College Bound “Baby” Leaves Parents with Empty Nest Syndrome

HOUSTON (August 10, 2009) – He’s your baby, and he’s leaving. He’s packed his room, taken his clothes and everything else that is his.

He’s embarking on a new life — college life.

And you?

You’re trying to keep a stiff upper lip as you move him into his dorm. But you can’t help but tear up when you think about when he was five and dug up the neighbors’ flowers to surprise you with a bouquet. Or the time he nearly set the kitchen on fire while trying to cook.

While your “baby” is making new friends and learning the ropes of college life, you’ll be at home wondering, “what now?” Or perhaps you’ll be thinking, “I’m free!”

Either way, college-bound kids aren’t the only ones making a transition; parents are facing a new lifestyle adjustment, too.

Since the 1970s, relationship experts have popularized the notion of empty nest syndrome, a time of depression and loss of purpose that plagues parents when their children leave home.

“It’s natural for parents to grieve when their child leaves home,” said Dr. Britta Ostermeyer, chief of psychiatry at Ben Taub General Hospital and the Harris County Hospital District. “They’ve witnessed their child grow up. And now their child is grown, independent and on his/her own.

“We’re creatures of habit. When our habits change, such as no longer having breakfast together as a family, it’s hard to accept. But life is a constant series of gains and losses.”

While parents may think they’re “losing” their child, they are gaining a whole new world — a world of greater freedom and relaxed responsibility.

Ostermeyer believes this can be a great time to rekindle your relationships — with your spouse, friends and long-lost hobbies.

So what can parents do to prepare themselves for life after the move?

Stay busy — plan ahead and schedule activities to take your mind off the move.
Enjoy your time — think of activities, whether professional or recreational — you now have the chance to enjoy.
And above all, bask in your accomplishments — you raised your child and now he is on his own, ready to pursue his dreams.

But whatever you do, do not cling to your child, says Ostermeyer.

“It’s very important as parents to be accepting of the transition,” Ostermeyer said. “If they aren’t accepting, they can become an obstruction, which then becomes a problem for the child.”

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