Home Alone: When the Kids Leave For College by Melissa T. Shultz, author, From Mom to Me Again (Book Excerpt & Giveaway)

Kids move out emotionally at least a year before they do physi­cally. And it’s important to remember that it’s mostly a one-sided thing—we’re the ones who are left behind with memories of them in every corner. As far as leaving us is concerned, in their minds, we’re always here—they know where to find us. Drop-off stories run the gamut—with my oldest son, I made the mistake of turning around and looking back when we said good-bye. I do not advise this.

Broadcast journalist and mom of three Jane Pauley was surprised to find that taking her twin son and daughter to college was differ­ent than she expected. “It was an adventure we shared right up to the moment it was clear that my part of the adventure stopped and theirs kept going. We deposited our son first and his twin sister a week later. I was obsessed with organizing his stuff. My son’s T-shirts were left folded and organized by prints and solids and color. I’d never done this at home. I was under his desk untangling electronic cords and attaching twist ties to keep them neat when I sensed he and his new roommate silently agreed the time had come for Mom to go! It was so obvious the kids were eager for us to leave, I left without anxiety. My daughter started college a week later. I made her bed while the dads were fumbling with shelves and technol­ogy. She was very sweet about holding my hand (in public) as she walked me to the car! She’d told me something a year before that she’d learned in high school psychology: ‘The empty-nest syndrome lasts about a week.’ We still had their little brother and his friends at home, so it was not exactly an empty nest yet. Still, it was a lot easier than it was made out to be.”

Georgette Adrienne Lopez, mother of twin sons and a lawyer and producer who works in the television industry, had just finished moving the second of her boys into his freshman dorm when she began to drive away. As she looked into her rearview mirror, she saw him waving good-bye, teary-eyed and holding a small box containing some of his things from home. For Lopez, a divorcée who took care of most of her sons’ upbringing, seeing him stand­ing there, his image getting smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether, unleashed a flood of emotions. “That was it,” she says. “I was a hot mess.”

Up until that moment, Lopez had considered herself an optimist, even after she lost her full-time job several years before. “I figured if I just kept going, I didn’t have to focus on it.” As the reality of the looming empty nest began to set in, Lopez knew that she needed to face some truths—chiefly, that she had been “faking the funk” for many years, and that for herself and her sons, she needed to focus on the open road that lay ahead.

Beverly Beckham, mom of three and Boston Globe correspon­dent whose popular essay “I Was the Sun, and the Kids Were My Planets” has run every year since it was first published in August 2006, says she and her husband, along with their oldest daughter, who had already graduated from college, drove their youngest to school for her freshman year. When they arrived, there were signs on the RA’s door for free condoms, and then she witnessed a drug deal before having to leave her daughter in her dorm. “I cried all the way home,” she says. “My twenty-three-year-old daughter was in the back seat pretending to be a princess kidnapped by deranged people—she was trying to make me laugh.” Beckham says it seems like she must have cried for weeks, and then one day, her daughter called and told her how unhappy she was at school, and everything changed. “I wanted her to be okay,” says Beckham.

Over time and with lots of conversation, they both adjusted to their new lives. At some point, she says, “You finally just get it, and then, that all ends.”

When the reality that your eighteen years of active parenting are up, take a breath and the advice of child, adolescent, and family psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein: “Remind yourself of all the things you’ve done to prepare your teen for this big day and that it is part of life and needs to happen. Although it may feel sad, it’s important that your child move into the world.” What kids need now is not instructions about how to do everything right but the resourcefulness and resilience to cope with things when they go wrong. And that includes having parents to call on when they need advice.

This article was excerpted and adapted from the book: From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life by Melissa T. Shultz

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