Kids at college: How does an empty nester cope with the empty nest?
A parent may feel sad, lonely, happy, relieved or a combination of all of those emotions when a child goes off to college.
And that's perfectly normal, said Dr. Steven Tobias, psychologist and director at The Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown.
He said teens are obnoxious by nature are, so by the time they're ready to go to college, parents are usually happy to let them go.
But how does a parent cope with the next chapter? Tobias said the biggest transition is that the kids are adults now. When they come home to visit, parents need to realize their relationships aren't only parent-child — but rather adult-adult.
Parents need to respect their adult children's space and independence, he said. There must be discussions, negotiations and problem-solving approaches to issues as they arrive, Tobias said. Grounding college-aged kids, sending them to their bedrooms and taking their phones away won't work, he said.
Tobias said parents must first realize there is a change in the family dynamic, and think about what that change means. Then, he said, parents should sit themselves down and think about what they want next in life.
While a parent will never stop worrying about a child, the day-to-day demands decline when children leave the house — meaning its time for parents to focus more on themselves, he said.
"What are my needs? What do I want? What do I want to do?" Tobias said.
He said those questions can be difficult to answer because they require a shift in perspective.
He said people tend to keep extra-busy so they don't feel lonely or sad. But he said said means doing things just to do them — and that can be unfulfilling.
"Hang in there, keep focused on yourself, keep thinking about what you want, make steps to achieve those things and eventually you'll get used to it," Tobias said.