Santa Clara University

What About Me? Dealing with Parental Blues

Many parents have a difficult time adjusting to their son or daughter’s absence. It is quite normal to feel some sadness at this time, cry occasionally, flip through old photo albums, or sit in the student’s bedroom as an attempt to feel closer to him/her. These feelings and behaviors are very natural.
How do you know if you have the ­parent’s ­version of the Freshman Blues or “Empty Nest Syndrome”? Here are some common signs:

  • You gain or lose weight.
  • Tensions increase within the family, with your spouse or other children.
  • You feel deep sadness and/or cry for no apparent reason.
  • You find yourself wanting to call your student frequently (i.e., more than once per day).

What to do BEFORE they leave:

  • Be proactive. If you’re worried about empty-nest syndrome, it’s best to be proactive. Prepare ahead for your new identity so you can make this an exciting and liberating new chapter in your life.
  • Find ways to fill the void BEFORE it happens. Go back to work, take classes, volunteer, exercise, etc.
  • Begin reading books on parents and the college transition (see suggested readings at the end of this booklet).
  • Begin cultivating an adult relationship with your student. Ask your student how he/she envisions your relationship with each other changing over time. Share your hopes and collaborate on future plans.
  • Instill the final lessons. Listen to your student. Does she/he have any doubts about life away from home? Help your student learn the basics about cooking, laundry, and banking while sharing some final bonding moments over the summer.
  • Throw a send-off party! Ceremonies give everyone a chance to acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate life’s passages. Consider throwing a joint party with other family friends who are sending their students off, too. Get creative with gifts or party favors that symbolize freedom and responsibility—key chains, a basic cookbook, a box of laundry detergent, or a wallet with a twenty-dollar bill for a cab ride home from a party.

What to do AFTER they leave:

  • Recognize that it is normal to have mixed feelings when your student leaves home. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise during this period of adjustment; develop and maintain your own support systems.
  • Do your best to maintain your own sense of well-being. This may involve eating and sleeping well, exercising, and setting new and creative goals for yourself.
  • Taking on a new project or hobby. This can be an excellent way to channel your energy and feelings.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Establish a weekly check-in routine such as e-mail updates every Sunday, or Saturday morning phone calls. (And let your student know that he/she can call you anytime.)
  • Spend more time with other family members. Make a weekly “ritual” to spend time together (i.e., dinners out, movies, board games)
  • Seek out counseling for yourself and/or family if necessary.