There’s a meme that’s been circulating around social media since the beginning of August – perfectly capturing the emotional distress of sending your child off to college.
Can you relate?
It’s that time of year again, and even with the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, millions of young adults are making the transition to leave home and attend a university.
Alongside them, millions of parents are fielding the gamut of emotions as they prep and watch their children fly from the nest for the first time.
Last year, an estimated 19.9 million students attended colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
And while it’s true that the number of students heading “off” to college might be a little less than in previous years, the weight of this life transition is still the same.
So whether your child has opted for distance learning, chosen to attend a school closer to home, or will attend a school across the country, use these four coping strategies to help you get a handle on the change.
First, remember that this is a BIG transition. We know that sometimes it seems like in the blink of an eye, your child went from infant to young adult, ready to take on the world, and you just can’t figure out where the time went. Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel sad and it’s perfectly normal! Trust that your years of hard work bringing up your child, teaching him or her life’s little and big lessons, and preparing them for this transition has been enough.
If you find yourself having difficulty letting go of your feelings of sadness or even moving into depression after a few weeks, it might be a good idea to find a trained therapist to help you work through your feelings.
Alongside with your child, you have no doubt read undergraduate guides, dorm reminders, class schedules, dining hall tips, dorm room shopping lists, and maybe even gone on an information overload to prep for moving day. Take a moment and remember that you’ve likely done everything you can to help craft the transition plan and that now is the right time to let it take hold. Let all your planning play out and relax, knowing things will oftentimes naturally evolve and you can make adjustments to the “plan” as it rolls out.
Your child, whether you’re ready for it or not, is now a young adult who can make decisions on his or her own, advocate for themselves, and take care of themselves. It’s important now to take just a little step back and let them shine while, of course, reminding them (and yourself) that you’re still close by. Letting go even just a little bit is always tough and often feels strange. Make sure to stay connected with your child and ensure that they know you’re there to help with any difficulties that arise. Now is their time to fly with a little more independence – and it’s your time to admire your child’s strength in all they have become and their drive to bravely step out on their own.
Remember self-care? It may have been a few years since you have focused on your needs and your goals. What are your dreams? Are there hobbies you’ve taken a step away from since becoming a parent and raising children? The so-called ‘empty nest’ period doesn’t have to carry a negative spin along with it. Use this time to reconnect with your spouse, resume a loved hobby or start a new one, focus on your career goals or personal goals, or simply relax into rest and regrouping. It’s OK to let yourself do these things and can be therapeutic as you handle the range of emotions you feel in letting your child step out into the world.
Need a little more help adjusting to this new phase of life? Many of our therapists are parents and caregivers of college-age kids and some of us have experienced the ‘empty nest’ change first-hand. Our counselors are specially trained to help clients work through difficult emotions surrounding phase of life issues. We’re here for you and we want to help. Learn more about our approach and reach out to us anytime.