Teens Leaving Home - Empty Nest

Parent Q&A

  • Empty Nest Support Group Starting!

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    Hi All,

    Three of us are starting an Empty Nest Support Group and we'd love to have a few more folks join us. It would be great to meet with other empty nest parents to check in and share feelings, stories, and struggles over a cup of tea. We're thinking of meeting once a month in one of our homes (possibly rotating). Please contact me if you're interested or if you have any questions.

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Archived Q&A and Reviews



Moving to a cheaper area now that kids are gone

Nov 2012

Hello, We are soon having an empty nest, trying to adapt to the new life, we thought it may be good idea to move to another area cheaper and newer home than ours in Albany. We are thinking of moving in Pinole, concord, San Leandro or Emeryville. I do not adapt to change easily, our dog just passed away so I work from home now all day alone, we are looking for safe walking area during the day where we can come to Berkeley for a breath if needed. Any experience regarding these areas safety, structure and activities. Thank you Fafy

The Richmond Hills neighborhood of Richmond is quite nice and property taxes are low. The neighborhood backs up against Wildcat Canyon Park (northern extension of Tilden) and Berkeley is 15 minutes away along the Arlington. -Nearby in El Cerrito Hills

Our (only) son went off to OSU (Oregon)3 years ago. We live in Benicia, and moved here for the great schools. I find, though, that it is a great place for us empty nesters, too. It's definitely cheaper than Berkeley, safe, quiet, but with a great ''old town'' downtown.

The community often has little events that are great for meeting new people. We just made new friends sitting on the sidewalk, sipping an adult beverage with our dogs at our feet. (Great Pyrenees and Newfoundland; excellent conversation starters in their own right)

Benicia has lots of open space, a state park on the water, and plenty of places to hike.

Get some big dogs and move to Benicia! happy empty nesters

Adjusting to Empty Nest

Nov 2012

Dear Friends, We have just (well, as in late August) launched our eldest off to college - she has landed successfully at a small, liberal arts school in northwestern Pennsylvania, very far from home here in Berkeley. While I am deeply glad, relieved, fulfilled that she made her way through high school and has transitioned successfully to her freshman year in university, I find myself here at home, bereft at times, really missing her. We have always been very close, share lots of interests (theatre, Sunday farmer's market, cooking, etc), and I miss hanging out with her. Our son is still at home and in his junior year in high school and I am already bracing myself for his departure. It's not that I'm sitting around in a puddle of unhappiness or need to go back to therary, but I certainly miss my daughter and expect I will really miss my son when the time comes. Here's the question: I have enjoyed a real sense of purposefulness raising my kids, and now I am a bit lost without that, and could use some insight as to how to find my way to the next, productive chapter of life. My husband is empathetic but just doesn't seem to have these same issues. I have a small but meaningful social life but spend a lot of time alone as my son is studying, my husband is working, and I'm just on my own at home with my little hobbies and part-time job. I need a toe hold on something bigger but can't figure out what comes next, and don't want to impose on my daughter as she creates her newfound life away from home. Easing into next chapter

Hi-- You're definitely not alone! Both of my kids are launched and not living here anymore-- one's a mature, independent college freshman, the other is graduated and employed-- and it does feel odd. I keep having to balance how much I miss them with reminders that they are out making their own lives now. They're supposed to! If you have time, why not explore something you've always wanted to do? Take a class, start a business, or volunteer in public schools with the Writer Coach Connection? This is the second or third act of your life, and your talents will be appreciated many places. There are many inspiring stories out there (see More magazine). The book ''What Should I Do with My Life?'' says that it takes time to make these transitions. All the best.

It is a bittersweet transition. I finished a graduate degree a year ago, when my daughter went off to college and now I'm looking for a job. I'm volunteering and just finished a post-grad course. I also belong to an Empty Nest group. In addition, I'm spending more time with my own mother, who lives on the East Coast.

