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Preparing for the Empty Nest
Q: My 18-year-old son will soon be going to college. He's been rather disagreeable lately, but I still want to get across to him that he has me in his life to help him. Nonetheless, he also needs to prepare for college by getting a summer job. I don't think this is my responsibility. He is my only son and I miss him terribly already. How can I start preparing myself for when he leaves?
A: You are understandably beginning to go through the anticipatory pains of missing your son as he readies himself to attend college in the fall. He, too, realizes he will be leaving home and this puts him though a roller-coaster ride of emotions -- fear, elation, confusion, doubt, and excitement -- until he leaves for college. Part of his current, less-than-agreeable attitude is a result of his trying to juggle all those emotions and begin separating from you, his home, his friends... and all the people and routines that gave him a sense security.
You need to be very clear about what you can and will do to help him obtain a summer job, while detailing what is required of him in this job-application process.
The best way to show him that he always has you in his life is to offer him encouraging words on a continual basis, reaffirming his good character traits, his intelligence, his sense of humor, and his natural abilities. Expecting him to thank you for your belief in him and his abilities may be unrealistic. He will hear what you're saying and it will have a very positive, comforting effect on his well-being.
Parents need to realize that they've been raising their kids throughout adolescence to prepare them for this very time -- the day they leave home. Talking to other family members and friends about your mixed emotions regarding his leaving for college will help. When both my kids left for college, I had the blues for a while. So many people were coming up to me and saying, "Carleton, you must be dancing in the streets to have your kids out of the house." My reply was, "No, I miss them." It's not unusual to miss someone that you love and that especially includes missing a child who leaves home for college.
If your goal right now is to abide with your son throughout this confusing time, by letting him know that he's loved, you'll be giving him the best gift parents can give their children.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.