Empty Nest Syndrome - What to Do When Kids Go to College

Dealing With Empty Nest Syndrome

Your baby is all grown up and ready for college. As a parent, it's a very bittersweet time. On the one hand, you're proud of the young adult you raised and excited for the next chapter in their life. But there's always the nervousness accompanying the impending "empty nest" that you'll be facing, especially if you don't have any younger children at home. Part of you is a bit excited for a kid-free household - can you even remember what that feels like? Still, you're struggling to come to terms with the whole "letting go" thing.

Here are some ways to cope with your empty nest as your college-bounder heads to campus.

Ride the rollercoaster

If you go into the transition with the understanding that it will be an emotionally bumpy time for all, you'll be better equipped to ride the highs and lows. There is nothing abnormal about having conflicting feelings about your child leaving the nest. You may feel sad, nostalgic, excited, nervous, and hopeful - all at the same time.

Take off your parent hat

You know all of that "you" time you've sacrificed over the years? Now is your time to reclaim it and embrace the other roles that parenting full-time didn't allow for. Raise your hand for a volunteer project that excites you, take a painting class, and train for a 5K race - you know, all of those so-called bucket list items you've been putting aside.

Reconnect with your spouse

You've weathered the ups and downs of parenting together for many years, and now it's just the two of you once more. Relish this new phase of your relationship. Enjoy doing things as a couple again.

Befriend other empty nesters

Whether it's fellow parents from your teen's former high school or a dedicated social media group for moms and dads of freshman offered by the school, commiserate with others who are going through the same thing as you. Better still, look to those who've been through the process recently for their coping suggestions and encouragement.

Make a campus visit

You should resist the urge to just show up at your son or daughter's dorm room, but do take advantage of college family weekends or other events. These are as much designed for you as they are for your freshman. Schools understand that the high school-to-college transition is a family affair, and they do all they can to help everyone adjust. Family visits offer a fun way to get together at your child's home away from home so you can get a glimpse into his or her new world.

Update your house rules

If your child will be returning home on weekends or longer school breaks, you should expect some push back regarding curfews or other pre-college routines. Once your child has been on his or her own for some time it will create a new dynamic since he or she will feel like an adult, and will want to be treated as such. Along with that, however, will be your own set of expectations for your young adult to carry his or her own weight (for instance, not rely on you to do the laundry). These are things that you should work out together so that your visits can remain tension-free.

Although your empty home might seem surreal at first, it's just another one of those parenting milestones that many families have to get through at some point. Just as you survived all of the others, you may come to accept - and possibly even enjoy - the empty nest.