Guest columnist Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three. She primarily writes about parenting, family life and teen issues. Her work has appeared in many online and print publications including Teen Life, Your Teen, Scary Mommy, SheKnows and Grown and Flown.
The months leading up to high school graduation can be a bittersweet time for parents whose children are heading off to college in the fall.
There is much excitement with college acceptance letters, proms, graduations and parties. But parents can also be filled with sadness at the thought of their child leaving home and that chapter of their family life coming to a close.
What can parents do to make separating from their student easier?
Start planning - In an interview last May with Entertainment Tonight, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about her daughters growing up and said, "We're the last people our kids want to be with. I think they're conditioning us for that empty nest syndrome, but we're not relishing that at all. We don't know what we're going to do. I got to get him some more hobbies."
Mrs. Obama has the right idea. With several months to go before your student leaves, now is a great time to start thinking about the future. Are there any hobbies that you stopped pursuing because you had no time due to daily parenting responsibilities?
Or maybe there is a new hobby you always wanted to try or a work opportunity that you didn’t follow up on.
From learning how to play golf or taking a course at a local college or joining a reading club, begin thinking about ways you would like to spend your newfound free time.
Cultivate relationships - Your student is leaving, but there are many other people that will still be physically present in your life.
Enjoy more quality time with your spouse or other loved ones.
If you have younger children, this is a chance to spend more one on one time with them. Re-connect with friends you haven’t spent time with and/or join activities where you can meet new people that share common interests with you.
Let go - Remember, even if they don’t say so, separating from parents can be hard on teens. High school seniors may begin to distance themselves from their parents and become more independent. They may be rude or not as communicative. This is age appropriate behavior so try not to take it personally. Give your student a reasonable amount of space but still enforce house rules, especially regarding safety.
Acknowledge your mixed emotions - As a child’s college departure gets closer, parents may be faced with a wide range of emotions. Pride and excitement are common but so are sadness, anxiety and sometimes depression. It can make parents feel old to have a child in college.
In fact, they may feel envious of their college bound child who is just beginning an independent life.
Understand that having mixed emotions at this time is normal. College is a big milestone and having a child leave home does change the family dynamic.
Acknowledge your feelings and don’t be afraid to share them with your spouse, peers or a therapist.
Embrace the time together - Remember, leaving for college is not forever. Your student will be home from college for holidays and school breaks. You can text, call and Skype with them when at school.
In the meantime, avoid spending the next few months just worrying about how you will feel when your student leaves home. Instead, focus on enjoying the next few months together. It took a lot to get your child to this point. Celebrate his accomplishments and yours as a parent. Be mindful and present throughout this special time in your child’s life.
Spend time getting your student ready for school, but don’t make college the only topic of conversation between you and your child. He may want to relax and not constantly be reminded that he is leaving home in a few weeks.
Do some fun activities together over the summer. Make a point of having family dinners, game nights or watching movies together. If you have the time and the finances, plan a vacation for the whole family. Or do something special, just the two of you, even it just for an afternoon.