More Than an Empty Nest: Your Life When the Kids Go to College

When your college freshman goes off to school, especially if it is your last or your only child, it can mean a big adjustment. There’s a reason many divorces happen at this time, as parents who have remained together while their children grew up discover that they do not have much in common or similar life goals any longer. Parents may also find it difficult even if their relationship is solid. For 18 years, their main focus has been on raising a child, and if they have done their job well, the child will be increasingly independent. This is a big lifestyle change, but there are steps parents can take to cope and thrive, either on their own or together.

Your Parenting Duties

It’s important to let your child figure some things out on their own and become increasingly independent in college, but there are still plenty of ways your college student kid needs you. First, there are financial needs. You may have helped your child work out a budget, or you might cosign on a private loan so your teen is able to borrow money to pay for college. You will probably need to continue helping financially as well. Your kid will still need open communication, whether it is about roommate troubles, school and career worries or relationship agonies. The best way to manage your new role is to try to be a good listener without stepping in to interfere unless there are serious issues, such as physical or mental health problems.

Your Own Goals

The empty nest is the phrase often used to describe parents after their children leave home, but these are negative-sounding words for what can be a vital and exciting times. Whether on your own or with your spouse, you can start making plans for the years ahead, for the things you didn’t have the time, money or energy to do because you were raising children. Perhaps you were waiting to pursue your own education, or maybe you want to start your own business or take a big trip. Maybe you want to remodel your home or downsize. It might be time to take up a new and time-consuming hobby, such as long-distance running, animal rescue or gardening. You may want to work toward one large goal or make a bucket list of many smaller things you would like to experience or accomplish.

Your Physical Surroundings

One of the biggest shocks that can happen to many teenagers who go away for school is returning to find that their room has changed and has been turned into a study, a sewing room or a guest room. With more young adults returning home to live, you might not want to make any irreversible changes, and you should talk to your kid about the changes before you make them. However, you are not obligated to keep their room as a pristine shrine, especially if they are at school far away and are only at home a few times a year. Changing the room can also be a big help in adjusting to your new life.