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    Big Changes

    How four families coped with the college transition.

    Amy Adair

    Students have lots of challenges as they adapt to life away from home: new friendships, changing family relationships, managing money and occasional homesickness. But college freshmen aren't the only ones facing changes. Their parents and siblings back home are in a time of transition, too. And family life changes, now that a member is away.

    So, how do parents and younger brothers and sisters deal with the loneliness they feel? How does a marriage change once the kids are gone, and what does a new relationship with a young adult look like? Check out these stories of families who settled into a new way of thinking about family life that includes having adult children.

    A New, Quieter Life

    coping with the college transitionWhen JoAnn and Dennis Wegner left their youngest daughter, Danielle, at Greenville College in Illinois, JoAnn feared that her house would be empty without Danielle—and that Danielle would be lonely without her family.

    It was cold and rainy on the day they dropped Danielle off at college, and JoAnn felt glum. She was able to keep her composure while she and Dennis helped Danielle organize her new dorm room. But at a campus church service, JoAnn couldn't hold back the tears. "I just lost it," she says. "Danielle is my baby. It was a terrible, empty feeling. I felt like we were just leaving her in this strange place with no friends."

    For Dennis, that loneliness didn't hit until they'd returned to their home in Baldwin, Illinois. "When we got home," Dennis remembers. "the house was just so empty. We'd had kids in the house for the past 20 years and then suddenly it was quiet."

    A few days into her freshman year, Danielle called home. While JoAnn and Dennis were happy to hear her voice, they were more relieved to hear the voices of Danielle's new friends in the background. Once JoAnn knew Danielle was comfortable in her new surroundings at school, her weepy feeling eventually faded. Even though she missed her daughter, JoAnn started to settle into her new, quieter life.

    Dennis and JoAnn have even learned to enjoy the easier pace that came when Danielle left for college. When Danielle and her older sister, Christina, were home, JoAnn rarely had time to cook. Now it's a nightly ritual for Dennis and JoAnn to eat dinner together. "I don't miss going to school functions every night," JoAnn admits. "It's kind of nice just to come home and eat dinner and not have to run back out the door."

    This past fall, the Wegners drove Danielle back to school to start her sophomore year. "It wasn't as bad the second time around," JoAnn says. "I still cried a little bit, but I knew she'd be OK—and so would I."

    Just the Two of Us

    Jim and Faithe Spurrier's three daughters attend Houghton College in New York. Grace is a freshman, and twins Naomi and Rachel are seniors. While the Spurriers miss the busyness of the three girls, they are also growing to relish the slower pace of life.

    "I loved being a father to young kids," Jim says. "But I've had to adapt because I've crossed into a time when I have to learn how to be a husband and dad in this new season of my life."

    Until their daughters went to college, Faithe and Jim's lives revolved around the girls' packed schedule of church and school activities. But they have learned to take time they once spent on their daughters and invest it into their marriage.

    "Instead of thinking, 'Oh, no, here I am with you—without the kids,'" Jim says, "we're really trying to concentrate on our relationship." They'll celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year.

    Jim, a pastor in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, and Faithe, a teacher's aide, recently took time off for a romantic getaway in Maine. It was their first vacation without their daughters. Instead of planning family activities, Faithe and Jim spent the time reconnecting.

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