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First-Semester Separation Tips for the Parents of College Freshmen

By Alyssa Abel


In 2017, more than 16 million students enrolled in public and private colleges. Many of them are young adults moving out for the first time. For parents and guardians, this move is a significant change — one that can be hard to adjust to.

You may still really be missing your student, but there's plenty you can do to deal with first-semester separation blues. These tips will help you to tackle the transition.

1. Give Yourself Time

Your student moving out is a big deal. Don't expect everything to feel normal right away; you need time to adapt to the new status quo. Take it one day at a time and don't feel badly if you need to text a quick, "I love you" now and then — it might pop up on your student’s phone just at the moment they need it most.

2. Focus on Other Relationships

If your nest is now empty, you may find yourself feeling aimless or uncertain. You’ve spent the past 18 years nurturing your son or daughter, and helping them grow into the person you’re so proud of today — and being separated can make you feel like you’re losing a key part of yourself.

Remember — you’re not losing your child. You’re entering the next stage of your relationship, one where they will need you in different ways. But you also have other important relationships to maintain. To help ease the sadness of the parent-child separation, focus on strengthening bonds with the other people in your life.

Reach out to your friends and family members. Plan a trip to visit your own parents, or spend an evening on the phone with your sibling. Reconnect with a coworker or close friend by inviting them out to lunch or catching a movie. If you want something steadier, make recurring plans — like Saturday brunch together or evening trips to the gym.

If you’re married or in a relationship, focus on rekindling your romance with more than regular dates. At this new stage in your lives, it might be time to try something new. Whether that means planning a long-dreamed-of vacation to a bucket list destination, or signing up for the marathon you’ve both been meaning to train for, take the time to grow together.

3. Communicate the College Way

Teens aren’t always the easiest to talk to, but at least when you’re living together communication happens. Now that your student is away, you might struggle with the infrequency of your conversations, or you might not know the best way to connect.

Staying in touch is a two-way street, so it’s important to be mindful of your student’s needs as well as your own. While you might want to hear their voice on a regular basis, your college kid might not have the time or energy to spend a daily (or even weekly) hour on the phone.

Try to find a communication schedule and method that works for both of you. Every college student is different — while some might prefer occasional text updates, others might want a quick audio or Facetime chat every couple of days. See if it’s easier to keep up with your child via a fun group app like WhatsApp or Houseparty.

It might take some experimentation, but you’ll get into a comfortable routine for communication — and you won’t lose that parent-child bond. In fact, a 2017 student study suggests that 64% of college kids form a stronger relationship with parents after they leave home. 

4. Further Your Education

With an empty (or emptier) nest, you might find that you have more time to focus on your own goals. Your college student can even be an inspiration to go back to school and further your own education.

Even if you have a full-time job or other responsibilities, online options make it easier than ever to earn a degree at your own pace, further your career and follow your passions.

If you’re tired of your office job, why not go back for that teaching degree you’ve always dreamed of? Hoping to advance to a leadership position in your company? Maybe it’s time to take the next step with a business management course. Whatever your goals, this is a good time to invest energy in yourself — your dreams are worth it.

5. Say Yes to Self-Care

When it comes to re-discovering yourself and keeping your spirits up, pursuing new interests can be as important as pursuing a career. Raising a child has been such a meaningful role and their activities have kept your calendar full — but when’s the last time you made room for your own activities?

Now is the time to explore and develop your curiosity and creativity. Remember how much you loved literature in college? Find a local book club to reignite your passion. Have you been intending to get more physically active? Sign up for that dance class, or a few sessions with a personal trainer to jump start a new fitness routine.

In addition to hobbies, schedule some much-needed me time. Take a bubble bath, cook yourself some comfort food and get eight full hours of sleep each night. Catch some motivational vibes from a morning podcast like Rachel Hollis’s “Rise,” or boost your confidence with a feel-good book like You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Positive energy will inspire you and lift your spirits.

6. Be Open to Change

When you send a child off to college, the hardest part can be adapting to the way the separation changes your life. It’s normal to feel uncertain, sentimental or out of control, but change can be positive — and the distance that comes with college can actually strengthen your bond.

Instead of rejecting change — and your feelings — keep yourself open to new opportunities. Change is challenging, but it also opens new doors. When you view this separation as an opportunity to explore yourself, your personal relationships and your parent-child connection, you’ll find that college is more than a transformative phase for your student — it’s a new chapter in your life, too.

Alyssa Abel is an education writer and blogger with a focus on higher education. Read more of her work for students, educators and parents on her website, Syllabusy.com.

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