Gearing up for the empty nest

EMPTY NEST: Prepare yourself for the moment when they leave home.
EMPTY NEST: Prepare yourself for the moment when they leave home.

They finished school last year and moved one step closer to standing on their own two feet.

In New Zealand, more than in some other countries, the transition to tertiary education can mean leaving home at 18 rather than hanging around until your early to mid-twenties. In fact, even if your education or job is based in your hometown, there's a sense of need to move out just as your mates have.

It's a life transition that can be more painful for the parent than the child.

For them it's a time of excitement and expectation, probably with a bit of trepidation.

For you, it can bring a mix of trepidation, relief that they're on their way and impending loss. For both, the lead-up can bring a great deal of stress.

Limits can be pushed. "In another month I can do whatever I want." "That maybe the case, but while you're under our roof ..." Conversation can become even harder and parents can work furiously at making the last days "as a family" happy and memorable, which often makes things worse.

Impending separation can cause people to subconsciously provoke arguments or to withdraw in order to make what's coming more bearable. Intense conflict can actually be a sign of intense feelings of love.

It's a time that calls for more parental patience than usual.

An empty bedroom, a photo on the wall may well trigger a tear, or even a sense of loss of purpose in life. But the supermarket trolley may be pleasingly half-empty, the couch will be yours, there will be more than enough cups and glasses in your cupboards and you'll know where all your towels are.

Out there somewhere is that young person. You won't quite know what she's up to or whether or not he's wearing clean clothes. It passes.

One thing you must not do is check up. Well, not obviously anyway.

Once you deliver them to their hall of residence or flat for that first time, don't linger too long. It's a time of insecurity about their new status and how their new acquaintances or flatmates will react.

And don't come visiting every other week. They'll be back soon enough to check that all is well and home is still there. It's probably a good idea to leave the full conversion of their bedroom into an office or sewing room until the following year.

Certainly send email and food parcels. Phone occasionally.

There may be some rocky patches, perhaps a tearful phone call or two when the novelty wears off and a bit of homesickness hits. Only worry if it lasts several months.

Letting go can be the hardest part of parenting.

© Ian Munro 2012. All rights reserved.

The Timaru Herald