I have met many parents who tell me, "Oh, I can't even think about the time my children will be be leaving home," tears springing from their eyes.
Unless you plan to move into the dorm with them, it's going to help if you anticipate letting go. You can start when they are young. It just takes practice!
What do you need to do?
1. Know what style of family you came from and how it influences your parenting
Families have varying manners in which they are organized. Some families are more tightly wound around "the family" as the central force in a child's life. Others stress more independence.
Think of these two kinds of families as two ends of a spectrum. There are pros and cons to both. The healthiest? The ones near the middle.
Why is this important for you to know?
Because if you were reared in the first kind of family, the "You can only trust family" kind of family, letting go of your child is going to be harder. In fact, the "helicopter parenting" phenomenon is likely to come from this dynamic.
Parents stay involved at a much deeper level with their child, struggling to give over control.
If you were reared in the second kind, the "Get out there and be who you can be, and by the way, you need to support yourself asap," you might be too detached. Too uninvolved.
Consider these issues in yourself, your spouse and the family you are creating.
Success in parenting? When your child can leave home as a young adult, still learning but ready to be away from parents' hands-on guidance.
2. Relish and let go: Start practicing now!
Every stage of a child's life is a fantastic opportunity to practice what "empty nest" will bring you, just in smaller doses. When she goes into kindergarden, instead of dreading the change, welcome it! If you truly relish each stage and do the things that will bring you satisfaction and contentment, you should be able to move with her. To celebrate with her.
When he makes that jump from his tricycle to his big bike, run along side of him. Love the moment. From middle school to high school, don't get out the toddler pictures and think, "He was so cute back then."
OK, maybe once in a while. But as a general rule, don't look back!
That's the practice part. Relish and let go. Keep moving along with your child. Then you will be more prepared when the time comes for that child to truly move away.
3. Make sure you are feeding your marriage and caring enough for self.
Whether a stay-at-home mom (or dad) or a parent juggling both work and home, I realize that hearing, "You need to focus on your relationship and yourself" can seem almost laughable. Ever-present laundry, dust, bedtimes, school functions, your own work or volunteer responsibilities, church -- "And we are supposed to make time for each other?" If you are a single or divorced parent, then the question would be making time for yourself.
More difficulty comes when kids have learning disabilities, ADHD, autism or other mental or medical issues.
"All we talk about are the kids."
"She's always angry with me, so I just don't talk much."
"He doesn't understand that if he would just help me more, I wouldn't be mad. I would want to be closer to him."
"I am away from my kids so much with work that I don't feel it's right to get babysitters."
"There are no babysitters that I trust."
If this is you, there's something wrong. It's fixable. You just have to prioritize differently. You have to care enough for your self and/or your marriage. Go to a good therapist if need be. Just take some time.
When your child or children leave, all that's left is you. And your partner. It's important to pay attention.
Just enough attention.
So the rest of the nest will enjoy the rest of their lives.
You can find more of Dr. Margaret at http://drmargaretrutherford.com!