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When the First Child Leaves Home

The phone appears to have stopped ringing. It's quieter in the house...much quieter. You are often swept up by sudden moments of sadness. Your first child has left home. To college, to the military, to a job across the country. He's gone.

The daily rhythm and family interactions change considerably when your first child leaves home. Sometimes the void creates subtle but powerful changes, like one less good night kiss. Other changes can be easily measured, like the weekly food bill.

It's best to say out loud how you feel about your child's absence. Neither parents nor siblings should continue with life as if nothing has happened. You and your other children may be more moody, clingy, argumentative, or withdrawn. The family's emotional axis is off kilter. You need to create opportunities for your children to express their feelings about their sister or brother's absence. It may be more difficult for your older children to comment on missing their sibling, so you may have to initiate the discussion, saying something like, "I've been missing Sam a lot lately, especially when we all go for bike rides on Sunday. How about you?"

Be careful not to dwell on how much you miss your child in front of your other children. Doing so may increase their sadness and it may make them feel less important and even less loved. They may even consciously or unconsciously resort to atypical misbehavior or angelic behavior to get your attention. Conversely, you might unconsciously smother your kids with exaggerated attention and affection in an effort to soothe your hurt.

It's essential that your children witness you making attempts to stay connected to their missing sibling. Involve them all in staying in touch with him -- through letters, emails, phone calls, videos, and care packages from home. If possible, visit him as a family if and when he has time to spend with you, even if it's just to have dinner together. Don't forget, your remaining children will be leaving someday, too. They need to see that you will always reach out to them when they are gone, that they will always be missed, loved, welcomed home and never forgotten.

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