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Empty nest: A bittersweet transitionFree Access

Ask the Experts

By Mary Petersen

Q: My child just left to go away to college and I am struggling with the adjustment to an empty nest. What would make this easier?

A: Parents put a great deal into the raising of children in anticipation of helping them someday leave the nest and transition to independence. Yet, parents often are still surprised to find that once children are launched it can leave a big hole in their lives. But this transition also is a beautiful thing that allows children to spread their wings in the way they have been prepared to do. It also gives parents a new freedom they haven’t had for many years — but now with the wisdom of maturity to enjoy it more richly.

We all want our children to succeed, but some deliberate about the best way to help them do that and in what time frame. Some believe in protecting children as much as possible and limiting their exposure to things that might harm them. Others, myself included, believe we cannot — and should not — shelter children from everything. We must give them reasonable precautionary measures and life skills, then teach coping and resilience so they still thrive even through normal life challenges. Our goal is to raise confident children who are functional, adult members of society. Then let them fly. Realizing you have completed your mission can make the transition easier.

Once you have prepared for this, the next step is redefining the roles you have as a parent with your child, with your spouse and with yourself. You may have to renegotiate your marriage or find ways to give your child space to grow more independent yet still stay connected to you. You also may have to redefine your purpose — especially if you were a stay-home parent whose focus was largely child-rearing. Keep in mind that it is normal and healthy for children to leave home and that after grieving the transition, you can see this as a beautiful thing.

Mary Petersen LMSW, ACSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice. She is a member of the Family Center Association of Professionals and a member of its board. Find out more at mary

The Family Center’s mission is to serve the community through programs and resources vital to today’s families. As a nonprofit organization, it is completely supported by community donations. To learn more, visit, call (313) 447-1374 or email info@familycen