Updated on November 12th, 2023
After 18 years, it’s finally happened: your child is going to college. While this is an exciting time, it can also be an anxious one, especially for parents of young adults who suddenly have an empty nest. Conflicting feelings during moments like these are common.
Let’s face it; you’re proud that your child is going to college. It’s a big step, taking years of hard work and dedication. But you may also fear being lonely or seeing your purpose in life change. It’s an emotional time, but you will get through it.
Here are some techniques to help you on your journey towards your new life (which is an amazing opportunity!) to help you cope as you adjust to an empty nest after your child leaves and goes to college.
Ditch the Old Labels Once You Have an Empty Nest
For the past 18 years, you’ve been a parent, someone’s “mom” or “dad.” While that fact never changes, it doesn’t have to be your primary identity anymore.
Instead, it’s a great time to try on new hats. Consider yourself as a “spouse,” a “friend,” and a “professional.” Maybe “world traveler” or even “student” feels like a better fit. You have an empty nest, and the choices are yours. Embrace it for the opportunity that it is!
You don’t have to limit yourself to just one, but do take the time to see which options resonate with you. This is a perfect time to rebrand yourself as an individual and steer your own life back in a direction that appeals to you the most.
If you’ve let other relationships fall by the wayside while you were raising your child, now is also a perfect time to rekindle them. Whether you and your spouse haven’t had the opportunity to connect as adults as often or your circle of friends was based entirely on sharing parenthood experience, you can work to forge stronger relationships with the other people in your life as you get used to having an empty nest.
Embrace Technology to Ease the Transition
It wasn’t that long ago that for most parents, sending a kid to college meant not being able to see them very often. Now, thanks to digital technology, staying connected to their children is a breeze.
Video chats and text messaging can help fill the gaps as you and your student get used to being separated. You can still learn about what is happening in their lives, offer comfort, and even see them regularly. Just because they aren’t living under your roof doesn’t mean the connection has to falter, so look to technology to help you both keep in touch no matter the number of miles there are between you.
However, it is vital (for both of your sakes) not to hover over your college kids and everything they do. Some parents overcompensate when their child goes to college, taking on the mantle of “helicopter parent” even if that was never their style before.
It’s important to understand that your child’s college experience is also about them becoming an adult. While that isn’t always easy, and there will almost certainly be some heart-wrenching conversations as they adjust, you have to let them live their lives and gain their own footing. Being too involved won’t help you adapt to your child’s departure and may actually make it harder for you both to deal.
Prepare a Care Package
In many cases, parents worry about their student’s well-being once their student is off to college. After all, their child is having an entirely new experience, and it’s normal for them to face some challenges along the way.
While parents mustn’t swoop in and get too involved, offering your student support in the form of a care package is an excellent idea. It’s a chance to provide them with a nice surprise and a demonstration of your love for them.
Consider planning a series of care packages during the year. Some great times to send them include:
- Birthdays and holidays
- Finals weeks
- After an achievement
When you prepare a care package, you want to make the contents personal to them. Include treats or small gifts that align with their likes and interests. Make sure that what you include is both fun and useful. That way, it’ll have the biggest impact.
Build a Support System
Having your student head to college can be challenging emotionally. It’s perfectly normal to experience various feelings along the way, including sadness, fear, frustration, and confusion. That’s why having a support system is critical, as it gives you a place to turn when you need a bit of help.
Other family members and friends can be an excellent resource during challenging times. You can also join Facebook Groups and find local meetups to speak with other parents whose children have recently gone to college.
If you’re still struggling, don’t overlook the benefit of speaking with a counselor. Trained and licensed mental health professionals are an asset during difficult periods, and they can help you work through your emotions, develop coping strategies, and otherwise find ways to live your best life.
Make Plans to Get Together
Just because your child has headed off to college doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get together again soon. In fact, there are a lot of opportunities for visits!
Now, don’t just fly or drive out to see them during the school year without notice and come crashing into their dorm room (that isn’t necessarily going to go over well). Instead, you can plan to head over to their campus on the next “family weekend” hosted by the school. Attending an event like that can actually do a lot to put your mind at ease, as it gives you a chance to see how things are going with your child and dorm life now that they have begun their college experience.
It’s also important to remember that the school year is filled with holidays. Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break, and next summer will all come along faster than you anticipate, so make plans to get together now. Anything from spending time at home to heading out to a favorite vacation spot together should be on the table. That way, you both have some family bonding time to look forward to, making adjusting easier.
Just make sure to realize that they may want to spend some of their time off with friends, so don’t force them to fill your empty nest whenever the chance arises. Instead, discuss it with them, see what options work for you and your child, and take things from there.
Host an “Empty Nest” Party
This may seem like odd advice, but throwing an “empty nest” celebration can actually be really helpful. First, it serves as a great way to recognize your transition into a new phase of life. And second, it gives you a reason to get together with other empty nesters, friends, and family members.
Yes, the transition is strange, but it is also amazing. Think about it; it’s almost like taking a step back in time. Your children aren’t at home; you have your own space now, and your day no longer has to focus on childrearing or the activities associated with managing a larger household. It’s a chance to start new traditions and explore what you want to get out of life. In some cases, you and your spouse may see an empty nest as an opportunity to feel like newlyweds again. And why not? You’ve got the house to yourselves again!
So, invite some people over, gather up some food and drink, and have a great time celebrating your new life with an empty nest!
Know Adjusting to an Empty Nest Gets Easier with Time
One of the most important things to remember when you adjust to an empty nest as a college parent is that it does get easier with time. Like any other major life transition, having your child head off to college initially feels bizarre. It will affect your usual patterns, and you’ll miss seeing them around.
All of this is totally normal, but you will get more comfortable with your empty nest.
As you grab your new life by the horns, you might find that any anxieties you may have had melt away. Plus, watching your college freshman progress into adulthood and make it on their own is a marvelous thing to see.
Both you and your student are starting a new adventure, so it’s a time filled with excitement and possibility. Think of all these things you will both experience now that you have an empty nest. A new life awaits you both, but it’s still a journey you will always get to take together.
There is also a lot of advice for parents struggling with an empty nest. Some of the books listed below are filled with heart-warming, feel-good stories that can leave you inspired, while others will speak specifically to your current situation.
Check out some of these favorites books for empty-nesters below:
Help Them Look for Scholarships
Lastly, while your child may have taken off for college and paid this semester’s bill, know that applying for scholarships is still an option. And while many families want to sit back and wait until spring to think about how to pay next year’s bill, now is the time for college students to apply.
As a new empty-nester who may have some extra time on their hands now, join us for our next free webinar for parents to learn where to find hidden scholarships with less competition. We cover tons of information on how to help your child quickly find and secure scholarships. You can learn more here or go to http://thescholarshipsystem.com/freewebinar.
Did you find this helpful? If so, share it with your friends and family so they don’t forget anything, either.