Dealing With the Transition to College
You wake up one morning, and it finally hits you that your kids are no longer living with you; they’re not just gone for a few days, but for the year, maybe longer. Their bedroom is still their bedroom, except it’s clean, the bed is made, some things are gone, and it feels empty.
A change like this can be a radical, sometimes unsettling shift for both you and your kids — an 18-year chunk of your lives is suddenly missing, and you’re no longer quite who you were. As you feel your way through the new and empty spaces, and adjust to the changes that come with freshman year, here are six small bits of advice for helping you cope.
The Freshman Year: A New Chapter, With Its Own Beginning
1. Don’t try and fill the empty nest.
You’re sad. Allow yourself to feel that way. It’s called the empty nest syndrome for a reason, and if you try to snuff out this feeling by filling the nest with new worries, you’re going to do yourself a disservice. Letting go is incredibly difficult, especially since you worked so hard to reach that point where your kids would be ready to handle the world on their own. But remember this: You’re still their mom or dad, and that’s never going to change. Eventually, they may even be asking you for parenting advice.
2. Make sure your sadnesses stay your own.
Be careful about burdening your kids with your lonely or down days, especially during a time in their lives that will have its own share of feeling small and lost at the same time that it’s filed with awe and wonder and the exhilaration of new starts. It’s okay to let them know you miss them, but make sure they know that you’re excited for them too. This is a good way to remind them that they’re loved without smothering them.
3. Send care packages.
One of the best pick-me-ups when you’re a freshman who’s homesick, stressed out, and a little depressed is getting a surprise care package from mom and dad. Ship a box of snacks, fruit, homemade bread, a new blanket, a couple movies, a book of Sudoku, a few issues of their favorite magazine — anything that reminds them of home — and you’ll be the coolest parents in the dorm. And you just might find the act of putting together that package of things you know will make them happy helps you feel brighter too. Hint: If you don’t have time to make one yourself, many colleges and online stores have pre-made care packages you can order and have sent on your behalf.
4. It’s your turn.
You’ve spent so much time and made so many sacrifices so you could prepare and afford to send your kids to college that you may have forgotten what makes you tick. Take this time to find yourself again, maybe even rekindle some old dreams, and concentrate on yourself now that you can: Go back to school, take up a sport, join a club, revisit an old hobby. Do whatever it is that fills your life with purpose. And don’t for one second feel guilty about it.
If you’ve gotten so used to having your calendar filled with your kids’ extracurricular activities, and you can’t seem to get by without a day that’s bursting at the seams, get involved in the community. An activity or charity can help you stay busy when you’re not at work, and if you particularly miss your kids’ teenage exuberance, you can volunteer at a youth center or club in order to stay in touch with that young energy.
6. Leave their bedroom alone.
Keep your kids’ bedroom the same for at least freshman year. Resist the urge to redecorate, and hold off on turning it into your office, studio, or new game room. Trust us, after a long and what can be a harsh first year at college, your kids will appreciate coming home to a place that feels like home. They’ll have missed those reassuring pieces of their old life almost as much as they’ll have missed you — and know that they do miss you, even if they don’t always say so.