The Empty Nest: Surviving Freshman Year as a Parent
Freshman year in college is one of the most formative times in any life, signaling steps towards building a career, creating a diverse friendship network and, ultimately, marking the beginning of adulthood. In the build up to this life-changing year, it’s easy to underestimate the challenges parents can face when left with an empty nest.
If your son or daughter is heading off to college, or if they have recently arrived in their dorm, this guide will equip you with 10 tips to help ensure freshman year is smooth sailing—for both you and your beloved child.
The Importance of Your Child Moving Out
Before diving into the tips, it’s worth highlighting how important leaving home can be for freshmen.
There are plenty of reasons to live in dorms, but the main benefits come from the plethora of life-lessons one acquires from living on their own for the first time. Of which, becoming more responsible, independent, sociable, and organized are but a few.
While having your child move out can be stressful, dormitories are the perfect first step. Providing all the benefits of independence and community while keeping a safety-net in place. Meaning that even if your son or daughter is staying within the same city, it may be a good idea for them to move into dorms.
10 Tips for Surviving Freshman Year (as a Parent)
Help your son/daughter prepare, but don’t take the reins.
Having organized most things in your son or daughter’s life up to this stage, it can be easy to default into parenting mode when they start preparing for the big move. While they will undoubtedly need a lot of help, it’s important that the step into college is a step they take.
So, from choosing a course or dorm to stocking up on dorm essentials, be sure you are supporting them, instead of leading. For example providing informative suggestions of what your son or daughter should take and pack for college, instead of simply buying it for them. You can check out our list of dorm essentials for your daughter here, and a list of dorm essentials for your son here. After all, it’s their freshman year, not yours.
Focus on the excitement, not the sadness.
The build up to the big move will be filled with mixed emotions from everyone involved. But chances are, you’re feeling more of those tough emotions—anxiety and sadness. While it’s important to embrace these, as we’ll discuss later, it’s also paramount that you focus on the excitement, so they can build strong, positive emotional foundations to kick-start their college experience.
Ensure they know what to expect.
While there are plenty of exciting things around the corner for a freshman, there are also challenges. From challenges surrounding study and independence to social challenges, sexual experiences, peer pressure and online encounters, a lot can happen at college. Ensuring your child is prepared for these challenges will help them better approach them, while also providing you with some peace of mind. Our college advice blogs can help your child become aware of the challenges and lifestyle of living in the dorms and attending college before they go.
Give them space.
Once your child has moved out, they will be on your mind; a lot. But instead of getting in touch too often, be ready to give your son or daughter some space to explore everything college has to offer. Given we’re in the digital age, you may also have the urge to spy on their social media accounts. But we would greatly discourage this, as research has found that social media prying can lead to familial tensions. Chances are, no news is good news.
Call sparingly, with a reason.
That said, keeping in touch is a must. But it should be done sparingly. A good way to manage this is to call with a reason. And while “I was thinking of you” can be a good reason every once in a while, it won’t pass every day. A good rule of thumb can be keeping calls weekly, unless otherwise desired by your son/daughter. You may also want to consider video calls, as research suggests the additional body language and visual cues of video calls can lead to much more gratifying calls between freshmen and their parents.
Remind them to be careful – but don’t nag.
When on a call, it’s easy to become concerned and begin to nag about anything from cleanliness to schoolwork and friends. While research has shown that parental reminders can help steer young adults in the right direction, being too negative or controlling can easily cause calls to turn sour.
Don’t make surprise visits.
On paper, surprise visits sound like a lovely idea. But in reality, they are not. If you are to visit, be sure to arrange plans in advance to ensure (a) your son/daughter is free and (b) that you don’t become a nuisance or hinderance on your child’s own new college routines and time. As they grow into adults, activities will need to be done equally on their terms as yours.
Expect ‘The Call’ and know how to react to it.
Being a freshman is tough. From loneliness to overwhelm to heartbreak, there will almost certainly be a moment your son or daughter reaches out in a sorry state. Receiving this will kick your parental brain into gear—the first instinct being to rush over to provide physical support. But this often isn’t the best idea.
Instead, it can be more beneficial to be supportive and attentive but firm to help your son or daughter face the challenge ahead. The right support will likely see them grow greatly as a result.
Be kind to yourself
It’s easy to focus solely on your son or daughter during freshman year, but that cannot come at the cost of appreciating your own emotions. You’re likely to miss them a real lot, and even grieve their absence. This is all natural. After all, they have been a huge part of your life and routines for the past 18-or-so years.
Thus, be sure to allow yourself to feel the sadness their absence may bring. Sharing those emotions with your partner or close friends can help provide insights and empathy from the many others who have gone through a student leaving for college and an empty nest at home.
Embrace this as a new opportunity for you.
Your kid going to college may be upsetting, but beneath that upset is a huge new opportunity for you, as you no longer need to be an on-call parent day-in, day-out.
With all this extra free time, you have tons of opportunities, be it reconnecting with your partner, spending time with friends, picking up a hobby or dusting off an old passion project. It’s time to form new routines and habits throughout the day to keep you healthy and to preserve your own mental health.
And, even better, if you put this free time to work you may even find it easier to dodge the intense sadness and loneliness that an empty nest can bring.
It is hard to see your son or daughter leave the nest, but it is a necessary step in any young adult’s life. Being a strong, foundational safety-net of support can help your child really flourish as a freshman, but you mustn’t forget the opportunity this time presents for you to also reconnect with people and rediscover passions. With your child out of the house and living in the dorms, it will be a time of significant growth for you both. Better yet, if managed well, this period can create strong new foundations for your familial relationships moving forwards. And putting these tips to work will allow you all to stay close, even when you live many miles away.