Voices of Experience

Advice about doing something for yourself

The college search and the tasks of preparing your student for college take a lot of time and energy. When their students finally begin college, many parents discover they have a chance to focus on themselves for a change. We recently asked parents what they had done for themselves when their student started college:

After the start of my daughter's freshman year, I had to leave after unloading the car for another commitment, which was a real blessing. No long good-byes and I had something to look forward to. She managed to set up her computer, stereo, and bed just fine without me. Asking for help was a good way for her to meet others on her floor in the residence hall. At the end of September, I took a vacation, and then I came home and started cleaning house! Closets, drawers. I did not touch her room. A suggestion—take a photo of the bedroom at home and mail it to your student before his/her first visit home. My daughter accused me of cleaning out her room when she had emptied the room herself before leaving for college. In her mind, her bedroom should have looked just like when she was in high school. SF

When our first child left for college we still had one child in high school. Life went on pretty much as normal, but we did miss our firstborn. The first few weeks he called almost every night, asking questions and seeking reassurance. It was a surprise to us but we smiled and felt connected. When our youngest started at the U of M, her father and I moved her to school and then moved from our family home into a smaller, newer home in anticipation of living an easier life without a lot of home maintenance. In hindsight, that was traumatic for our child and hectic for us, but we all survived. Our child was concerned that we wouldn't be able to get along without her, but we have, and it has been rather fun to rediscover life without children constantly underfoot. Our advice is "Do what feels right for you,” and don't let your children make you feel guilty! We love being empty nesters! LW

We both got more involved with our long time interests. My wife got more active at church, serving on more committees. I got more active with clubs, serving on a Board of Directors, helping with training of new members, and writing articles for the club newsletter. I even started taking flying lessons to become a pilot of full scale “real” aircraft! We started taking our vacations in the fall, when rates are better and crowds are much smaller. Great! We spend more time together following our interests, rather than following our children's school activities. We spend more time on the phone to our children (get a calling card: save lots of $$$) as well as our parents. Life is full and good, but the adjustment does take a little while. Remember, you were busy and had lots of interests before you had children! You'll still find plenty of rewarding and fun things to do. DW

Our youngest child, Katie packed up and moved to the U of M two years ago. My husband and I began doing things we did as kids. I began to read again and he to repair a ham radio that had been sitting for years. Together we worked on our home and gardens and traveled. We bought new bikes and hit the trails in earnest, and we dusted off our tennis rackets. Through our church and a local charity, we found outlets for our time and energy. However, after a few years of the “good life,” we were not satisfied. We were filling time and it was not fulfilling. After much thought and family discussion we became foster parents. We received two little girls, babies actually, who have since taken over our lives. This certainly is not a solution for every “empty nester,” but after a good effort to find our new place, we realized we just weren't ready to stop doing all those wonderful things we did as a family. Our little girls came with some heavy luggage. Even so, I must say the second time around has been in many ways easier due to our emotional and financial security. My husband and I still keep our date nights and get-away weekends. Yet, we love being parents and nothing beats those soft little arms wrapped around our necks and their baby voices saying prayers at bedtime. I feel I have the best of all worlds and am able to enjoy my older girls even more as a result. DD

After our kids left for college, I dug out recipes to make what only my husband and I liked, and soon discovered that it was very enjoyable not having to rush dinner and eat in shifts. I put on my PJ's, put a fire in the fireplace and got a good book. Also, it was quite nice not having to do laundry every other day. Like the title of Marjorie Savage’s book “I’m here if you need me,” that’s the mindset you need to obtain. That's how we’ve coped. We have discovered how enjoyable it is to hear about our kids’ adventures and learning about what they're doing. And becoming friends with them as they mature, realizing that we were their age not that long ago, and realizing that some things don't change. The choice is not ours, our kids need to leave and will grow up with or without us. TWS