Our Empty Nests give us the opportunity to reassess our lives, revisit wishes that we've put on hold (e.g., to travel or go back to school) and allow us to nurture others, now that our kids are gone.

Think about doing one or more of the following:

- Volunteer in a school, library or nursing home.
- Take a class or go back to college for a degree.
- Travel.
- Visit relatives or long-lost friends.
- Renovate, redecorate or paint your home.
- Take up a new hobby.
- Learn a new language or start music lessons.
- Rediscover your loving connection with your husband by having intimate dinners, going out to movies, taking day trips, etc.

Finally, join an Empty Nest group or start one yourself. It's good support to talk to others who are in the same boat.

Good luck! Empty Nester

I can relate. With my daughter in her first year of college and with me relocating to Berkeley and in a new relationship, I was certainly at a very loose end and, like you, needed ''a toe hold on something bigger''. My previous professional background was working with kids, and when I saw an ad looking for volunteers to train to be parent counselors on a family support telephone hotline, I thought I would try it. I applied for an unpaid counselor position at Parental Stress Service, now called Family Paths. It changed my life and gave me a new and very satisfying career path. They still provide this free service and while I was working on the line, they expanded it to include foster parents also. The service is a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week hotline which parents can call anonymously and get support around stressful feelings or issues they are experiencing with their kids or partners, and they offer ongoing call back support to parents, so I felt as if I was helping individual families working through hard times. The volunteer counselors utilize basic counseling skills learned in their Pre-Service training, and each volunteer signs up for one 4-hour shift per week (between 9am and 9pm) for a one-year commitment.

The training I had was incredibly good, spread over two weekends. In between those two intensive training weekends, you go for a 4-hour observation shift, which allows you to be in the hotline room and get a chance to see the hotline volunteers in action. Once I was accepted on the hotline, I was supervised and mentored at every stage, and I worked with other ordinary folk who wanted to volunteer, and also with MFT interns and Social Worker trainees. As I gained experience, I eventually progessed to a (paid) position on their overnight service and worked from home. I learned so much from the staff and the other super volunteers there, I quickly knew I wanted to make a career in this field, which I successfully have done.

The work isn't for everyone, and their screening process is designed to pick people who can be taught how to effectively and non-judgementally counsel parents, some of whom are in real distress. But I learned such a lot there that it made me sign up for their parenting class to make me a better and more effective parent to my second daughter. That class too was superb.

Family Paths isn't the only organization who do this work. There are similar organizations in San Francisco and Contra Costa counties also, but this was right on my doorstep in downtown Oakland.

Good luck in your search for a new career. - Grateful -

Hi... I just noticed your message about dealing with being an Empty Nester. I started an Empty Nest Group about four months ago. We are now about 6 women who meet approximtately once a month to have dinner, talk about our situations, enjoy friendship. Let me know if you'd be interested in joining us. Lexine

I just wanted to say that I really object to the term ''empty nest.'' I recognize that it is a new stage of life (one that I will be entering in about 9 mos!), and I don't have a better name for it (yet--suggestions welcome). But I feel like it is important to reframe this life stage. My nest won't be empty! I'm still in it! You get the idea. We are not our children, even though they may be a huge part of us. So in response to how to adjust, I would recommend focusing on who/what is present, rather than who/what is absent. (I realize that it's much easier for me to say this now than to do it myself when the time comes, but that's my plan). best wishes to all who are in this transition

Nest empty except for their dog, and I'm not a fan

Nov 2012

My children are in college, and their dog remains with me. Truth is, they never took on the responsibility of caring for the dog who is now 10 years old. It's unlikely their dog will live long enough to see the day that one of my kids would take over its care, if that unlikely event ever were to occur. And I am not a big fan of the dog, though he is totally attached to me. He's a ''satin pillow'' pure bred lap dog. It occurs to me that someone would love this dog. Would it be just awful to give the kids' dog away. Would you do it? keep breathing

