How to Cope as a Parent When Your Child Goes to College
Are you having conflicted emotions about your child heading off to college? Whether it’s your first baby heading out or the one that will leave you with an empty nest, it’s a difficult transition for many parents.
Expect a sense of loss. It’s a significant change with a lot of differing emotions. On the one hand, you are excited that your child is on a great path, is about to have a lot of fun, and start their adult life. But on the other hand, there will be a hole in your home, and you’ll miss seeing them every day.
If you are struggling with the emotions of your child heading off to college, know you are not alone. First of all, I’ve been there and am sending you the biggest virtual hug!
Second – take comfort in knowing that the feelings of grief will not last forever. When surveyed, 9 out of 10 parents said they moved past the sadness and into acceptance within a few months. There are better days ahead!
How to Cope When a Child Goes to College
- Acknowledge your feelings – grief, fear, excitement, pride. A life transition like this is a whirlwind! Feel every emotion and unpack it all with someone you love.
- Find the good. With every ending is a new beginning. How can you shift your focus to all the good things about the transition? Ultimately, your child leaving for college means you’ve done a great job teaching independence.
- Recognize that you won’t feel like this forever. At some point, you will adjust to the change. As with every stage of your child’s life, nothing is permanent.
- Create a new relationship with your child. How can the two of you bond as adults? View them in a whole new light! While it may feel unnatural at first, stepping out of the ‘parent’ role and into the role of friend and equal helps you see your child as an independent, capable adult.
- Plan quality time. Aim to spend quality time together during their last summer at home and schedule regular visits once they head out. Because you will spend less time together, the time you do have will be that much more special.
- Shift your focus. How can you spend more time on ‘non-parent things? Focus on yourself – what can you do to fill your cup?
- Check-in with family. How are your spouse or other kids in the home doing with it all? Remember, you aren’t the only one feeling the loss. The dynamic of your home will feel a bit off for awhile.
- Accept the change. Each stage of your child’s life is unique. From baby to toddler, all the way to adulthood. Don’t resist the change. Accept it for what it is, and do your best to roll with it! Your relationship will be different but great in its own way.
- Create a new role for yourself. We all have many functions that ‘define’ who we are. Parent, spouse, friend, employee, employer, sibling, business owner, volunteer, coach, etc. If you are looking at an empty nest and your job as a parent may not be centre stage anymore, create a new role. What do you want to do that you haven’t had time for?
- Give your child space. Heading off to college is the beginning of their adult life. Encourage their independence and let them know you will always be in their corner!
While your child leaving for college (whether it’s your first or your baby) is always a significant transition, good can come from it. It’s a chance to shift your focus back to yourself. Remember to give yourself grace – feel your feelings, take downtime, and recognize that you will adjust to your new normal.
If you are officially an empty nester when your child heads off to college, check out my post, 8 Tips to Help You Prepare for an Empty Nest.
Additional Resources on Empty Nest Syndrome
If the sadness of becoming an empty nester is impacting your day-to-day life, you may want to consult a professional to help you transition through this challenging time.