It seems Mother’s Day, graduations, and many end-of-year plays, performances, parties and events have parents feeling the burn of “May-hem.” I thought I would share my unique perspective on graduation from high school to college on remaining parents and siblings at home as this may not be top of mind for many parents but important.

Last year as a family of five was in for a session, a “tune up” as we refer to it, I noticed that the youngest, a ten-year-old girl, was quiet and withdrawn. At what I thought was just the right time in our session, I asked her what was going on. She eventually shared, with tears in her eyes, that she would miss her sister deeply when she went on to college. She shared that for the past few months everything has been around how excited and proud they all were of her but that secretly she was so sad and didn’t want her to leave. This was quite a surprise to the family who said they hadn’t thought about how hard this would be for the two siblings that were in elementary and middle school. And eventually, the parents said they hadn’t stopped to think about how it may be hard on them as well too.

For the remainder of that session and then again the following week, we worked on preparing for this transition. The following are the tips that they found helpful in the transition. I just saw them again last week and with an entire year under their belts, they were able to be reflective of what this year has been like.

1- When the oldest is leaving for college and there is a sibling remaining at home, be sure to check in with them about how they are doing. It is usually a year or more that they feel the oldest gets the most attention, from applications to acceptances to choices and proms, there is a lot going on senior year and sometimes the others feel left out.

2- Involve your other children in as much of the process as possible. Ask them things such as what they would do, where they would apply, how far they would go away from school. Just keep them engaged and in the conversation communicating that their opinions and thoughts truly matter.

3- Discuss how the siblings will communicate once they have left for school. Talk about Facetime, texting, and the ability to receive packages. Make sure you stress the importance of actual speaking and not just relying on texting and social media to stay in touch. Further, talk about the first visit, will it be for parent’s weekend, Thanksgiving or winter break? These conversations are initially most helpful for the siblings at home but while in school they are comforting for the college freshman too.

4- Be sure throughout the summer you make it a point to spend family time together and that the siblings get to spend some quality time together as well. It is easy for the recent grad to be focused on friends and rarely spend time at home. Be sure that you create space and time to make family time a priority.

5- And last, help the siblings make, give or buy something very special to one another. This may be a framed favorite picture, a stuffed animal with great meaning, you may help them create a playlist that is sentimental, send along favorite foods or snacks. The gift options are endless as they should be personal. It may be a poem, card or a piece of jewelry but it should go both ways that the one leaving and the one staying exchange gifts.

Similar to grief, it is important to mark these occasions as they are often filled with mixed emotions of joy, pride, and loss. By the end of the first year most families adjust to the change and start getting used to the new normal in their family. Until then, be proactive, address the upcoming changes and teach your children that you can feel both excited and sad at the same time and that is normal and okay.

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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