Parenting Guru: Pangs of the Empty Nest

When my twin sons left for college last fall, I went through one of my most difficult times as a parent. Maybe it shouldn't have been so hard, but it was a shock to me. I've always been a working mom, and I thought this dual-identity would provide some sort of a protective bubble when my kids left home. But I was wrong. And it burst for me much as it did for my friends who are stay-at-home moms.

The first "This is it, we're letting go" step came at packing time. There was the usual struggle of letting them sink or swim. Do I wait for them to realize what they've forgotten and dash off to the (hardware, grocery, book) store? Do I double-check their bank accounts? Do I make sure we have enough boxes on hand to keep things moving? Do I refill their prescriptions for them?

Then the voice inside my head said: "Like it or not, they are going to be making nearly all of their daily decisions without my input. And they'll be much bigger decisions!" Rather than sit and watch and sweat it out, I would leave our home to grab coffee, go for a walk, or visit my elderly dad. It was my way of testing the separation, I see now.

The second "This is for real!" step was leaving them behind in their dorms. The optimistic me was thrilled for them as I considered all the social and learning opportunities they would face. The pessimistic me worried about their social choices, their use of drugs and alcohol, and their stress level -- in a new place and without one another. I knew they'd be OK, but it was still an emotional period of time.

So now it's been six months. The first week, I cried a lot. I missed their daily chatter, hugs and even the bickering. The silence was as heavy as a wet blanket. I missed them most when I got home from work and saw their empty, too-neat bedrooms. Gradually, the ache lessened a bit, as my husband and I began to hear them speak with excitement about shared interests with roommates or inspired teaching by professors. I still feel palpably lonely sometimes, like any Momma bird with her empty nest. But I have come to value Skype as a magical balm for my aching heart. And no matter how busy I am, I put what I'm doing aside to respond to their tweets and phone calls. Because they're reaching out to me. I'm still their Mom.

Do you feel similarly about your children leaving home? What got you through?

A proud Parenting Guru, Boston Irish is actually Maureen O'Brien, PhD (aka Dr. Mo). She is a psychologist, parenting coach, workshop speaker and mother of twins. Her latest book is called Advantage Mom: 20 Lessons from a Parenting Pro, available exclusively at www.destinationparenting.com .