Confronting an empty nest requires enormous reorganization—only it's not files or an office you're trying to rearrange, but the very architecture of your life, your identity and your connection to someone you love.
No matter how sad we feel, our goal is to make it easy for our children to go away and to assure them we'll be all right. Here are concrete ways to take charge of the transition, instead of just letting it happen.
Find Ways to Fill the Void Before They Leave
Go back to work, take classes, volunteer. You don't have to be home just because your children are.
Cultivate an Adult Relationship
Ask your teenager how he or she envisions your relationship with each other changing over time. Share your hopes and collaborate on future plans.
Instill the Final Lessons
Listen to your child. Does she or he have any doubts about life away from home? Insecurities about cooking, laundry, banking and auto maintenance offer a few final bonding moments over the summer. Help your child learn the basics.
Throw a Send-Off Party
Ceremonies are largely lacking in American culture, yet when we do have them (graduations, bar mitzvahs, confirmations), they give everyone a chance to acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate life's passages. Consider throwing a joint party with other family friends who are sending their children off, too. Get creative with gifts that symbolize freedom and responsibility—a basic cookbook, a box of laundry detergent with rolls of quarters or a key chain with a twenty-dollar bill for a cab ride home from a party.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Establish a weekly check-in routine like e-mail updates every Sunday, or Saturday morning phone calls. (And let your child know they can call you whenever they need to.)
Love Your Children Enough to Let Them Make Their Own Mistakes
It's okay if they struggle a bit finding their way in the world. Remember, you've already done the hardest part—raising a smart, resourceful kid!
Julie Morgenstern and her daughter, Jessi, co-wrote Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens (Holt/Owl).
More Family Advice
From the September 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!