I think it would be a mistake to re-home this dog for a variety of reasons. It sounds like you are most concerned with how your kids would react and from that point of view I think it would feel like a betrayal. I know they really didn't take care of the dog - kids rarely do. But your dog is part of what they consider ''home'' and that concept is still important to them. It is a delicate time for everyone. You would be giving away a member of your family. I strongly vote - no! Maria

I feel so sorry for your dog that he is attached to you but you not to him. Too bad you didn't find a home that would love and appreciate this dog years ago. At this stage in his life, I think that you have a moral and ethical obligation to continue to care for him. If you're physically or financially unable to care for him, please find someone you trust who can, but please please please do NOT surrender your dog to a shelter - after years in a home, he will not adapt well to shelter life and will suffer as a result. I volunteer at a shelter and the staff and volunteers work very hard to do their best to take care of all of the cats and dogs there, but these animals obviously do not receive all the attention, affection, exercise and care that they need and deserve.

Please try hard to love this loyal dog you have, and give him a good life in his sunset years. animal lover

1. Often the dog is ''the kids'' but a parent takes care of it. You are not alone. If it is the kids' dog, you need to discuss it with them, or have them forever remember how they left home and you ''got rid of their dog''.

2. Often when college students are in second to third year they may live off campus and be able to take the dog. I had plenty of college roommates with pets. I had a cat that lived to 15. Was a kitten when we got it in college.

3. At ten years old, unless you can find a really great situation, it is not a great idea to give away a dog. They almost never are adopted at the shelters. A few live a long time, but most are winding down, and if as you say he adores you, it could literally break his heart. How hard is it to take care of the dog for a few more years? When the kids come home from breaks, make sure they do all the dog chores. You may not realize it, but medical science says companion dogs help lower our blood pressure, lessen the chances of depression, and make us exercise. Lots of health benefits. taking care of my daughter's dog

I'm in your situation, only my furry kid is a very large, very noisy, not very bright cat, who loves me and follows me around. It's quite unlikely our daughter will assume responsibility again, but she would be horrified if I took him to a shelter, even a no-kill one, and I wouldn't do this, although I'd consider letting him be adopted by a friend or relative.

Assuming that the dog in question is in good health, housebroken, and has a nice disposition, I don't think it would be wrong to ask around your circle of family and friends and see if someone would like to give her a new home. Stuck with Child's Cat

Staying connected to kid during freshman year

Sept 2012

I'd love to hear any thoughts from other parents who are on a similar journey of separation from your kid as he/she embarks on college life. I'd like to learn how to stay connected to my daughter during this transition (not technically, as in Skype and email and texts) but rather spiritually. I honor her new-found status as a young adult living away from home, and would like to find ways to stay connected to her that are respectful, non-intrusive, and mutually fulfilling. A lot to ask, I know. She and I have been very close all these years, and have spent a lot of time together. So of course I miss her; now suddenly she is living far away, in another time zone, doing well, inventing a new life for herself, which is as it should be. All good. Still, at the end of the day, I have a need to remain connected to her, even in this new normal. I'm not looking for advice on new activities to fill my time, like a yoga class or knitting. I'm looking for practical advice as it relates to my relationship with my daughter. Any words of wisdom would be most welcome. How did we get here so fast?

It does go by quickly.. what a ride it's been.. Big changes for them, and for us, too. Our son's 20 - most of our friends have kids +/- a few yrs. Besides texting.. how about you go visit - not often, perhaps once a semester, or year.. Suggest going out to dinner, alone or with friends.. depending on where she is, do something she'd enjoy and perhaps wouldn't do in her day to day routine. Ask her what she'd like.. First visit(s) are sometimes awkward, but it gets better, and good. It's the beginning of us seeing them as adults, and them seeing us as more than parents, but fellow travelers on this crazy and wonderful planet. Plan on being independent when there, that seems to be key, too. Expectations can get in the way. Sounds like you have a deep and lovely connection - that won't ever go away. You already respect and appreciate her independence - she'll want to to stay connected to her wonderful mom. Lisa

