When one of your kids leaves home to study, it’s natural to spend a fair amount of time and energy thinking, and possibly even worrying, about them. At the same time, it’s important to make sure that any kids left at home don’t feel that you value them less than the one who has flown the nest. Here’s how to do it:
Talk about it
Invite the children still at home to share how they feel about their sibling leaving. If it’s appropriate, you could even do this before the older child leaves so they are part of that conversation. Then keep the lines of communication open so they can continue to share how they’re feeling, as they adjust to their sibling no longer being present.
Consider the dynamic
The group dynamic at home is bound to change when one member of the group is no longer there. For example, did your college child play the role of confidante or mediator for the younger children? If so, you may need to create opportunities for them to speak to someone else suitable instead, as it’s unlikely they will transfer that role to you, much as you might prefer them to.
Let each child be themselves
Likewise, if the child who is studying played a specific role in your own life, don’t try to transfer that onto one of your other children. Maintain your individual relationships with each child in the unique way each plays out.
If your college-age kid was responsible for chores at home, it’s a good idea to reallocate these immediately to get the new routine established. They’re unlikely to be happy about it, so make sure that you offer some kind of recompense to the child now taking those on, for example an increase in pocket money or the opportunity to stay up slightly later.
Encourage the kids at home to stay in contact with their brother or sister themselves, rather than getting all the news through you. This will probably happen most naturally through social media, which luckily is geared towards the short conversations kids prefer. That way they can still feel connected, without it being another chore.
Keep your focus at home
While it’s important to talk about the child that is currently at college, don’t spend too much time dwelling on the fact that that child has gone away. It’s even more important to give the remaining kids just as much, if not more, attention. Check in with them on how things are going with their life, at school or socially. They may not tell you much, especially if they’re teenagers, but it’s important that they feel you are giving them the opportunity, rather than focussing all your energy on their sibling who is no longer there.
Get support if you need it
Letting go of a child can trigger all sorts of emotions, even grieving. Instead of unburdening yourself about your feelings to your other children, who may not be equipped to handle it, find someone else to talk to, like a partner or trusted friend. If you’re really struggling with letting go, consider talking to a professional counsellor who can help you work through your feelings.
Once the household has settled down into new routines and roles in each others’ lives, it should get easier. The trick is to ease the transition process as much as possible, so that everyone feels equally valued and supported.