|1. Embrace the pace: Emilie Oberstaedt,
Cherry Hill mother of three, says it’s definitely an exciting
time for her and her husband, Mark. Their oldest child Patrick is
leaving home next month to study music at Temple University — on
a full scholarship. Pat, an honors student who just graduated from
Cherry Hill East High School, and a prodigious musician who plays,
at last count, 10 instruments, is also the bass player with the local
rock band No Commitment.
“It’s comforting to know he’s so close,” she
says. “He’s ready. I know he’ll be able to live
independently, and it will make life easier to have him close-by.
He will have quick access to his band. He’s in a music program,
which is open to the public, and I’m planning to attend his
“If we were packing him up and moving him halfway across the
country, I’d probably be more down. I think it would definitely
be harder to say goodbye for that distance.”
2. Boost the family’s emotional intelligence: With such a
huge emphasis on GPA and SAT scores, we can overlook something more
important than IQ. Emotional intelligence or EQ is what helps us
navigate an unpredictable world with confidence, grit and grace.
Kids who have spent years believing their grades and scores are the
golden ticket to success tend to struggle more and suffer from depression
and anxiety in college, compared to their peers who can cope with
change — and failure.
Cherry Hill psychotherapist and licensed social worker Joanna
Kleinman, mother of three, says, “I think the parent and the siblings
need to pay attention to their inner emotions, because when we push
away our feelings and try not to deal with them, they can consume
us. A lot of people try to keep themselves busy so they don’t
have to deal with how they feel. Siblings may feel excited about
the change at the same time that they feel sad.”
Knowing and working through that is good EQ.
3. Emphasize the positives: “I’m very excited. For our
son and for us,” says Oberstaedt. “It is a little scary,
of course. You wonder, is he going to be able to juggle everything?
One of the hardest things is keeping organized that first year.” If
Emilie and Mark didn’t think he was ready, of course, the scenario
would be different.
Admirably, they guide with trust and a good GPS — global
Kleinman adds, “For the children who are still at home, look
for positives. I’d encourage parents to be aware of the shift
of responsibility to the siblings who are still at home. Talk with
that child and come up with a plan to handle that shift as a family.
Maybe the chores used to be shared and now there’s one child
there. Discuss it as a family to figure out how to manage that. I’d
suggest that the family make time to get together that first month
or so and come together and talk. What’s working? What’s
not working? What do we need to change? That’s really positive
4. Be conscious of sibling perspectives: When we are conscious of
how sibs feel, we can create emotional and psychological scaffolding
for them to make sense of change.
Kleinman says, “Don’t assume anything. Regardless
of how your child is behaving, check in with him or her. Ask. Keep
the dialogue open.”
Several years ago, as an anchor at NBC network, I interviewed
a group of recovering girls and teens who had been struggling with
eating disorders. One of the girls, at 13, was anorexic, and didn’t
hesitate to let me know that things changed when her older brother
left for college. “He was my big brother and my world,” she
It wasn’t long after his departure that she developed issues
with food. The family’s attention, once directed in a large
way toward their son, was now laser-focused on her recovery. Not
every sibling will unconsciously act out their inner drama in dire
ways. Prepare sibs by talking with them individually about how they
feel and framing the imminent change as a natural and necessary chapter
5. Be open to other options: Not every child leaves the family nest
for college. And not every oldest sibling leaves first. Sharon Crocker
Ardito, home-schooled — unschooled — her kids, now 19
and 22. Her daughter Courtlyn left home before her older brother.
Eighteen years ago, with two very young learners at her side, Ardito
created a business from their Glassboro home, a deep learning experience
for all of them. Partypalooza has grown into a successful company
selling and shipping goody bags and novelties for children’s
parties. Little did they know then that their future SEO and webmaster
would one day be their son Ryan.
“My son chose not to go to college,” she says. “He
does a great job working for the business, and enjoys it. Our daughter
Courtlyn worked for us for awhile too, and then she had the opportunity
to audition for the Young Americans, a music outreach program in
Verona, California. She got in and starts in a couple of weeks. She’ll
study for a year, then she’ll travel around the world after
that, teaching singing and dancing in schools and communities.”
6. Celebrate change: We are always changing, from our cells to our
circumstances. But, regardless of our innate propensity toward renewal
and growth, we can sometimes resist and even avoid change. When we
can create a climate of positive change in our home, about all aspects
of life, we are, in effect, laying down a foundation for a positive
perspective on progress and change. So that when one or more siblings
leaves, it does not elicit unresolved grief in sibs at home, but
rather empathic joy. Change is the mother of possibility. And new
horizons. For everyone involved.
Ardito says, “We’re all meant to move on, to go on.
We’re raising adults, not children. You want them to be happy
in what they’re doing. It’s natural. I do miss my daughter.
And I’m also ecstatic for her.”
Oberstaedt adds, “I think Pat’s brother and sister will
adjust just fine. Melissa is heading into high school. And Matthew
will be happy to have his own bedroom.