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My Kid Left for College ... Now What?

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Some moms kick up their heels when their kids leave -- others, not so much.

Husband hugging wife

Dr. Michelle Golland: When kids go off to college, some parents experience empty nest syndrome. Both mothers and fathers can experience feelings of sadness, anxiety, and grief when their kids leave the house. Many parents find they have a loss of identity as well.

The helicopter or hovering parents will find themselves at a loss with no child to manage at home. When kids go off to college, it will open up downtime in a whole new way. This may also bring up feelings of a loss of purpose, especially if a parent's identity was caught up in all the happenings of their children and not focused on their own life and identity.

This can also be a wonderful opportunity for couples to look inside themselves, look outside to new possibilities, and discover new ways to fill their life. I want couples to feather their nests in new and exciting ways, not just focus on their child going off to college.

The biggest transition that parents need to make is the redefinition of their marriage. As a couple, you are no longer in a state of distraction due to managing work, home, and the kids. Many couples find themselves looking across the dinner table and wondering who is sitting across from them. In the past decade, there has been an increase in divorce when kids go off to college. I believe communication, and not separation, is the answer to this challenging predicament.


1) Plan Ahead: Discuss with your partner what your thoughts and feelings are about your child going off to college. Are you both feeling sad, anxious, or excited? Do you have similar feelings or very different experiences?

2) Reconnect: Use the newfound time to connect with your partner. Make a real date night. You can now be alone in your house whenever you want! Remember when you couldn't wait for that to happen?

3) Make a Dream List: Make one list for yourself and one as a couple. Do you want to take a class, learn a language, travel?

4) Do a Life Inventory: Where are you physically, emotionally, and spiritually? If there is work to be done in these areas, then get to it.

The most important thing to remember is that an empty nest is a successful happy home and marriage. The goal of parenting is to bring forth good, loving, and self-sufficient people into the world. With your kids off to college, you can sit and reflect on a job well done while you're out on a date making a dream list together.

next: Yale Student's Body Returned to California for Funeral
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
BigLittleWolf September 21, 2009, 8:18 PM

You make excellent points. In particular, the idea of an “inventory” can be very helpful. Still - even if you’ve prepared, and you’re not a helicopter parent, the transition can be difficult.

I think it is particularly hard when you have parented solo. The empty nest is much emptier; those “future plans” are both wide open, and all too solitary. Not the same experience as for a couple.

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