Here is something to try. Read the books she is reading. Watch the movies she is watching. Maybe even check out her favorite websites. Read the campus newspaper and the newspaper of the town where she is living. Visit her. Anon

Preparing for Daughter's College Departure

Jan 2012

I'm wondering if anyone has any specific advice on an aspect of having your first kid go off to college and the separation that entails: for the 18 years my kid has been on the planet, I've known her whereabouts at all times, and that she's been safe. My daughter is a highly responsible, trust-worthy individual; she has traveled widely, many times on her own; she is a new driver but has followed through on letting me know that she's arrived; she's basically a very grounded young woman who works hard and is finding her way in the world, which makes me very confident in her abilities. I am not a neurotic mom, just an involved caring mom who is used to a certain dynamic that is about to change big-time. Here are the questions: how do other parents make the transition to having a kid far from home? How do you know how they are? How often are you in touch? How do you stay connected without interfering with their newfound and developmentally-appropriate separation from you? How do you know, especially if its your daughter leaving home, that she is safe? Do you have agreed times that you check in with one another, and if so, how? We havent's heard back yet from schools so I don't know which campus she's heading to, but they are all good schools, mostly in big urban centers on the East Coast. As she didn't apply to any school in California, I know she'll be heading far from home. She is looking forward to college and ready to go on to her next chapter. I am respectful of her maturity and earned place in the new world of college, I just need to figure out how to make the ''new normal'' work for both of us. Another big leap just ahead

Oh my. This question may set the all-time record for responses. Yes, this is hard. And, I think you're asking all the right questions of yourself. Our daughter is 3,000+ miles away. For us, what has worked is emails & texts & the occasional phone call/Skype chat. She's busy; she has her own life; we don't want to impede that -- but, we need and get reassurance that she's okay. I think that's what you need to get agreement on ahead of time. ''I need to hear from you'' once a week? every few days? Talk about it. At first, she may be homesick and you'll get a lot. Then maybe not so much. What works for me is a calculated email now and then. How was XXX practice? Has [roommate] improved? How are you doing on money? [always a winner] In a pinch, ''Hey! Haven't heard from you in a while. Everything okay?'' It's hard not to know what your kid is up to, but it's do-able. And, from my experience, the more we let go, the more she's looked forward to coming home. still chew my fingernails dad

My kids are now officially young adults and on their own but I remember my first going off to college as if it were yesterday! I remember telling my therapist that I wasn't sure I wanted to drop him off (at UC Santa Cruz) because I might cry. Her great response: And you don't think there will be other mothers there crying?

My second went to UC Davis and I loved the ''Parent to Parent'' column in the parent newsletter. You can find all of these on-line by googling: aggie family pack parent to parent Some of them are dated (re: instant messaging) but most is solid, timeless advice.

My real advice to you is in response to your closing line: I just need to figure out how to make the ''new normal'' work for both of us.

I don't think you do have to figure out how to make it work for both of you. You need to figure out how to make it work for you (admittedly huge)---but your daughter needs to figure out to make it work for her. Letting go is really hard. After a while, you'll find that it's such a blessing to have them away---you don't worry as much about their safety when you don't know what they're up to!

Good luck. You'll find that all of these things sort themselves out over the first six months of your child going off to school. It won't take long before you'll be the ''expert'' and can advise next year's group of parents. Been there

I have a daughter who is a freshman in college. She too lives out of state. Here are some suggestions. One, start to wean yourself from having to know where your daughter is now. It will be good for your soon to launch daughter too to have more freedom for the next 6 months while she is still at home. If she makes mistakes, you are close to intervene for the next few months.

My daughter last year did not have a curfew. I asked her to call by 11 pm to let me know her plan for the night, so I could sleep. And, she did not call me to check in when she went out. Did I worry? Yes. But that worry was my issue, not hers. I wanted my daughter to experience more freedom and less ''mom'' check in before she left home. We both grew from the above experience. It helped me make the transition to her leaving home. It gave her an expanded sense of responsibility and room to handle herself.

