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Dear Parents: A Simple Guide to Adjusting to Being an Empty Nester

Welcome to our College-in-Covid series! In this series, we pen a letter to each college class to start you off in your first semester/quarter back on campus. Our last letter of the series is a special one for parents!


Dear Parents,

As COVID-19 cases continue to decline, this means many universities are eligible to reopen as long as they follow safety provisions, such as masking and physical distancing. Although a return to in-person learning promises a more stable and interactive learning environment, the transition also presents new mental health challenges, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

I’m sure you have many mixed feelings about your child’s safety and social distancing measures as well as policies put in place to ensure their wellbeing. However, if you are anything like my parents, your child attending college in the middle of a pandemic may not be your only worry.

Here are 3 reasons why you may be feeling anxious about your child leaving for college:

You may be having separation anxiety

For those of you who are freshman parents, you may worry about the separation between you and your child. As you prepare for the life-altering change, you and your new college daughter/son may often experience increased anxiety. We usually think of separation anxiety as something experienced by younger children. We see kids cry when they have to leave their parents; a child may hold tight to a mother’s hand or a father’s leg. However, separation anxiety is not limited to children. As kids prepare to leave the nest, parents may experience this type of anxiety as well. Whether you are now an empty nester or have more children left at home, the experience of dropping your child off at college is the same for most parents.

You may be feeling an emotional sense of loss

It’s natural to worry about your child when he or she leaves home. As your baby becomes a college student, you only know what he/she is willing to share with you. Despite being more connected than ever, you still only know the basics, and now you have to rely on inconsistent and sporadic text messages to glimpse what is happening in your child’s life.

Whether your child lives at home or is living on campus, the move represents an emotional separation for you and your child. For most, the end of high school marks the symbolic end of childhood. For many of you, this can be a time of excitement. Simultaneously, though, you may also experience a sense of loss. This loss may be brought on by the anxiety you are experiencing.

You may find it challenging to relinquish control

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, you may struggle with relinquishing control. It’s important to let go and allow your child to make decisions for themselves. While you can provide advice and guidance, you have to take a step back. If you’re having a hard time with the idea of your child leaving for college, know that you’re not alone, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself and your child.

How can you manage your own fears while supporting your child as they explore the world and enjoy college without you? Here are 4 tips to try:

1. Refocus your energy

You have more time now to focus on yourself and what you enjoy doing. Revisit old interests. Discover new ones. Do things that you've always wanted to do but previously didn't have the time for!

2. Readjust your expectations

You will always be your child’s parents. But now as a college student, they will require a different type of support from you. Don’t be surprised if your relationship shifts a bit as your child matures grows. Recognizing this and encouraging the change in your dynamic will promote positive interactions and engagement.

3. Set a communication rhythm

College is busy, so don’t expect your child to call home every day or reply to your texts ASAP. Finding time to chat with your child will be more challenging, especially if you’re in a different time zone.

Try developing a communication rhythm that works for both of you — for example, they could allocate a half-hour window after dinner or call you on the way to class. Provide guidance. When your anxiety is in full force, it’s easy to want to over-engage and overextend yourself. Try just offering advice and guidance, without the pressure to ensure your child won’t be overwhelmed.

4. Accept that your child will make mistakes

College is a time of exploration for students. It’s a time for kids to separate from you and become more independent. As part of this learning process, your child will make mistakes and, as parents, you need to prepare for that.

In conclusion, it’s scary to watch your child leave home, entering a world where you cannot protect them from all they may encounter. Your job shifts from parent to mentor. So, take a minute to recognize that you instilled values in your child needed to make good choices and be successful. Now take a deep breath. You and your child will be ok, I guarantee you.

Keep in mind, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings”.- Ann Lauders



By: Francesca Mina


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