A child graduating from high school and heading off to college is an exciting and rewarding time in a family’s history, but it’s also a difficult and sad time for many parents and kids alike. From the young adult’s perspective, he or she is leaving the safety and security of home for the first time and becoming an independent adult in the world. From the parents’ perspective, they feel both pride and loneliness at the prospect of having a child leave home.
For some parents, this feeling of grief (referred to as the empty nest syndrome) can begin as early as when the first child gets accepted to college. There are both healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with saying goodbye to your college graduate, and this article will explain some ways your family can manage the feelings of sadness that come when a child heads off to college.
Recognize Your Grief When They Leave
Grieving isn’t just something that occurs upon the death of a loved one, and people can experience grief in response to any loss—including when a child leaves home. When this happens, it’s important to recognize that your feelings of loss are legitimate and that you don’t have to suppress or ignore what you’re feeling. Instead, talk about what you’re feeling to friends, family, and your partner, or seek out a group counseling session that’s dedicated to parents who need support when a child leaves home.
Have a Communication Plan in Place
The beginning of college is a very important time in the lives of young adults, not only because of the education they’re getting, but also because this is the first time in their lives they are truly allowed the freedom to experience life and the world without someone always looking over their shoulders.
But that doesn’t mean all ties must be cut, and it’s more important now than ever that you maintain regular communication with your child. Have a plan in place about when you’ll talk, how you’ll communicate, and who is responsible for contacting whom. For instance, will you have set days of the week on which to talk, and will you communicate primarily via a certain method (such as email, texting, phone, and video chats)? Planning these things in advance can be a comfort to both you and your child, and a gentle reminder that you’re still there for each other.
Redirect Attention to Yourself
Being a parent takes time and energy, so when your child goes off to college, this can be a great opportunity for you to reconnect with the person you used to be, get involved again with hobbies you once enjoyed, and take up pastimes you’ve been too busy for. Not only will this help you work through your feelings of grief and move past your sadness, but it’s also a healthy way to get in touch with yourself again as an individual, and can be a great time to find that spark again with your spouse.
As a Littleton child behavior psychologist, Dr. Lazarus has seen many families struggle when a high school student graduates and goes off to college. It’s a time of conflicting emotions for the entire family, because while everyone is proud of and excited for the next stage in the young adult’s life, the family is also going through a major change, and this can often feel like losing a member.
There are ways you can help your family cope with the feelings of sadness that come with a young adult starting college, and if necessary, there are always therapy sessions and groups you can join to help you get through the worst of the grief you may feel.