I have asked her to call me once a week, every Sunday. As for knowing that my daughter is safe when she lives far from home. You can't. Your daughter is about to launch. This is what the 18 years of raising her has been about. When your daughter lives on the East Coast, she will have to handle herself. You will have to learn to let her do that. What I have found out is that my daughter will send text messages in-between calls. If I hover, she disappears. Remember, it is the developmental agenda for our kids to separate. Do I miss my daughter? Oh yes, but I am immensely proud of her. She is thriving, making friends, learning to do on her own, and making good grades. She loves college and she told me, ''I love my independence''. Make sure not to take the latter away from your daughter next year because of your needs. And, I send a hug. Peggy

I understand how you feel, that is where I was last year. I think such question really has 2 parts: 1- how to best prepare my daughter for college, and 2- how to prepare myself for her departure.

To answer Q1, let me share my experience. About campus safety- when I took her to the dorm, I rented a car and tried to take a look at the neighborhoods around the campus & told her about it. (she did not have time to go with me:) I asked the school president during the orientation about alcohol & drugs, campus rape, the neighborhood, and other safety concerns they might have for students. The response was realistic. About sex: I gave her a lecture about sex: ''You owe it to yourself to enjoy sex! Don't do it under influence or drunk, don't be somebody else's trophy, don't let others use you as a toy, sex is beautiful, learn to enjoy and appreciate it, don't rush into it and make sure you are ready to enjoy it.'' I made her an appt with her doctor just to talk about sex and contraception and morning after, etc. I think that was necessary and she appreciated it. Also I bought her a big box of condoms.

About Q2: I text my daughter once a day, ''Hi'' and she texts back ''Hey'' and we talk on the phone or Skype on weekends. One good thing is that when I took her to the dorm, I met some of her roommates who are now good friends with her. Occasionally when I cannot reach my daughter and get worried, I call or text them and they don't mind helping me:) If you don't have younger ones at home, you might get an empty next feeling for a couple of months, then you'll get used to it as soon as you realize your daughter is getting used to her new life. BTW - My daughter started missing home after a couple of months.

Finally, I came across this by accident. Although I only read a few pages of it, I found it very interesting: http://smr.yale.edu/node/12/attachment Enjoy reading.

Dear Mom of a Departing to College Daughter- My daughter is attending her first year at a college in New York. As a single parent who is close to my only kid this was quite a big change to face for both of us. We did the college visit, sat in on the orientations, met the room mate,set up the dorm space ( and thanks to the BPN parent who suggested mailing items to the college rather than shopping when you get there, good advice for us.) We agreed upon touching base set times of the day, which cuts down on my anxiety and her homesickness.(Texting works for us too.)I met and got the numbers of the dorm staff.We skype once a week with her dad. Maybe that seems I am being an overbearing parent but it gives me some peace of mind.A book titled ''Letting Go-A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years'' was helpful.

It is an exciting time, scary and depressing in parts, thrilling to watch your daughter set out in new territory without you. It is takes some getting used to but it reads as if you are anticipating what to do beforehand which is definitely the way to go .Good luck to you both. Mom who has been there

I found that in order to communicate with my college kids, I have to use whatever form of communication they like best. Texting is very popular now, so that is probably a good choice, especially if you can figure out their schedule so that you text when they have time to respond. Some kids may like email better. Some kids may like chatting through facebook. You have to figure out their preference, and use that. And, if some new means of communication pops up, learn about it quickly and be ready to use that.

