Off to College: Ways for Parents to Cope

Change is in the air as long summer days shorten and the focus on school supplies becomes a priority. Parents may experience a range of emotions – panic, reluctance or even relief – with an impending empty nest or a first child heading to college.

Behavioral Health Therapist Bill Garrot, MA, LPC, LCSW, LCAS, who works in Monarch’s outpatient office in Greensboro, noted that difficult transitions are part of life such as getting married, starting a family or beginning a new job.

“Oftentimes saying goodbye to your teenager can be an anxiety provoking part of life. The fact that as a parent you are encountering uneasiness as your child heads to college doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a negative experience,” he explained.

Garrot offered the following ways to cope after college drop off and view some of the positives of this life experience.

1. Accept the timing
Avoid comparing a child’s timetable to personal experiences or expectations, and allow your young adult to take responsibility for themselves as they are entering a new chapter of life.

“Focus on helping your child succeed when he or she does leave home and may turn to you for assistance. Take one day at a time,” Garrot suggested.

2. Keep in touch
Plug in time that works for both the parent and college-aged child to stay connected. “Just because your child moves away, doesn’t mean they are not going to be part of your life. Today’s technology allows for a variety of ways to stay connected with your child such as texting, video-chatting and apps such as FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype,” said Garrot.

3. Seek support
Friends and family can provide a comforting support system when the home environment becomes less hectic and quiet, and a child’s absence is felt. “Share your feelings. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor or a mental health provider,” he advised.

4. Stay positive
A child leaving home may leave a parent feeling sad, but the phase of life doesn’t have to be unfavorable. “This time of life for parents can open up many areas that have been left unexplored due to life’s demands or activities centered around the child,” Garrot said.

Adapting to this new chapter when a child leaves home can include focusing on the extra time available, taking the energy from parenting to devote to marriage or exploring new personal interests and hobbies. “Staying optimistic is key in combination with building natural supports such as family or friends when you, as a parent, need a little extra comforting in the absence of your child,” Garrot advised.

For more information about available services or to schedule behavioral health services, contact Monarch at (866) 272-7826.