Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: I am a mom with a senior who is leaving for college in the fall. I am desperate for advice on how to handle this. I have been a stay-at-home mom, and after my child is gone I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. I think that my child knows this, and it’s making the transition all the more difficult. My friends have kids leaving or that have already left, and they seem to be just fine. I even think I’m starting to get depressed about it. Is this normal — because I sure don’t feel like it — and every day brings graduation closer. I feel really guilty.
Wes: Parents are among the few professionals who get fired by our best customers. In fact, if we don’t get fired, we haven’t been successful, because we haven’t reached the real goal of launching young adults into the world. However, I wouldn’t expect to be let go quite so easily. Most young adults are not fully detached from their families until their mid-20s. If you do the transition right, you’ll find the next few years just as fulfilling as those from 0 to 18. So this is also one of the rare jobs where getting fired really means you get promoted.
It’s obvious that you want to do the right thing here, so it’s imperative that you make this transition work. From your letter it seems that a major obstacle to that goal is not your child’s dependency on you for emotional support, but your dependency on him or her. That’s not a wise or fair place for your child to be at age 18. You’re right, she or he probably does sense your anxiety and grief and may well respond to it by either cutting you off to avoid the trauma or giving in and sticking around to support you. If either of these ring true in your case, then you need to spend a lot of time RIGHT NOW getting out in the community to do volunteer work, pick up a part-time job, play poker or some other activity that will put you back in touch with your nonparent side. If you’re still married, you might take this time to reignite the flame and focus more attention on your spouse. If you’re having any problems in that realm, you might want to throw even more energy and perhaps some marital counseling into the mix.
If your child sees that you have a support system in place, then she or he will feel more relaxed about leaving home and more focused on the road ahead. This process is so important that I would urge you to seek professional help if you find that you can’t get it done on your own. After all these good years you want to be sure you give your child the kind of send-off that will increase the chances of a successful young adult life. Both of you deserve it.
Kelly: One of the proudest moments in a parent’s life is when they see the child they’ve raised to the best of their abilities reach an important milestone. For some this brings tears of happiness and for others tears of sadness. But in these defining moments we realize that through our journey, we have stuck by each other through thick and thin.
As you watch your children grow into wonderful, capable adults, it’s hard to realize that they will soon be leaving home, and that may impose many problems. But you will not be the only one experiencing these emotional issues. The transition from high school to college or work can be a difficult one, and both the child and the parent bear the brunt of these mixed feelings.
Of course, it’s only natural for you to worry about your child. The world can be a challenging place, especially right now, and it will test every moral you’ve raised him/her to uphold. Have faith and confidence in your child. Yes, she/he are going to do things that may disappoint you as well as make you happy, but continue to show your support and encouragement.
Just because you can’t physically be with him or her doesn’t mean your child won’t carry a piece of you along. And there are other forms of communication such as e-mail, texting, phone calls and snail mail that can tide you over until you see your child again. You can visit as much as you want — just remember not to be too overbearing. It is time for your son or daughter to embark on his or her own passage. And no matter where the journey leads, she or he will always know they have a place in your hearts called home.
Next week: How do I get my mom to improve her diet?
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.