In addition, use all means of communication a little bit if you can. Skyping is really great, but they may not want to do that very often. Make sure you email and call once a week or so, even if you don't get much of a response. Send cards and letters and little gifts. And go to see them when you can, maybe once or twice a semester. You have to be flexible to keep the communication going. Sanon

My first born is in her first year of college back east. Your description of yourself & your daughter sound just like us! I completely understand your concerns, despite the communication & understandings you have now & how responsible your teen has been. Yes, it is a huge change to be on your own & far away from home. I found, firstly, that the months leading up to her departure were the hardest. In retrospect, it was the anticipation along with a dose of sibling tensions (have a daughter who is 3 years younger) & the seemingly endless list of tasks & decisions. Once she was gone, and we all started settling into the new routine, it was much better. Of course it made a huge difference that she was happy & didn't report any big challenges! We were similarly accustomed to constant checkins so I would know where she was & that she was safe. I have a lot of trust in her judgement & I'm pretty sure she will let me know if she needs help. We text a lot, talk & skype regularly. I know some families have regular skype dates with their college students. She didn't feel like she could work that into her schedule so we'll just checkin & see about a call or skype later in the day, over the weekend, etc. Between texting, calling, FB, email, skype, etc, it feels a lot easier to stay connected in small & larger bytes. Hang in there & all the best to you & your daughter!! first time college mama

My first born is in her first year of college back east. Your description of yourself & your daughter sound just like us! I completely understand your concerns, despite the communication & understandings you have now & how responsible your teen has been. Yes, it is a huge change to be on your own & far away from home. I found, firstly, that the months leading up to her departure were the hardest. In retrospect, it was the anticipation along with a dose of sibling tensions (have a daughter who is 3 years younger) & the seemingly endless list of tasks & decisions. Once she was gone, and we all started settling into the new routine, it was much better. Of course it made a huge difference that she was happy & didn't report any big challenges! We were similarly accustomed to constant checkins so I would know where she was & that she was safe. I have a lot of trust in her judgement & I'm pretty sure she will let me know if she needs help. We text a lot, talk & skype regularly. I know some families have regular skype dates with their college students. She didn't feel like she could work that into her schedule so we'll just checkin & see about a call or skype later in the day, over the weekend, etc. Between texting, calling, FB, email, skype, etc, it feels a lot easier to stay connected in small & larger bytes. Hang in there & all the best to you & your daughter!! first time college mama

Emptying nest support

August 2011

My firstborn is off to college in 3 weeks. While I have 3 more years with my younger daughter, I'm finding this to be a very challenging process. The most recent support referrals on the website are from Feb 2009 so looking for current resources - peer support or professional. Thanks. mc

There is a support group for moms that meets in Albany one Saturday a month for moms whose kids have gone off to college. The group is facilitated by Ms. Toni Littlestone. Contact her at workvision [at] aol.com for more information. mom of college sophomore

Support group for empty nesters?

Feb 2009

Hi, I'm missing my son, my only child, who is away at college. I'm still adjusting and feeling lonely. I seem to remember reading a posting from someone who was organzing a group for empty nesters--but I can't find the reference. Does any one know of such a group? anon

Hi--I am the person who has started the Off-to-College Support Group. We have had two great meetings and would love to have you join our group, which meets monthly at my home in Albany. Give me a call at 510.528.2221 or email me at workvision [at] aol.com for more information and to find out about the next meeting. Toni Littlestone

The group is at a house in Albany, and the next meeting is Feb 28. I'm sure you would be welcome. Email me and I'll give you details of the hostess's phone so you can call and check with her personally. Linda F

There is a group for empty nester moms. The next meeting is in late Feb. Contact workvision [at] aol.com for more info. good luck. S.

Feeling abandoned after only kid left for school

Jan 2008

It's the same-old-same-old: my only kid (female) went off to college last September in Britain, and, ironically, now that she's coming ''home'' for the holidays, I am feeling abandoned, especially when I try to figure out the best deal on a round-trip ticket for her, and she tells me, ''Mom, don't you understand that California isn't my home base anymore?'' Well, I realize that, but it still hurts to hear. I also realize that she has to separate and that she still loves me. Any ideas, comforting thoughts, preferably from those who have experienced this sort of separation anxiety?

Yep, this hurts, doesn't it? I have two junior girls, one in college, one in high school. The oldest one started to do this her second semester of high school - pull away, and not too subtly. I swear that this is a natural progression - the kid becomes so hateful that the parent actually CAN'T WAIT for them to leave (as opposed to getting closer and then have the parting be too traumatic for both!) Her first summer back from college was a nightmare for both of us (and all this with no drug, alcohol or boyfriend issues at all - just friends - all good kids, every one of them - and curfew issues on top of my menopausal sleep and cranky issues). I told her that the next summer she couldn't stay here unless things changed - and she got a camp counselor job an hour away. Now she's home for the holidays and I think we may have turned the corner. I put out my minimal needs for family time and her sister (who worships her) does the same - and she seems genuinely happy to be out and about (or just home) with us at those times - then out with her friends for what I consider an ''appropriate'' amount of time. I know that this came as a real shock to me, as we had pretty much avoided all typical adolescent issues previously, and I had kind of assumed that we would be dealing ''adult to adult'' after high school - but here's to say that, NO, you're just on to a different stage in dealing with adolescent separation - but this too shall pass and hopefully someday . . . adult to adult??? me too

Youngest child just left

November 2004

Are there any empty-nesters out there who can give me some advice? I'm a single mom and my youngest child just left this fall for college. I find myself mindlessly watching TV and playing computer solitaire. What do others do at home in the evenings in the empty nest? I don't necessarily want to fill my evenings with outside activities. Take up knitting?

Dear Mom of child who just left for college:
I went through this 2 yrs. ago when my son, my oldest left for college. My younger daughter had to go to her dad's for High Holidays that year and I was alone at that time of year for the first time since my son was born in 1984. I was so sad and lonely, I didn't know what to do. All I can say is, this too shall pass. Like w/ everything else, time helps heal the loneliness and sadness. If you don't want to do outside activities (I didn't either), just read, do your work, try and get together w/ your friends, garden or buy flowers, treat yourself to something, and just experience the lonliness, don't try to make it go away. I hope your child comes home for holidays. It is easier for me know although I still miss him and look forward to his visits, however infrequent. I do have my daughter still at home, every other wk end she goes to her dad's which after 8 yrs. I still hate. But this is my life and I just try not to feel sorry for myself and just love my children and do the best I can. It's not easy, I know. All the best to you. Susan

Two thoughts regarding your question about what to do when the youngest goes to college: You may want to mourn a wee bit for the piece of your job that you're losing.... and for a few weeks vegging out isn't such a bad way to do it.

When you're ready, I'd recommend a trip to New Pieces, on Solano Avenue. New Pieces is a fabric and quilting store, and a wonderful resource for the large community of quilters and doll makers in this area. There is even a group that makes simple quilts for sick kids, as a community service.

If interested you can take a basic class in quilting. If you need an excuse for a new project, I'd recommend making a lap quilt for your ''baby'' to take back to school 2nd semester, to study under... the process of sewing and quilting is wonderful, the women you meet this way are wonderful, and the time you would spend worrying or wondering about your kids becomes something productive you do with your hands. Good luck, and enjoy your time -- you've EARNED it! Heather

You ask, ''what to do, take up knitting?'' Why not take up knitting! You will keep your mind busy, learn a new skill, and satisfy your artistic soul all the while surrounding yourself (if you wish) with wonderful, supportive fellow knitters. Most local yarn stores have reasonably priced classes where you can learn the basics, and then you can go on to join a workshop or drop by any number of ''stitch and bitch'' gatherings held all over the place - just ask one of your fellow classmates who seems to be a kindred soul which gathering they like. If you prefer to stay at home, knitting takes most of the guilt out of watching TV, and your local yarn store can provide technical support when you need it. Here are just 3 local options among many: Skein Lane in El Cerrito across from Fat Apples, Article Pract on Telegraph at 51st, and The Knitting Basket in Montclair. Have fun.