The Emptying Nest


Allergy season must have started early this year. Or maybe that’s not the real reason behind all of the red-eyed parents that I’ve seen recently. Yes, the red eyes are the symptom of a changing season...just a season of life, not the weather.

It’s a season of transition for many parents - the time when children are leaving for college.

We know it’s coming...but when the day actually arrives, wow. This child that we have loved, nurtured, protected, comforted, encouraged, discipled, disciplined and prayed for is leaving the nest. Yes, we want them to grow up and be healthy and strong and to fly. But how did this day get here so fast?

For moms, it often feels like downshifting a manual transition car straight from 4th gear to 1st gear, especially if it’s the last child to leave home. No matter how demanding and fulfilling a woman’s outside career, being a mom has been role #1 for almost two decades. Now what?

A few words of encouragement and advice for all of you dealing with an emptying nest:

  • Be thankful that your child is healthy and strong and able to take this next step toward adulthood. Imagine what the parents of a special needs child would give for the child they so dearly love to be able to take this step toward independence.
  • Please don’t put your child on a guilt trip as you say goodbye. They don’t need you to tell them how hard this transition is for you. That’s like putting a brick in their backpack as they head off to college. Trust me, your child knows it’s hard for you.
  • Remember that as terrifying as the letting go is for you, it’s even scarier for your child. Yes, they’re off to a new adventure. But they’re being thrown into a pool where everything is new and that water feels pretty cold! The “big man on campus” from high school is now just another freshman. First semester of freshman year is a challenging time for every student as they make new friends, navigate their way, and establish their identity in this new environment.
  • Give your child some space. With today’s technology, it’s tempting to have electronic apron keep texting or calling to check in and see how they’re doing. Part of showing your child that you believe in them is by not hovering. Let your child be the one to call or text you! 
  • Send some good old-fashioned mail. A great way to brighten your freshman’s day is by having something from home in their campus mailbox. Even sending something small like a Starbucks gift card will be greatly appreciated.
  • Pray without ceasing. As much as you love your child, their Heavenly Father loves them more. Tell God your fears and concerns, and the understandable grief you feel about your child leaving the nest. He knows. He cares. 

Forgive me if what I’m about to share sounds macabre. It’s a perspective that actually helped me...and hopefully, will help you. Nine years ago, as I drove back from leaving my daughter at college for the first time, I tried to absorb the reality of what was happening. I was now totally alone - having lost my husband and my parents over the previous two years. I desperately wanted to call one of them and share my emotions. I realized that I easily could succumb to “poor me.” But instead of choosing the path of self pity, I chose the path of gratitude. Gratitude that my daughter was alive! Gratitude that she was growing and blossoming! Gratitude that I could still hug her, talk to her, see her, encourage her. This goodbye was not a final one. It was a changing season. And my allergies did get better! Yours will too.