Dorm move-in day is fraught with emotions for everyone involved. From the weepy mom who can't believe her baby has grown up to be this person to the little brother who fears becoming the focus of his parents undivided attention, the family unit will be forever altered in obvious and less obtrusive ways. While parents may be tempted to linger as their new freshman gets settled in and starts to explore this thing called college, it's best that they say a quick farewell and head out of the dorm.
It won't be easy but it will be better for everyone.
After leaving, what should parents do next? Heading home is a good start, of course - but there are things to do to make the transition to one less child at home a lot easier - for them and for their college novice.
Plan a getaway. If you are new empty nesters, a brief weekend away from home is a wonderful idea. You may not realize the extent to which you've been anxious, stressed or emotionally drained over the past few months, and a couple of days of rest and relaxation are a great way to decompress from the turmoil that you may have been through getting your child ready to leave for college. If you still have children at home, find a friend or relative for them to stay with for a night or two.
Throw a party. If there was ever a time to celebrate, it's the start of a new chapter in your life. Gather your closest friends and family and spend an evening talking about everything and anything - except your college kids.
Make an effort to find topics completely unrelated to parenting to focus on. Have a game night, if you enjoy playing games.
Take a class. It may sound trite and obvious, but now really is the time to think about yourself as more than a parent. Finding something new and interesting to focus on is the best way to get over the empty nest (or empty kid's room) blues.
If you're not sure what you want to learn about, think back to what you enjoyed doing when you were a child. Painting, sports, play-acting...any of these and other interests can spark excitement and motivation.
Watch TV during dinner. Sometimes rules are made to be broken. If you and your spouse are finding dinner for two every evening a little daunting, watch the news together. It will create conversation between you and give you something to talk about besides the person or people missing from the table. If you are a single parent, make plans with friends a few evenings a week - or skip dinner all together and go to the gym or happy hour.
Discover your neighborhood - not as a parent. Investigate what's around you that has nothing to do with children. Check out the local sports bar, yoga class, kitchen supply store...even the library. Look at your community through the eyes of a person not taking children from one place to another, but as a person with time to linger and explore.
Clean out the garage. Perhaps this doesn't sound fun, but it will be very productive. You will certainly find dozens of balls that are no longer bouncy and plenty of shoes without a mate. Sweep, wipe, vacuum and dust, and you'll be surprised at how welcoming your garage can feel.
Plant a garden. Or plan one. "Cultivate your garden," said Voltaire, and he was right. Whether an actual plot of land or a few herbs in your kitchen, growing things will give you something to care for and tend to.
Get a pet. If you haven't had a pet before, this is a wonderful time to get one. Visit a local shelter to find a dog or cat that needs a home, and you'll be amazed at how much your new pet will love you - and how much you will love it. If a dog or cat sounds like too much work, try a few tropical fish in a tank.
Sleep in on the weekend. With no one to take care of and no children's events to attend, weekends can be a wide open space of not a lot of activity. Some people like it, but others don't. Stay up late and watch a movie or a marathon of your favorite sitcom on Netflix, then sleep until ten a.m. You probably haven't done that since you were in college!