‘Empty nest’ often a difficult transition

Fall and the start of a new school year are just around the corner. Teens who are going off to college or who are leaving home for the first time are busy planning what to bring and what to leave behind. They are packing and organizing and purchasing all of the essentials for their home away from home. And how are Mom and Dad coping? Jackie Blommer, of St. Cloud, tells this story. During the freshmen in-service and registration for fall classes at North Dakota State University in June, parents were separated from their sons and daughters and assigned a task. They were asked to write a letter to their child which he or she would receive in the fall, during the first week of college classes. Blommer, mother of 18 year old Kelsey, admitted,  “It really hit me that she is leaving and I completely lost it. When I looked around at the other parents to see if anyone else was sad,  they didn’t seem bothered at all. I wondered if I was normal.   I grabbed some Kleenex and thought I’d better pull it together.” Writing the letter was difficult and Blommer had to put it away a few times before she finally finished it. Kelsey is the oldest child of Blommer and husband, Tom, and her departure for college in Fargo on August 20th is the cause for a variety of feelings. Amid feelings of happiness and excitement for Kelsey’s future, there is some sadness, too. Konnie Benson’s son, Christopher, is a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. He left St. Cloud for college life three years ago, in August, 2008. Benson remembers how tough those first weeks and months were. “I remember spending a lot of time playing with my cats and sitting in my back yard feeling sorry for myself,” she said. She got inspiration and peace from listening to audiotapes of Christian speaker and author, Joyce Meyers. Empty Nest Syndrome is the term given to this experience of sadness, loss, and loneliness when a child leaves home, usually after high school.  It can also happen when the child is younger and goes away to summer camp or when he or she is older and gets married. Empty Nest Syndrome is not a condition you will find in a medical textbook next to Emphysema, but the “empty nest” emotions are real. These feelings are more common with women but they affect men, too. When Toy Story 3 hit the theaters last summer, there were plenty of tears shed by both women and men as they watched scenes of Andy, all grown up, putting Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head, Bullseye and his other much-loved childhood toys into a box headed for the attic.   Parents watching the movie with their young children saw Andy standing in his empty bedroom before leaving for college and they became teary-eyed thinking of a future when their own children leave home. The feelings of loss due to the  “empty nest” can cause an identity crisis for a parent.  Mothers and fathers spend years caring for their child, preparing meals, doing laundry, driving them everywhere, scheduling appointments, attending their events, giving advice, and so on.  When their son or daughter leaves home after 18 or more years, those everyday responsibilities change and a parent may feel useless and unneeded. Some parents move through this period with little or no apparent difficulty. There is the story of Junior waving goodbye as he drives away to college and within minutes, Mom and Dad are measuring his bedroom as they make preparations for putting in a hot tub! Feelings of loss and grief during this period of transition are perfectly normal but if they seem overwhelming and they don’t get better within a few months, professional help may be needed. The good news is that this transition period and the feelings of loss don’t last forever. It takes time to make adjustments to life’s big changes. And there are things you can do to make it less difficult. Benson isn’t a big fan of email but she learned to “text” her son and found that to be an effective way to stay in touch. She made plans to attend Parent’s Weekend with her family in early fall and having that time to look forward to was helpful. She eventually adjusted to life with Christopher “out of the nest” and living two hours down the road. She admits it is still a little hard when he leaves after being home for the summer break but she bounces back more quickly. Doris Madsen of St. Cloud recalls when she and her husband helped their daughter, Jean, move away to college at Concordia in Moorhead several decades ago. “We brought her bags up three flights of stairs to her dorm room. When I got back to the car, I just sat there thinking,” she said. She remembers some feelings of sadness but she also felt grateful that her daughter was able to go to college and continue her education. “I thought– it could be worse.”  That attitude and the fact that Madsen and her husband were able to spend a few days fishing and relaxing near Park Rapids before returning home was helpful. “I got a break before going home. And when we got home, I was busy with a lot of activities. That helped.” Her advice to parents experiencing the “empty nest” is to get involved in something or to volunteer. “There is always someone who has needs. And it might help to find somebody who has it worse than you.” She added, “Even this shall pass.”         Jackie Blommer looks at the calendar and cannot believe how quickly Aug. 20 is coming. The letter which she wrote to her daughter will not be opened for several weeks. Meanwhile,  Kelsey is looking forward to the next chapter in her life and she delivers these words of wisdom to her parents. “It’s hard,” she said, “ but you’ll be okay.”

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