When Your Oldest Leaves for College

If you have more than one child, the empty nest syndrome may be delayed for a little while as your oldest heads off to college, but the whole family is likely to be affected by their absence. The tips below can help you and your family navigate this change.

Consider Family Relationships

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with this. If your college-bound child was very close to one or more siblings, the situation will be very different than if there was a great deal of sibling rivalry. Therefore, the first thing to do is to honestly assess how each of your kids feels about this. Try not to project, just because you will miss your oldest or remember missing your own siblings when they went off to college, the experience will not necessarily be the same for your own children. Whatever their relationship with the oldest was like, give them space to talk about how they are feeling about the situation.

Stay in Touch

You will want to make a plan for keeping in touch with your child, and again, depending on the family dynamics, your other children might want to participate in a regular family video call or may not be particularly interested. If the latter is true, try not to push it too much. Sibling relationships can be complicated and can ebb and flow.

Another thing you will need to think about is how to be available for your college-age child without interfering with their independence. It’s appropriate to step in if there are serious issue, such as health problems. Find out what kind of physical and mental health resources are available at the school, including the possibility of telehealth, which can reduce the friction for your child around getting needed care. Keep an eye out for signs of emotional difficulties. You may want to review a guide on managing depression, especially if your child seems to show signs of persistent feelings of sadness or other negative emotions they are struggling to manage.

Plan Visits

You might want to plan a family visit to see your child one weekend in the first semester. Alternately, you may want to plan some fun activities for when they come home. Again, however, keep in mind that this may be dependent on what your child enjoys and is comfortable with. Some might prefer to just have some down time when they are home or to spend time with old friends.

Plan for the Future

This is a good trial run to prepare you and your partner for when all of your kids eventually leave home. If you have been more focused on them than on one another, this is a good time to pull back and pay attention to each other again, even if you’re still a few years away from the empty nest. Parents often are surprised to find that they have grown apart. If this is the case, you can start reconnecting now. What do you want the next decade or so of your life and relationship to look like?