By Amelia Santaniello

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Life is constantly changing, but for parents, one of the biggest life changes is when the last of their children leave home.

WCCO’s Amelia Santaniello and Frank Vascellaro recently became empty nesters, and they’re dealing with all the emotions surrounding the realization that their kids are out of the house — and their lives have changed.

They’re sharing their experience, and some tips to help you navigate that life-changing event when it comes time for your kids to leave the nest.

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It seems like just yesterday that settling disputes with three kids close in age was one of our biggest parenting roles. As they grew, our focus shifted as we constantly shuttled them to activities, practices and games.

From the time they were little, our three children were very active, primarily in football and basketball. That pace would pick up and continue all the way through high school.

It was fun. There were triumphs and milestones, and we all made memories to last a lifetime, And there were, of course, setbacks and disappointments.

They were the focus of our lives, our most important job, and a part of our identity. And then all of a sudden, it ended.

It was a double whammy for us. Joe graduated first, followed a few days later by his twin sister, Frankie. Smiles and a sense of accomplishment. Then, there were tearful goodbyes at college, with Amelia insisting on making their beds one last time.

And then, just like that, one day this fall we were alone.

Samantha Sorensen, a psychologist with M Health Fairview, has counseled many empty nesters on how to navigate this sudden change, and the emotions that come with it.

“It’s a huge shift to now have any empty household or have your children out of the home. It can be very disorienting for folks. So yeah, it’s a big life change,” Sorensen said.

(credit: CBS)

“I realized how sad [Amelia was] when we were in the grocery store and I grabbed the large bag and I put it back and said ‘I’m not gonna get this because no one’s here to eat the leftovers anymore,” Frank said.

“I cried, yeah,” Amelia said.

“Hard,” Frank said.

“Well, not that hard,” Amelia said.

“Honey, you had a breakdown in the chip aisle,” Frank said.

We laugh about it now, but at the time it hurt. And it turns out, that’s OK.

“It’s really healthy and really normal to be able to, you know, cry, to laugh, to feel anxious, whatever it may be in relationship to that change,” Sorensen said.

Anticipating any big change can be hard, so Sorensen recommends having meaningful conversations ahead of time. And don’t forget about the kids. Plan regular calls or FaceTime chats — and remember it’s also a monumental adjustment for them.

“Giving them a little more freedom to, like you said, make those mistakes, figure things out on their own maybe for the first time independently, that’s a great thing,” Sorensen said.

But even the well prepared will feel some pain, and Sorensen says lean into it.

“Not avoiding the uncomfortable emotions, really trying to walk in and embrace some of the discomfort because that’s gonna help you get through some of those difficult phases,” Sorensen said.

She says that if you’re really in a slump, feeling isolated or down, or just need some extra support, you should reach out to a mental health professional.

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Click here for more parenting stories Amelia and Frank have done throughout the years.

Amelia Santaniello