It’s that time of year when thousands of parents send their children off to college for the first time, get them settled into their freshman dorm, wave goodbye and then…yes that is the big question mark isn’t it. What now?
You’ve done your job (and obviously well!) to raise a child who is fully capable of moving on to the next step. They’re ready to spread their wings and take on the real world. But coming home to an almost deafening quiet home, and in some cases an “empty nest” can be quite jarring. And if you’ve been a parent who has been super involved in the day to day life of their child, or had a child with a busy sports schedule or extracurricular schedule – all that immediate free time is a bit surprising. Weekends that may have revolved around competitions and practices are now suddenly full of free time. Evenings spent washing uniforms and packing practice bags, driving to and from different activities, making dinner for your child and all their friends now seems like a lot of time to fill. That dry erase schedule board filled with volunteer shifts at the snack bar and team dinners and weekend meets out of town is now mocking you with it’s abundantly unwelcome amount of white space.
One of the hardest parts of my children going away to school was feeling suddenly disconnected from their lives. I spent their whole childhood knowing practically everything about them and everything about their day, at least when they were small. I knew all their friends and most of their friends parents as well, many from elementary school until graduation. I knew what they were eating, how they had been sleeping, whether they were getting any exercise. I knew what time they came home and on weekends I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew they were tucked safely in their beds. I knew when their car had last been serviced and whether they remembered to bring an umbrella on a rainy day, I knew if they were stressing over a big math test or having a fight with their best friend. I knew all of it. Or most of it. Because I was there.
And then suddenly, they were gone, on to a new life that didn’t include me. Making friends I had never heard of before. I had no idea how late they were staying out or what they were eating or whether they were drinking enough water. I would check the weather app for the city they lived and hope they remembered to bring an umbrella. It was not a good feeling to be so disconnected, to feel like I was no longer a part of their everyday life. They were busy and adjusting to college and I didn’t want to be the mom that calls all the time. But I wanted to be a part of their new lives and feel like I was still involved in the everyday minutiae of my babies. But sending a million texts like “did you bring a sweater, it’s supposed to get cold later”, “did you eat any vegetables today” or “did you make your bed” seemed a little too over the top.
So I had to find other ways to connect that was still relevant to their lives and at the same time eased my mind. Like how I check the weather app – it’s silly but it makes me happy to know what the weather is like where they are. I also have my kids on Find My Friends (with their permission and because I pay for their phone plan so it’s part of our agreement) so I can see where they are. I like to peek and see that they are at school or work. Sometimes I’ll just check before I call to make sure they are not in class or at work. And I like to check at night since their time zone is later by several hours, it makes me feel secure to know they are home safe before I go to bed.
Another relevant way to connect is Snapchat. I don’t use it for social media, it’s not really my demographic, but the kids love using it to communicate with their friends. Since it’s such an easy way to stay in touch, I happily made a profile. It’s photo based but also has a chat function. They send me little photo chats of their day, funny things they see that they think I would laugh at, sometimes just a selfie, but it makes me feel like I am connected because I am seeing their lives as it’s happening. They don’t need to remember to tell me about something funny or cool they saw, they just snap it and send it right away and we can chat about it through that app. Sometimes we need to learn to communicate at the level our kids are comfortable with.
I know we would all love a lengthy phone call, but the majority of the younger generation is more comfortable with Snapchat and Instagram, so I think it’s important to adapt. We will get much more consistent and open communication that way.
And far as all that suddenly free time – try to remember the things you used to love to do and see if they still inspire you. Take the time to learn something new- a language, an art, a skill, it’s never too late. If you’re struggling with the loss of feeling needed everyday, I highly recommend volunteering with seniors or foster youth. There is so much need and knowing someone is counting on you really changes your perspective. Think of your free time as a positive, you’re free to take a class, start working out, get a pet, volunteer, start a garden, anything that you’ve always wanted to “get around to”- now is the time.