Adjusting to an Empty Nest

Most college freshman have been at school for about a month now.  For parents, that means it has been at least 4 weeks without your child at home.  You have been learning what it is like to go through daily life without your child at dinner, in his room, talking about his day, or even leaving dirty laundry on the floor.  While you may be experiencing some relief and satisfaction to have launched your child, adjusting to life at home without him can be challenging.  Many empty nesters experience an increase in worrying, sadness, trouble relaxing, and/or feelings of loss.  A few strategies for easing your adjustment to an empty nest, particularly in the first few months, are as follows:

  1. Think about how you want to spend your newfound “free” time.  Are there activities you have been wanting to try but didn’t have time for?  Friends or family that you have not been able to see as often as you would like?  Hobbies that you have put aside or always wanted to start?  Work on transitioning the time you used to spend on daily parenting tasks to becoming more of the “you” you want to be.
  2. Stay in touch with your child.  Although how often and in what ways you communicate may vary depending on your child, your relationship, and what each of you want/need during the adjustment, it is important to find ways to stay connected with one another.  Talk with your child about what kind of communication both of you would like and, ideally, set a plan for sticking with it.  That might mean regular weekly phone calls, FaceTiming during lunch breaks, sending pictures of each other’s day, and/or texting daily.  
  3. Use (and strengthen) your coping skills.  Make sure you have things you can do and think if/when you start to worry too much about how/what your child is doing, if feelings of loss start to overwhelm you, and/or if you can’t seem to shake your sadness.  You may want to call a friend, take a walk, use positive self-talk, distract yourself, journal about the transition, and/or give yourself space to just “feel” (e.g., cry if you need to).   

While the adjustment to an empty nest will inevitably have its stressful, sad, and strange moments, be sure to remind yourself that this can be a time of positive progression for both of you.  Also, remember that changes in your relationship with your child will take time to get used to but can have plenty of advantages.


Kelly Theis, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist