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Shifting Dependency: When Children Leave
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, August 2007

As the summer comes to a close, those who have depended on the help they receive from their older children with household chores or child care for younger siblings are now in for a major change in their lives as those older children leave the nest for college, the military, or employment far from home. Often, parents who work outside of their homes rely on older children as a way to keep the family fully functioning, whether they are helping with food shopping, escorting younger kids from camp or day care, preparing meals and generally helping out with younger relatives.

Shifting responsibilities can lead to anxiety for all family members prior to and during the transition. Younger children in particular may be prone to fear. However, some early planning and outreach to your support network can help you, and your children, offset the stress of changing circumstances. This is the time to connect with responsible neighbors, discover well supervised community programs, and special events organized through the local religious organizations (whether or not you are members.)

While some children build a strong sense of independence and competency others are not comfortable at all. They feel more secure with other people around. For those who are not thrilled about being alone, try to organize activities where their time alone is minimized. Consider visits with a neighbor who is homebound. The child can read to them, play games, water their plants, or just keep them company. Both can benefit, especially if there is a generational gap. Check out which libraries or sports centers may need helpers and inquire whether the local pet shop can use another set of hands to help out with the animals or cleaning out the fish tanks.

Providing projects for your child to engage in and complete during his or her time at home can give a sense of purpose and achievement. Children who have hobbies such as reading, working with their hands, knitting, sewing, quilting, putting together models, drawing, making puppets, collecting and arranging stamps can, and do, get lost in those activities and feel a sense of accomplishment and comfort.

If your child does not have such interests, while your older children are home, ask them to learn such a skill with your younger child or provide a place where they can learn something they did not know before.

For the time you are not at home, touch base via cell phone and instant message so you and your child are connected.

Finally, assure your older child that although you will miss them, and their contribution to the family, that this is now their time to branch out and have their own life. You will manage.

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