How to Handle Life After Your Kid Goes to College

You just dropped off your baby at college. Yes, you wanted this for them; and yes, it’s a natural part of growing up. But still. Their image got smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, and you may have cried. And as you face frontward again towards home, wiping your eyes, you wonder how you will be able to face life without them in the house on a daily basis.

If you are a parent who is struggling because your kid is at college and you are at home missing them, here are some tips to cope. From a mom who knows!

This has been me MANY TIMES. At one time we had THREE girls in college at the same time. From a busy-happy-chaotic summertime melée in the house to quiet as a tomb in less than a week. Killer, y’all.

A few years ago, when it was the first time that two girls (not just one, as it had been the two previous years) left us, I went through a really depressed time for a few weeks. I missed them SO much.

But eventually life became livable again. I learned how to make the ache more manageable. Can I be honest? It doesn’t ever fully go away. BUT when you see your child taking on the world and loving it, it all becomes much easier to bear. Trust me on this one!

Here are some suggestions for how to handle the transition after your kid goes to college:

1) Realize that grief in this instance is perfectly normal. Having emotions is obviously part of being a human being. When you know your sadness at this time is a common thing, it seems more bearable somehow. Just roll with it, pamper yourself for a little while, and get lots of hugs from whoever is left at home.  Remember that it WILL get better; the sadness will not always be quite so painful.

2) Don’t hesitate to call! When you are thinking about your child/student/young-person-out-in-the-world-on-their-very-own-and-who-knows-what-might-happen, go ahead and pick up the phone. There is no reason a parent can’t let the child know that he is being thought of and missed.

I’ve read articles that say to give  some space, and to an extent that is true – don’t smother. It is true that each child will approach college differently, but any child will be warmed by a call from home that is full of encouragement and loving words.

(Caveat: do NOT pour your grief out over the phone; the child may be just as sad as you are and that could be overwhelming to them.  Just sayin’…)

You will be boosted up just by hearing their voice, even if only for a few minutes.  Don’t expect a long conversation, though; the college life is a busy one!

3) Start planning care packages. Make a list of all their favorite snacks.  Be thinking about what other needs they might have — pencils, socks, deoderant, etc — things they will not want to spend money on, lol.  You can start browsing the clearance aisles or gather those special foodstuffs when you head to the grocery store. Write a note to go in the box; maybe include some photos from home. Being able to do something concrete to care for them is helpful in easing the pain of distance; and for them, receiving a box from home is like getting a hug.

In full disclosure, I have never been a “care package” mom. But I present it here as an option if it will help you feel better. (But no shame for those of you like me, LOL!)

4) Don’t forget the kids still at home!  I know this goes without saying, but sometimes we can be so focused on missing someone who isn’t there that we don’t fully appreciate the ones who are there. Or we take them for granted, or we make them feel less than special.

Do something fun with the younger children — go out for ice cream or have a bowling night.  Make new traditions with them, so that everyone can remember that life is not over just because you can’t ALL be together.

5) Discover a new outlet. Mine was starting this blog! (Update: And watching it grow over the years as more kids have flown the coop. It’s been super helpful to help other moms as a way of forgetting my own feelings.) What can you find to do that will give your brain something to think about, plan for, and spend time on? Maybe start a new knitting/crocheting project, or paint a room in the house, or plan the veggie garden for this year. Purposely pick something that will take a few weeks… enough time to get over the strongest emotions of loss.

6) Start planning for the next time you will see them. Will there be a Parent’s Weekend on campus? Or will the newbie freshman be able to come home before Thanksgiving? Start cleaning their room — launder the sheets, sweep the floor, whatever — or planning their favorite menu. Maybe pick up a special gift that you can take with you or that can be waiting for them on their bed when they arrive.

UPDATE: We just sent our last child off to college. She is an athlete, so I’m planning for a weekend at the college in about six weeks to watch some games. I’ve made reservations at an Airbnb, so she can stay with us, if she wants, to get off of campus for a few nights. Knowing I will see her again fairly soon is helping ease the pain of now!

7) Pray for your child. Get a copy of their schedule and pray as they go to class. Pray for their friendships. Pray they will make wise decisions. Pray for them to be protected from harm. Pray for their future spouse. God will hear all of those, and you will feel like you are still having an impact on your child’s life, even if it is more indirect than when they are living at home with you.

This is what we raise them for, is it not? To leave us, to go out into the world and lead productive lives?

Though we feel sad, we need to remember that they are fulfilling the goals we had for them, that we have been working toward since they were born.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, is it?  And the kicker is that once we’ve started, we are in it for the rest of our lives!!  So we must be prepared for these emotions to come and go through the seasons… and remember there is much to be thankful for in every season.

And even in the midst of the emotions, we know one thing:  We wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?


7 thoughts on “How to Handle Life After Your Kid Goes to College”

  1. This is so me today. I just emailed my friend, a VERY recent empty nester and talked about how we pray for them to grow up and get married and serve the Lord, then when they do, we have that brief moment of, “boy I sure wish he still lived at home, he could even bring his wife!” I have to talk myself out of it and say, I have a 21 y.o. college graduate, who is married to a great gal, going to Seminary, working FT and is not dependent on his parents, I should be ecstatic! I can’t even type this without crying, what is wrong with me?!………

    1. Aw, Deb, hugs!!! I have come to the conclusion that it will probably never get any easier. Maybe if we stop expecting it to, it actually will… :-)

    1. I just dropped my first born off over the weekend and was not prepared for the grief I am feeling. I feel the same, simultaneous joy and sadness.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.