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 about coping with an empty nest, 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 few tips that should help as you're coping with an empty nest as your college-bound student heads to campus.
Ride the rollercoaster
So what is empty nest syndrome? According to the Mayo Clinic, it's not a clinical diagnosis, but it is the very real feeling of sadness and even grief parents sometimes experience when their last child leaves home. However, 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 you to pursue. 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
Coping with your empty nest could mean embracing it. You and your spouse have weathered the ups and downs of parenting together for many years, and now it's time for the two of you. Relish this new phase of your relationship, and enjoy doing things as a couple again like planning a vacation or weekend getaway, setting up regular date nights, tackling home projects or getting together with friends.
Befriend other empty nesters
Now that you know what empty nest syndrome is, you may be better able to spot fellow parents experiencing this transition. Whether it's fellow parents from your teen's former high school or a dedicated social media group for parents of freshmen offered by your child's college, talking with others who are going through the same thing as you can help. 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 unannounced, 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 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 their 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 their own for some time it will create a new dynamic since they will feel like an adult and will want to be treated as such. Along with that will be your own set of expectations for your young adult to carry their own weight (e.g., 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.
Even with knowing what empty nest syndrome is and ways to cope with it, your empty home might still seem surreal at first. Remember that you aren't alone and this is just another one of those parenting milestones that many families go through. Just as you survived all of the others, you will likely come to accept — and possibly even enjoy — your empty nest.