The first day of school parental jitters

April 2, 2010 7:54:11 AM PDT
My son Nicholas, who is seven years old, just started second grade and his first day was filled with loads of excitement, anticipation... but also a touch of sadness for me and his mother.

As he was excitedly packing his lunch box and back-pack, my wife and I looked at each other and thought the same thing... our little boy is growing up - he's no longer a baby. Where did the time go?

Minutes later as Nicholas waved goodbye to us, as he walked to his school line, happy to see his buddies once again, I was struck with the dreaded notion that for the first time I was feeling separation anxiety - a term usually given to describe mothers and their newborns, particularly when the mom returns to work. I remember my wife feeling some of that, a few years ago, and I helped console her. But now it was my turn. But my anxiety was that my 7-year-old was becoming a big boy and soon - perhaps too soon, he would be moving out and going to college.

Experts might say I've felt my first twinge of "empty nest syndrome," which is natural. Empty nest syndrome is the feeling of loss a parent experiences when a child goes off to college. It can lead to depression, and in many cases can cause marital turmoil between a mother and father whose lives were obsessed with that college-bound son or daughter. Well with Nicholas at least a decade away from college, my anxiety now may be telling me something: Perhaps my life is too wrapped up around my son.

A neighbor of mine felt something similar during the summer when her child went off to summer camp - sleep away camp. Her son would be gone for 6 weeks - something unfathomable to me as a parent.

As I stood outside of Nicholas' school on the first day I was wondering if I could make it through the day.

And I wasn't the only one feeling that way.

Many parents were feeling emotional, some downright tearful. And while experts say this separation anxiety is natural, it's also important that parents embrace it... and realize that this is a transitional phase of life for them and their child.

But more importantly a parent must maintain a positive attitude, and never make the child feel guilty about leaving. Parental separation anxiety often transfers to children and contributes to their own anxiety, which can in turn create a cycle of guilt.

Experts say it's best to remain optimistic and actually look forward to the day when your child is capable of growing up and moving on.

It's a tall order, but something I am committed to working on. Wish me luck.