Student Life

Letting Go: Changing Your Family When a Child Goes to College

By Donna Moody – UniversityParent Contributor

If you are like most parents, letting a child go out into the world is one of the hardest things you will ever do. After all, you have always been there, taking care of your baby, planning his days, offering the best chance of success, and shaping your child’s life. Now he is ready to go off to college to start living as an adult. Where does this leave you? How will your family cope with the change? While the transition from child to adult is often trying for teens, it can be equally stressful for families. However, by knowing what to expect and what you can do to help, this can be one of the greatest times your family will ever know.

Helping Your Child – Regardless of how comfortable your child appears to be with moving away, he is likely feeling scared, anxious, and more than a little lost. Excessive hovering will only make things worse. Instead, take this time to hand over the reins. Teach your child what he needs to know about personal finances, cooking, housekeeping, time management, and other necessary skills. Let him know that you are there to answer any questions, to give advice, and to offer support. Other than that, let him handle the plans for moving. This will allow him to feel success in his independence and to gain confidence for his college years.

Helping the Rest of the Family – If there are younger siblings, this will be a stressful time for them as well. Encourage your older child to spend time with his brothers and sisters and to talk about moving. It is also important to take time as a family to build some great memories and to open discussion of any fears and concerns the younger siblings may have.

As parents, you need to adjust your thinking as it regards to your older child. When he leaves home, he will be developing into his adult self. Be sure to support this growth by demonstrating trust and confidence in his ability to make decisions and solve problems. Of course, you should always be there for support and help. Just make sure you aren’t micromanaging his life. When he comes home for weekend visits or school breaks, remember that you are no longer dealing with a child. While there must still be house rules, the old curfews and limitations will need to be changed.

This period of your family’s growth can be especially hard if the child leaving home is an only child or the youngest. Empty nest syndrome can be devastating for many families who aren’t prepared. The secret of happiness, however, is to realize that you aren’t losing your child. Instead, you are seeing the fruits of your great parenting as you watch him land a career and family of his own. Take this time to focus on your marriage and to reestablish bonds with your spouse. Not only will this make your relationship healthier and happier, but it will also create a more loving home environment for your child to visit.

There is little doubt that seeing your children leave the nest is a frightening, difficult time for any loving parent. However, by seeing the situation as a healthy development instead of a loss, you can help your child and the rest of your family embrace this change and come through it stronger than ever.

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