So, your son or daughter is finally heading off to college. Even though you’ve known this day would always come, it’s here now, and you aren’t sure how to deal with it. For 18 long, chaotic but happy years, you’ve had your child to look after, and now they’re leaving the nest and starting the next chapter on their own at college. Although you’re proud and excited for your child and the adventures they’re about to embark upon, it’s totally normal for you to feel a deep sadness and even grieve their absence in your life.
Being a parent is a full-time job that lasts your entire life. Just because your children are older and are becoming adults doesn’t mean that you don’t care or worry about them just as much as you did when they were newborns.
However, this isn’t just a big transition for your child, it’s also the start of a new chapter in your life. Not having your children living with you gives you a new sense of freedom and the chance to explore interests and hobbies that you didn’t have time for in years past. There’s no denying that your child’s departure for college is a time of change and disruption for many parents. To give you some support, we’ve put together this survival guide to help parents cope with this tricky transition.
If you’re worried about how you’re going to cope with your kids going away to college, then it’s important that you’re prepared and have planned ahead for the upcoming change. Just as your child will grow emotionally and gain so much from the college experience, so will you as a parent. In the time leading up to your freshman’s departure, you may decide to take up some new hobbies, start a new exercise program, or have a weekly get-together with some of your friends. This is a great way to get into the habit of focusing your time on your own interests and needs before your child leaves for college. It will also make the change feel less drastic when moving day arrives.
It’s important that you prepare yourself mentally for your child leaving the family home and don’t avoid thinking about it. While our children are often our focus and provide a lot of energy in our lives, it’s important that you work out how to provide your own energy and find new ways to keep yourself busy. You may decide that you want to increase your hours at work so you don’t feel the loss as much when your child does go to college, as you’ll be busy with your own schedule and commitments.
You shouldn’t feel that your child moving away to college means that they’re about to embark on a new chapter that doesn’t involve you at all. Just because you won’t be living with them full-time doesn’t mean that you won’t be an essential part of their life. You may even find that they now need you more than ever.
Sit your child down before the big move and discuss how you feel about them heading off to college. It’s important to tell your kids that you’re proud of them and the hard work it took to get them to this point, but that you’ll miss them and want to be as helpful and involved in their time at college as possible.
A great way for parents to get involved in their child’s college experience is by getting into the school spirit. For example, if you want to get your child a going-away gift, consider giving them some officially licensed merchandise such as team mugs, sweatshirts, or college photo frames. This is a great way to give your child your blessing while also showing your interest in their new life. Sports is a huge part of the college experience, so why not celebrate team spirit by attending games as a family? It’s a great way to share in the college experience while making memories that will last a lifetime.
To help ease that transition into dorm life and bring a piece of “home” with them, consider buying them a “Class of” photo frame and place a photo of their high school class in it. Similarly, getting personalized diploma frames and honor society frames make for the perfect graduation present once their college experience comes to an end and shows them how proud you are of them. These are just some of the examples of how you can be heavily involved in your child’s college life and show them that you want to be a part of their college experience.
Be Kind to Yourself
You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling to cope with your child heading off to college and leaving your family home. Many parents struggle with empty nest syndrome, as it’s commonly referred to now. Don’t feel silly or guilty for feeling down or missing your child. Although you’re happy for them, it’s normal for you to miss them and wish they were still at home with you. Even when we know they’re safe and are making the right choices, parents can’t help but worry about their children. However, it’s important to remember that you’ve brought them up well and have given them the life lessons they need to navigate their own way through the adult world. In time, you may even embrace your empty nest status and dive into home projects you’ve always wanted to try.
Think About the Positives
Even though initially you may feel negative, worried, and anxious about your kids going away to college, in time you’ll start to acknowledge the many positives that come with the big change. You should remind yourself how well your child has done to gain a place at college and be proud of them for how hard they’ve worked to obtain it. Your child going to college will put them in good stead for their future and will increase the opportunities that will come their way. By going to college, your child is getting the skills and qualifications they need to be successful in the future, and you should be proud of them for that.
Your child heading off to college isn’t just the start of something new and exciting for them, but also for you. You may find that this is the perfect opportunity for them to understand and appreciate everything you have always done for them. It may help to strengthen your relationship and bond more with them now that you’re no longer under each other’s feet. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, so this may be exactly what your relationship needs in order to progress from a child relationship to an adult relationship.
It doesn’t matter how far away your child is, you can still communicate as if they were in the next room. Due to the technological developments in recent years, you don’t have to worry about going weeks or even months without seeing your child once they move to college. Your child will always be at the other end of your cell phone, so be prepared for morning phone calls asking how to make eggs or late-night texts about how to work the washing machine and dryer.
Similarly, you can use video chat features such as FaceTime or Skype on your smartphone or laptop so that you can always check in with your child while they are away. By doing a video chat, you will feel like you have seen them. Years ago, sending your child off to college meant not seeing them very often. If you’re struggling with their absence, then you should embrace everything that technology has to offer. You may even find that you end up speaking to and seeing your child more while they’re at college than you did when you were both living under the same roof.
A great way to cope with your child going to college is to make plans with them in advance. Just because they don’t live at home with you anymore doesn’t mean that you have to stop spending time together. While this may not be as achievable if they’re moving to a college that’s a significant distance away, you may be surprised at the different opportunities there are for visits.
While it’s important that you don’t just show up on campus during the school year without letting your child know, you can make plans to go visit them when their college is hosting their “family weekend” visits. This is a great opportunity for you to head over to your child’s college to spend some time with them while also getting a look at their new home. Seeing that they are happy and safe in the college environment can really put your mind at ease and make you feel better about the situation.
You’ll also be glad to know that the academic year is divided by different holiday seasons so it’s only a matter of weeks until your child is heading home to enjoyThanksgiving, winter vacation, and spring break with you and the rest of the family.
Now that your child has moved away to college, you can find new ways to spend time together. For example, find a restaurant close to your child’s college campus that you both like and that could be your favorite spot to catch up on what you have both been doing. Try not to see your child going to college as the end of a shared experience, and instead look at it as a chance to start new traditions and enjoy new experiences together.
Give Them Space
While you may be anxious to start planning visits as soon as your child leaves for college, it’s important that you appreciate their need to carve out their own space and get used to their new surroundings. Similarly, you need to get used to life without them being around every day, and you won’t be able to do that while you are planning trips down to your child’s college campus every weekend.
It’s important that you don’t suffocate your child when they move away to college, as not only do they need to learn how to cope on their own, but you may find that this has a counterproductive effect on your relationship. Allow your child the space and time they need when they first head off to college and let them come to you when they need you.
It may take a while for you to adjust to your child being away at college and this is normal. Be patient with yourself and don’t expect to adapt right away. You may find yourself a bit teary in the grocery aisle when you no longer need to buy your child’s favorite snacks, but this will pass in time and you will get used to the situation.
Focus on Your Other Relationships
When you’re a parent, your attention is often divided in many different directions at once, which can cause strain on other relationships such as your marriage or friendships. Once your kids go away to college, you now have the time to focus on these other relationships. For example, now that you don’t have to feed the kids every evening, consider scheduling a regular date night with your partner and reclaim that time for yourself. You could also schedule a monthly dinner with friends that you haven’t seen for awhile.
It’s natural to feel distraught and a bit lost when your child leaves for college. With so many changes, it’s completely understandable. But by following this parent’s survival guide, you will soon feel settled and get used to your new family dynamic.