My second child left for college this fall and while I have been going through the expected sadness of seeing one more go off on their own, it’s my youngest son who has been affected the most. You see, it’s hard being the only bird left in the nest. The empty house can feel vacuous yet smothering all at the same time. Our house is now so quiet, void of teenage boy roughhousing or shouts at their sister to “hurry up” through a locked bathroom door. There’s no more fighting over which TV show will be watched, but there’s also no one to watch TV with. Our family table of 5 has suddenly shrunk down to three. Two parents, one kid. The individual attention that was previously so desired as the youngest child of three is no longer so appealing to a 16-year-old boy. Family discussions at the dinner table can get too focused without siblings to draw away some of the attention. Any messes left behind can only be blamed on one. The leverage that came with being three against two has been lost as he is now outnumbered by his parents. There are no more siblings to complain about, but also no one to share complaints with.

When my daughter, the oldest of the three, left for college several years ago, my youngest son made a homemade sign and taped it to her dining room chair. He was reserving the seat for his sister and was adamant about not letting anyone else sit there. It was his way of keeping her with us even when she was away. I noticed that he and his older brother started to spend more time together, each of them doing their part to pick up the slack left behind by their sister. Things had certainly changed in our house but not drastically. The boys still had each other for company and we still felt like a family – just minus one.

Now that my second child has left, I can’t help but compare this whole situation to the break up of a boy band. The band was doing great until one by one the members broke away to pursue their own dreams. In our case, the lead singer had already gone to become a solo artist and the band had become a duo. Now the backup singer has headed out to make it big as well. My youngest is left wondering where that leaves him as he is not quite ready for a solo career yet. The three will always have the songs they shared but they are no longer together as a band.

My older two don’t understand what it is like for their little brother because they aren’t the ones stuck at home with Mom and Dad. He does his best and keeps busy with his friends, football and schoolwork but he is definitely missing his siblings and the way things used to be. My heart aches for him when a much anticipated skype session with his brother is cancelled without warning because an impromptu basketball game started up with his college roommates. Or when promises by his older sister to spend time with him are broken due to overwhelming amounts of homework. His older brother and sister have no idea how much he misses them and that’s okay. They shouldn’t feel guilty for growing up and moving on. But he misses them just the same. It’s not easy to be the one left behind.

Dr. Jennifer Pinto

Jennifer Pinto is an avid reader, writer, psychologist and mom to a daughter(20) and two sons (16 & 14). She has been married to her husband for 21 years. She is currently writing a young adult novel and has a psychology-themed blog called "Off the Couch..." She enjoys drinking coffee at all hours of the day, cooking Indian food and being the team mom for her son's tennis & football teams.