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College Advice for Parents: Dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome

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Raising teenagers is a tough job, but letting go when the time arrives can be just as challenging. It’s not unusual for parents to experience feelings of loss and loneliness known as empty nest syndrome when their children go off to college.

Dedicating most of your time, money and energy to a child for 17 or 18 years means that life can seem drastically different when he or she leaves the house. If your son or daughter has graduated from high school and will be heading off to college this fall, consider the following college advice for parents—a little help in dealing with empty nest syndrome.

Start to “wean yourself” in advance.

Some teenagers have curfews while other parents simply ask their kids to estimate when they’ll be home for the night and call if plans change. Not knowing where your child is or what he’s doing—sitting at school, grabbing dinner with friends—as often as you’re accustomed to can be tough. Even if you don’t consider yourself an overprotective parent, start to distance yourself a bit before your son or daughter goes off to college. It’s okay to have rules in place while your child is living under your roof, but don’t treat him or her like a 10-year-old. They won’t be home much longer.

Teach basic survival skills.

It’s sad but true. Many teenagers don’t know how to wash their own clothes or cook basic meals like a box of macaroni and cheese. If you’ve done your family’s laundry for the last 20 years, explain how to separate whites from colors and read clothing labels. Show your teen how to make a couple of easy dinners from nonperishable foods. Demonstrate how to balance a check book. Explain the importance of paying bills—on time!—and warn them about the dangers of credit card debt, but don’t be shocked if your advice is greeted with rolling eyes.

Discuss your expectations and goals before move-in day.

Move-in day will most likely be hectic. Just picture hundreds of other college freshmen and their parents, lugging suitcases and boxes and who-knows-what. It won’t be a great time to talk about grades, finances and the like. Discuss money matters, like what you will and will not pay for, and other things of concern many months in advance. Explain to your child that you’re excited for them but will miss them. Don’t try to hold a serious conversation when you’re dropping them off at the dorm. It won’t work out.

Keep things in perspective.

It’s common for college freshmen to be incredibly excited about leaving home for the first time and it’s normal for parents to feel a bit down in the dumps due to empty nest syndrome. Teens change a lot during their freshmen year, so you’ll notice plenty of new habits and viewpoints—some that you may not completely agree with—when your child comes home for Thanksgiving or Christmas break. You’ll probably even hear comments like, “I’m not a kid anymore!” Just remind yourself that you’re not alone in this boat and realize that you’ll always be Mom or Dad.

Keep in touch.

Text messages and email make it easy to keep in touch without interrupting your child’s schedule with a phone call. Don’t be overly concerned if your child doesn’t respond immediately but try to schedule weekly calls or Skype sessions to check-in. If you’re close enough to campus to make the trip for the weekend, visit occasionally but not too frequently.

Pick up a new hobby or return to one you’ve neglected.

Love to cook but have picky eaters at home? Does the book club you’ve always wanted to join meet on Tuesdays, the nights you used to attend high school sports functions? Start to take advantage of your newfound “me time.” Pretty soon you’ll realize just how much you enjoy it!

Resist the temptation to solve all of your son or daughter’s problems …

If your daughter calls you to complain about her roommate, a bad grade or lack of funds for partying, listen and sympathize without coming to the rescue. Offer advice if you’re asked, but don’t expect her to follow through. She may just want to vent. Remind yourself that learning to survive without Mom and Dad means learning how to deal with life’s inconveniences.

… but intervene when necessary.

If you suspect or learn something critical—for example, your son or daughter has started abusing drugs or has developed an eating disorder—seek help. Trust your instincts.

Related Posts:

Parental Involvement: How Much is Too Much?

Freshman Orientation Helps New Students Make the Transition to College


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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