As the summer vacation starts to wind down, although the hot weather may not show any signs of cooling, college students everywhere begin the preparations for heading off to college for the first time, or returning for another year. For many families, this represents the beginning of the empty nest, and while this can be an exciting time for the college student, it can be a difficult time for the parents. It means that they have to let their child go off to be the person they have raised them to become, and that their child is entering a new phase of life that means that they will be more independent and closer to becoming real adults.
The concept of letting go and accepting that a child is no longer a “child” in the strict sense of the word can be really difficult for parents. So can the prospect of having to face an empty nest and an empty home. By getting a sense of what to expect and what emotions a parent is likely to feel, the adjustment may be a little easier, and the transition may be smoother.
Here are some things for parents to consider so that they can make the transition just as easily as their children will.
Schedule regular contact
If you want to be sure you get to talk to your kids on a regular basis, arrange to call one another or chat via computer at a regular time each week. As long as you know that you are going to talk on a regular basis and you can expect to hear from your kids at a certain time each week, you don’t need to panic or call them. That can be embarrassing, and they may feel smothered and want to pull away.
Allow your children to tell you what they are doing
Don’t make your conversations seem like a police interrogation in which you are giving your child the “third degree.” This will make your child question your trust in them, and if they feel as though you are questioning their trustworthiness, they may not be willing to share much of anything with you. Allow your child to initiate the discussion about what they’ve been doing, how their classes are, whether they are having problems and so forth.
Encourage your child to resolve things on their own
Don’t try to interfere in your child’s affairs – especially when they are going through a rough time, be it through a boyfriend or girlfriend, a roommate, an academic situation or anything else. Offer a shoulder or an ear, and make suggestions, but allow your child to resolve things on their own.
Let your child determine when they’re coming home
Instead of pressuring your child to come home on weekends, allow them to determine when they want to come home. You may miss them a lot and wish they’d come home, but the time they have at home will be much more special if they decide that they want to come home for a weekend on their own. Assure your child that they are welcome to come home at any time.
Do something constructive with your sadness
If you are having trouble adjusting to the fact that your child isn’t at home, do something constructive. Get involved in activities you’ve always wanted to participate in, but never had the time to consider. Take the time to do the things for yourself that you’ve never been able to do.
And if you want to do something for your child, send a care package from time to time. A surprise care package will really warm your child’s heart. You can send your child home made goodies, packaged treats that you know they love, things like exotic coffees, teas or hot cocoa mixes, extra socks, personal care items, a quilt or afghan you crochet, or some software you think they could use for school. If you know that there is software your child will need, that’s a great gift to send because they will undoubtedly have to spend a considerable amount of money to buy it themselves.
Allow your child to become independent and don’t smother them no matter how much you miss them. You can always send a snail mail note or a card, just to tell them you love them and are thinking about them. Allow your child to know that you are always there for them, and when you do that but still give them the independence that they need to grow, your relationship will probably grow stronger. Part of loving a child is learning how and when to let go. That may be the most difficult thing a parent has to do.