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Carolyn Hax: Parents unsure how to cope with daughter off at college


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

How long does it take for a family to get its groove back after losing a member (to college, not death)? Our daughter left this fall, and my husband, son, and I are missing her tons. Not sure how to establish new routines that don’t include her, we are instead just kind of counting the days till her vacations.

Missing Molly

Poor Molly. The pressure! It’s nice to be missed, but who wants to be responsible for her family’s groove?

Please find something new the three of you can do together. It’s okay even to frame it as something you’d like to introduce Molly to when she’s home on vacation; it is, after all, nice that you miss her, and you also can’t just pretend that you don’t. But if you use that as motivation to get you out of the house and out of the Where’s Molly routine, then at least you’ll be out of the house and out of the old routine. Right?

Re: Molly:

Poor Molly indeed. I was my family’s “Molly.” As much as I enjoyed time with my family, the sort of phone calls I got from my mother only made me want to increase the distance. That’s a gigantic psychological burden you’re putting on your daughter. Molly’s trying to grow up, she needs space — not unnecessary pressure from her family. Please, please try to get a handle on it without drawing Molly into it.


Thanks, Other Molly.

Re: Molly:

And PLEASE understand that when Molly comes home, she is likely going to want to sleep until noon, hang out with her friends and get some money (and a little conversation) from you. Don’t be offended; roll with it and don’t make her feel guilty that Mom and Dad are sitting with their faces pressed against the window, waiting for her to come home.

Anonymous 2

Right. When you see her coming, rush to different places in the house and act busy.

Re: Molly:

I came home from college my freshman year and found a new family portrait on the wall with just my parents and younger brother. One of those “matching shirts” pictures. My mom insisted it was the free one they got with the new church directory. I was hurt at the time but think it is funny now.

Anonymous 3

Was your bed gone from your room and exercise equipment in its place?

Re: Molly:

Sheesh. Can we give the new empty-nesters some validation? They’ve basically gone through a breakup — someone who has been in their house the majority of days for her whole life is now not there every day. That will take some adjustment. Little by little, new things will fill in the hole, and they should still give poor Molly some space, but it’s okay to miss their kid.

Anonymous 4

A child who leaves for college isn’t rejecting anyone; Molly’s departure was an expected step in her natural progression toward adulthood.

Plus, I offered validation for their feelings: “It is, after all, nice that you miss her, and you also can’t just pretend that you don’t.” It’s just that the degree to which they’re indulging their feelings is problematic.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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