How To Cope When The Kids Leave Home

When your first child heads off to college, many families experience a variety of emotions and changes.

Clinical psychologist and The Early Show contributor Robin Goodman shared some advice with co-anchor Rene Syler on how to cope with the situation.

For teens leaving home, it's a major step towards independence and adulthood but the change can take a toll on the entire family.

"The teen that's going off to school, the mom who may be ready, the dad who sometimes is surprisingly caught off guard with missing opportunities. And the siblings left behind," Goodman explains. "It's about separation and change, which we know people aren't always comfortable with, fear of the unknown. Even though you're excited. It's about kind of a transition and maybe, 'Oh, my gosh, what happened to that other part of my life? And what's going to happen next?' "

"Sometimes that push and pull of being excited and wanting to be independent and get them out of the house much but, 'Oh, I still want them here,' and even the teenager going, 'Oh, what's going to happen next?' " Goodman adds.

"Are you saying that dads have a harder time with this than moms do? I would think it would be just the opposite," Syler adds.

"Sometimes the dads aren't prepared for it the way the moms are," Goodman says. "Their real role as the protector and the provider may have changed. And all the roles are changing. What happens is you may think it's going to be great, but then as soon as the car drives away, there's a lot of Kleenex in the car and the kids putting away their clothes in their drawer for the first time. They may start to cry, too. And you don't see it in each other."

Goodman has some tips on dealing with the situation. First, she says the family needs to accept and adjust to the new family identity.

"Because you know now the roles are going to change. Because now you have an adult that's on their own. They're making their own decisions. You're not up waiting to see if they met their curfew. They're making who they go out and picking their classes. That changes how you relate to them," Goodman says. "Now a sibling left behind instead of being a middle child, now is the oldest child. There's a lot more pressure, a lot more focus, and maybe a lot more responsibility. And they're missing a companion.

"And all of a sudden they have all this responsibility heaped on their shoulders that wasn't there a couple of months ago."

Goodman also advises to set some ground rules for everybody.

"How much do you want them to call? When do you want to visit? What's going to happen with finances? What's going to happen when they come home? Overnight guests," Goodman says. "Everything changes now in terms of what do you want to expect from this new adult? And what does that new adult expect back from the parent?"

She also recommends finding ways to be involved in each other's lives.

"Send pictures, send e-mails. Don't stop communicating about what's going on. You know, you can invite that college student back home if the younger sibling is involved in some special performance or all-star sports game," Goodman says. "And likewise, the teen can advise — you know, ask the parent for advice. You know, when you get back together maybe for Christmas or Thanksgiving vacation, schedule one-on-one time that you know you've missed. Don't make it all about the whole family together."

Lastly, Goodman says redirect your energy.

"Don't start smothering the kids that are home. Think about what you've neglected. Look at your relationship with your husband, with your friends, your extended family. You like to think when one door closes, another one opens," Goodman says. "Congratulate yourself that you've done a good job. You know, kind of rearrange the nest. Don't necessarily think it's totally empty. You can redecorate the nest."
  • Daniel Schorn

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