Empty Nest Reflections

By Elizabeth Geiling, MSEd, LCC Psychotherapist

 My heart is heavy tonight and sleep is not likely to happen. I used to sit in this room in the wee hours of the night to comfort and feed crying babies.  It seems like yesterday.In a few short hours, we pack up the car and bring our fourth and last child to college. You see, she is our family’s true baby. She is gentle and sweet and oh, so pretty. She has a nice way about her and I will miss her energy in the house. As the youngest, she went along for the ride more times than I care to admit. She was parented and loved by all and learned too early that the world didn’t revolve around her.

When my children were little I used to tell them if they got lost to find a mommy with a stroller and she will help you find me. Over the years, “Find the mommies” has become a joke, a parting line at the airport. Nonetheless, in my opinion, this still remains solid advice.

For the first time in 24 years, I won’t be involved in the day to day operation of any child’s life.  Did she eat? What time will he be home? Is there a big assignment coming up? Does she have clean laundry? Did we print that permission slip? This part of parenting is over – never to happen again for me or my children. How did I arrive here? I imagined myself a young, vibrant mother forever.

Is she ready for college? Did I forget to tell her anything important?  Was our home a good enough launching pad for her to accomplish her dreams? What will stand in her way? I have lived this night 3 times before. The parental self – evaluations are brutal. By October, they gradually shift to the feeling that we can manage this transition. But, as they go, there is always a lingering sense of regret. Parenting is filled with “if only …”

Remember, this is my fourth child going to college. I have no illusions about the herculean parenting task that lies ahead of me. I will be needed, and needed in ways that will stretch my person and parenting skills to the breaking point. Big kids, big problems, no doubt, no kidding.

College is the parenting version of planned obsolescence. Some features of the day to day parenting tasks disappear completely to make room for the parenting upgrade required to navigate the young adult years.

As she leaves our house, my advice remains the same, “when you are lost, find the mommies and they will bring you to me.” I am here, always.

But beginning tomorrow, the mommies she encounters will have a new role. In most situations, they will not bring her back to me, but away from me. There will be new mentors that will help us separate and change the course of her life in ways that we can only imagine. Another day, another week, another month, I will have the words and perspective to sugar coat this. But, not today.

It is morning now and some are waking to load the car. It is time to go.

Elizabeth Geiling counsels children, teens, adults and couples at LCC’s Bronxville and Advent, NYC sites.  Call the Lutheran Counseling Center at 516-741-0994 or 1-800-317-1173 or e-mail us at Center@lccny.org for more information or to set an appointment. LCC has nine counseling sites in and around metropolitan New York.
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