Living in an Empty Nest: Parents' Biggest Fears

If you’re going to be living in an empty nest soon, this column is for you.

I’ll officially be an empty nester next month when my son heads off the college. My daughter is already back in college.

I wanted to share a column, written by Lee Bierer, an independent college counselor and a syndicated columnist, about facing the prospects of having a child leave for college. The good news, according to Lee, is that living without your college-age child around isn’t as bad as you might imagine. That’s certainly been my experience with my daughter.

Here is Lee’s column:

I can speak for myself and many other moms and dads when I say that the anticipation of the departure of your first child to college is far worse than the reality of saying goodbye.

I, for one, thought about it and, yes, cried about it, beginning in January shortly after the acceptance letters started arriving. The tears weren’t an everyday occurrence and it was far from predictable. It would sometimes happen when I was at the supermarket and realized that I wouldn’t need to purchase two packages of chocolate-chip cookies each week for much longer!

As parents we feel some combination of vicarious pleasure of what this new chapter represents for our children, nostalgia for our own experiences, as well as nostalgia for the “good old days” when we were the focus of our children’s lives.

Also at play is a concern about the upcoming transition. We wonder about our changed role as a parent and maybe even a changed relationship with our spouse.

Parents’ fears

According to I’ll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students, some of the biggest off-to-college fears for parents are:

  • Losing communication with my child.
  • My child making poor judgments.
  • Developing a new relationship with my child.
  • The dangers of drugs and alcohol.
  • My child’s inability to handle newfound freedom.
  • My inability to let go.
  • Overall safety for my child.
  • The effects of my child’s departure on the family.

If that didn’t make you sad or scared, then saying goodbye will be a piece of cake!

Students’ worries

What’s interesting is to notice is how different the biggest off-to-college fears are for students:

  • Not being happy at the school I choose.
  • Disliking my roommate.
  • That my parents won’t trust me on my own.
  • Missing my high school friends.
  • Homesickness.
  • That college won’t be what I expect.
  • Choosing a major.
  • That I will not meet the school’s academic standards.
  • Constant contact from my parents.
  • Financial problems.

How to cope

Here are some tips to make these last few months – and the upcoming transition – go more smoothly for everyone:

Expect ebbs and flows. There will be times when your child is more emotional and wants to talk and you’re focused on the number of towels you need to purchase. You’re are not always going to be in sync, but follow your child’s lead: Talk when they want to talk, listen when they need an ear and fade away when they’re craving some independence.

Have “the money talk.” Make sure they are financially literate. Open a checking and/or credit card account with them if you are confident they can handle the responsibility.

Review your expectations so there are no midnight calls asking you to transfer money.

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Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and an eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Price of a Bachelor’s Degree.

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  1. Hi Lynn, My daughter Brittany went off college in Sept.I’m divorced and have split custidy of her since she was 10yrs old now she is 18. I have a some what of a imicable relationship with her mom and grandparent’s.This past summer she was a 2yr beach lifegaurd that included a lot of late night party’s. I had given her some boundry’s to maintain,1am to be home on work night’s and 2am when she had no work the next day.As the summer went on she was coming home later and later.I said if you come late again I will lock the door.Well it didn’t take long,at 3:30am she was not home and I called her, she said she was out with her friends and I said your bag’s will be waiting for you outside the door. Her mom and grandparents thought I was wrong to lock her out.They took her in with no concequences.I have not spoken to her for 3 weeks now since she has gone away to college.I Don’t know if I am mad or sad,but it’s killing me. I’ve trid texting her and I might get a yes or no ansewer or nothing at all.Overall she is a good student with a good head on her shoulders.She has good suport from her mom and grandparents,for now.but she flip flops back and forth and in the past we’ve alway’s stuck together and wouldn’t let her get over.until now. I’m looking for some direction.Thank you