Empty nest syndrome? Take heart in your child's success

By Lee Nelson

OK. I might not be your normal mom. I loved when my sons went off to college to learn about themselves, the world, and, by gosh, how darn lucky they were to have me as their mother. I couldn’t wait until they packed up their stuff and moved on to bigger and better things. I cried like a baby when we left our first son more than seven years ago at his dorm room, yet I knew it would help him grow into the independent man he has become today.

But to be completely truthful, my youngest, Brett, was driving me batty the summer before he left for his freshman year. He had no job, no ambitions, and he rarely left his cluttered, hoarder-like bedroom. The depression set in, the bad attitude prevailed, and the rolling of the eyes triumphed time after time — and that was just me! He was worse.

There comes a time in a teenager’s life when they think they know more than their parents. I’m sure all of you have gotten that same look I have from my sons — the look that says “you are old and you don’t know anything.” It could be on any subject, it doesn’t really matter which. I truly believe that it’s the natural order of things — that they act like jerks so that you don’t miss them so much when they leave your house.

You already know that when they leave the comfort and safety of your home to go off to college (to a tiny room half the size of their own bedroom with a hard mattress and pretty darn bad food in the cafeteria), things will slowly, but admittedly, change in their minds about how darn smart and amazing you are. Then they start meeting new friends who tell them horror stories about their parents. You start to look like a saint.

Both of my boys have done just that. That’s why I wasn’t sad when I dropped Brett off at college. The day was already off to a bad start. He was uptight, sullen, angry about something, and stubborn. I tried leaving him alone as he packed last-minute things into the car. He remained quiet and moody the entire three-and-a-half-hour drive there.

Honestly, I just couldn’t wait to get there, dump his stuff in his room, and let the boy start his process of growing up. Except, there was a hint of that emerging “man” and sweet human being I used to know as I was about to leave.

My vehicle was parked outside his first-floor dorm room. I was sitting in the driver’s side texting him “I love you.” He opened up the blinds and held up his hand to say “Wait, don’t leave.” He ran outside and hugged me one last time. “I love you, Mom, and I’m sorry for being so mean today.” That’s all I needed to calm my empty nest syndrome and move ahead in my life.

There is goodness in him that will help him succeed. But, there's also fight in him that he'll need to learn to how to control to his benefit. Now, it’s all up to him, and he knew it was. After two years in college, he truly has become a much better person, a much better son, and now, someone others believe in and love. That is exactly what I wanted to happen. I guess sometimes mom knows best.

About the author


Lee Nelson, a professional writer from the Chicago area, is a single mom raising two sons. She got one son through college, and is now working on getting the other one through, with lots of ups and downs and financial obstacles.