Hot Topics - Empty Nesters
Feeling a sense of loss?
Tips for Empty Nesters
Wemhoff, Ph.D. and Mary Decker (Redmond Reporter)
is both glorious and bittersweet for parents whose young adult
children are leaving for college.
The term "Empty Nest Syndrome" was coined decades ago, when mothers
traditionally stayed at home and many fathers weren't terribly
involved with child-rearing. Back then, women stereotypically "fell
apart" or "lost their sense of worth" when children went off on
The concept of Empty Nest Syndrome may not be exactly the same
today. Many moms now work outside of the home and plenty of dads are
caregivers, as well. Still, parents of either gender may feel sad or
anxious when their son or daughter goes away to college.
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
Dr. Rich Wemhoff, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of
Emmaus Counseling in Redmond offered insights from both personal and
"We've been through this ourselves," Wemhoff nodded, when asked how
parents can minimize pangs of loss.
Wemhoff's wife Fran Regdos is also a mental health therapist at
Emmaus. When their older daughter left for Gonzaga University, the
freshman orientation ended with a Catholic Mass, he explained.
Wemhoff recalled, "At the end of the Mass, the priest called all the
new students up to the altar, gave them a blessing and then told
them, 'Now go ahead and follow the cross-bearer out and keep going,
don't turn back, because now you're leaving your parents and you're
joining us.' Our daughter followed the instructions, just marched
right past us and kept on going. I wanted to jump up and grab her. I
looked around and it was written all over the parents' faces —
everyone was wrestling with that same sense of loss."
Wemhoff continued, "At this point in a parent's life, you feel
pride, you feel fear, but the comfort is that we've taken our kids
from the point of being one hundred percent dependent on us, as
babies, to not so dependent, as young adults. We can take pride that
we've done something right, served our purpose."
How can parents make the transition stress-free for the child who is
leaving? It's one thing to admit, "I'll miss you" and another thing
to burden the child with guilt if you make a big scene.
"It's not out of sight, out of mind," Wemhoff agreed. "Let them know
they always have a home and you always have their back. Don't call
too often but make home a place where they can relax and bring their
friends on breaks. Give them independence but also connection."
And don't beat yourself up for feeling a little blue, Wemhoff
"It's one of the most major transitions people ever go through," he
pointed out. "It's an ending in a way, from going to look at
colleges and planning for the future to the moment that child walks
down the aisle or down that sidewalk into her dorm. It's not an
ending of a relationship, but a changing. ... Hopefully, you have
given them the values you continue to live by."
TIPS FOR STUDENTS:
What are tips for students whose parents are too clingy? How can
kids set boundaries without seeming insensitive or disrespectful?
"If a college student was sitting here, telling me, 'My parents are
calling me every other night. I can't take it,' I'd suggest, 'Your
mother obviously loves you a lot, but I think you need to tell her,
'I need my space here. I want to relate to you but I need to
establish my life here,'" said Wemhoff.
"Try to set up a structure that allows you to be connected, yet
fosters independence," he noted.
In his own family's case, said Wemhoff, "we worked out a reasonable
schedule for how much to be in contact with our daughter. At the
beginning, she said to contact her very little, but she later
contacted us a lot on her own."
And with today's technology, it's easy to keep in touch in an
"Now there's e-mail, texting," said Wemhoff. "A short message, 'Hope
you're having a good day!' works really well."
TIPS FOR COUPLES:
When the last of the kids leaves for college and the nest truly
feels empty, a marriage can improve or deteriorate, said Wemhoff.
"If it's a good marriage, many parents find happiness because they
have more time to spend together," he said. "Now it's time to face
each other more, continue to develop their relationship in another
way, not just as parents."
Some couples or single parents fill extra time, after the kids are
gone, with joining clubs, doing community service or pursuing
hobbies they had put aside.
"Try to do things you both enjoy," Wemhoff suggested. "Remember, at
first, it was just the two of you. Then you were busy with the kids
and now it's not that way anymore. You can look forward to seeing
your kids get married, having grandchildren, but if your whole
existence has been about the children, you're in trouble."
He has seen this in his practice, "couples who feel their work is
done and now they have nothing to talk about," said Wemhoff.
"Marriage can deepen when kids leave the nest, you can lead parallel
lives or end the marriage, which is sad," he remarked.
For couples who need to rekindle their relationship, Wemhoff
recommended a book called
"Love at Midlife," written by Richard A. Osing.