go through. It’s not easy, and I’m not going to tell you it is. We can mitigate our loneliness somewhat, and I have some ideas that might help.

First, in this day of high-speed communications that cost next to nothing, you can keep in contact. I have two of my adult children living 4,000 miles away, so it’s not practical to see them often. The first thing I do every morning is take a picture of something in the house or the yard, it doesn’t matter what. Then I sent it to them via text message with a “Good morning.” Three to four hours later, I get a “Good morning” back. This has been going on for over five years without missing a single day! A third one lives ten minutes away, and he’s joined the morning texting routine. We’re on year two. Could you get your daughter to agree to do something similar? At 19, kids understand empty nest syndrome, and they will often go out of their way to minimize the way you feel. This is especially more so if you’ve had a close relationship as you strongly imply in your letter.

The next thing is video conferencing. You can easily set up a monthly schedule where you have “face-to-face” talks on a tablet, smartphone, or computer. The major IT vendors have packages like Skype and Facetime that do this seamlessly, to mention a couple. No doubt there are other ones. It’s something to look forward to. I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s the same as having them there to hug and talk to for hours, but it helps. Maybe the daily “Good mornings” won’t work in your case. If not, perhaps once a week. Doing something like this creates a situation where you transition to the reality of them being away slowly. Technology is your friend. Remember when we were young adults, all we had was the postal system. Our parents had to adjust to a written letter once every few months if they got that. That’s the number one thing I recommend. Technology and a promise to use it on a regular schedule.

The next thing is to understand this is one of three. The first is always the hardest. Use technology to keep in contact with your daughter in Greece. You say you’ll be flying there with her to drop her off, and coming home will be difficult. It will be, but your two younger ones need you as a mom back in the States. Also, it will be only four months to Christmas. That’s something to look forward to. We did this sort of thing with our oldest for a few years, but now he’s married with children, and often we go several years without a visit. That’s life. They grow up too fast.

We did, as well. Recall the excitement you felt when you finally got out on your own? We can’t deny that to our adult children. And, you still will have the other two daughters for a long time. I know I’m regurgitating much of what you already know, but it’s a reality and the cycle of life. We all go through it. Sometimes having a stranger (like me) tell you the obvious helps a bit.

That’s the “way it is” portion of my response. Now, let’s look at the positives. I know you don’t see any! They exist. While you still have your two younger daughters, you should have a bit more spare time. Start to do a few of the things you had to give up being a full-time parent. There must be a hobby or activity you couldn’t do being a single mom with three teenagers around. Not a big thing like traveling to see the rest of the world, but one or two little things you simply couldn’t do. I have no idea what they might be but dedicate an hour a day (or a couple of hours a week) to do something you’d enjoy. It could literally be anything you put aside for the past 19 years.

The other thing that comes to mind is Greece. I have never been there, but I understand it’s a great place that’s rich in history. I don’t know if you can afford it, if you have the time, or if you could leave your two youngest daughters alone for a couple of weeks, but is it possible to spend a couple of weeks in Greece? Either when you are there in September, or perhaps in February/March —a couple of months after your daughter returns after the Christmas holidays? I did something like that with my eldest son, although it was within the country. If you do, be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll “wear out your welcome.” I think I did, so it’s a matter of balance.

I think we also have to slowly understand that we are transitioning to a new phase of our lives. It’s not the end. Sooner or later they all leave, and that’s a huge adjustment. By slowly starting to pick up new interests now, you won’t be 100 percent alone staring at the walls when the youngest daughter follows in her sister’s footsteps. It’s a long way off, but by starting to develop the transition mindset (and compensating slowly) now, it makes it easier when the time comes.

The last thing I do many days (still) is to think back to when I left home, and how much it must have affected my parents. They never showed it, but I have to assume they went through what I did (and continue to do.) I don’t know if reminiscing about the past is that useful or not. Psychologists say depression comes from the past and anxiety from the future, so one has to be careful not to let either one get out of hand.
I hope this helped a little. Take care!

Letter #: 444819
Category: Children

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