Exploring the empty nest

The first year away at college is a huge transition for kids, but also for their parents. After the excitement of getting them settled and saying goodbye, parents then come home to a strangely quiet house.

Isabelle Alzado, an Ashland artist, is offering a workshop to help parents deal with the complicated emotions that arise when they and their children enter a new and separate phase of their lives.

"Flying the Nest" will help participants use art, collage and writing to explore feelings and possibly map a new path as empty nesters.

"I believe that this transition for the parents is not honored enough. We have rituals for birthdays, graduations, events that naturally focus on the children. We need to recognize the impact on parents when a child leaves home," said Alzado, whose two children have moved on to college.

During five weekly sessions, Alzado will offer topics for participants to reflect on and explore creatively. Topics will include questions about the parent's role now that the child is no longer under the same roof, the impact of that change on a marriage or other relationships and concerns about the child.

"It's a guided exploration with art and spontaneous writing," said Alzado. "I love exploring themes through art, using the creative process as a means of expressing feelings and thoughts."

Alzado emphasizes that participants don't need art experience. "The art is merely a way to tap into a deeper part of ourselves, without judgment, more freely than language can sometimes allow."

This isn't the first time Alzado, who has trained in art therapy and teaches a variety of art classes, has facilitated such a workshop. She taught a similar course a few years ago after her second child, her daughter, left home for college.

"I missed my son and daughter terribly when they each left home. I worried that our relationship, our cozy conversations and open sharing would end. Then I met other parents who were also struggling. The idea came to me to create a space for support," she said.

Alzado gathered a group of parents and they met for seven weeks, articulating their feelings with drawings, collages and poetry. "I created a series of topics around the idea of the empty nest and the new relationship we have with ourselves and our grown children," she said. Alzado received such positive feedback on the first workshop that she decided to do it again.

Alzado says that while there are challenges to letting go when a child leaves home, if parents are open and communicative, the distance can help parents better see the strength and depth of their relationship with their child.

"It's beautiful to see our children open their wings and become more mature and confident as they start a new life and head into adulthood," she said. Also, Alzado points out, one benefit of the empty nest is that couples have an opportunity to reconnect with one another.

"Spouses have a chance to enter a new phase of their relationship, focused more on each other," she said. "And all parents have a chance to do some inner searching about what they want for themselves in the coming years. It's really a great adventure."

"Flying the Nest" will meet from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 19 through Oct. 17, at the Stratford Inn's Siskiyou Room, 555 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. The cost is $100. For more information, call 541-482-4440 or email NowBliss@aol.com.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.

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