10 Lessons Learned: Supporting Our College Bound Student and Preparing to be Empty Nesters
Our son was college-bound, and we were about to become empty nesters. This phase is an interesting moment in time – a bitter-sweet passage filled with mixed emotions for everyone involved.
When our son was young, we nurtured his natural bents and found opportunities to develop and support his aptitudes. It wasn’t always easy. Though difficult, we committed to resisting the urge to mold him into what we thought he should become. Instead, we asked God to help us discern how He was masterfully designed by Him to fulfill a purpose and give us the tools to train him in the way he should go.
Now years later, it was time to let go. Our college-bound son was brimming with excitement and optimism to further develop his God-given talents. He was more than ready to head out to college. This was our second rodeo – our daughter had left the nest five years ago. We knew from past experiences that our role and the dynamics of our relationship with our son and each other were unquestionably going to shift. This time around, we decided to be intentional about preparing for the changes it was about to bring. Instead of deep grief and loneliness, we experienced joy and even began to enjoy each other, our son, and the extra time we had in ways we would never have dreamed of.
Here are 10 lessons we learned about supporting our college-bound student and preparing to be empty nesters. They may help you too.
#1 It still takes a village
Often parents, especially mothers, feel they are no longer mothers when their children leave the nest. The truth is, being a parent is not a short-term commitment but a lifetime covenant. Being a mother or a father is not limited by age or proximity. Just like every phase of parenting calls us to a parent differently, so does this phase. We learned how to become parents to our emerging adult by receiving guidance from those that had done it well before us (Prov. 11:14.).
#2 Your feelings matter
Once your nest is empty, find the space to honor your own feelings and shed tears.
#3 Be happy for them
I cannot stress this enough: take the time to work through your worries, sadness or nervousness with your spouse or adult friends and not with your college-bound student. Be happy and excited for them. This allows them to leave the nest with much-needed confidence.
Pray fervently (1 Peter 5:7) for your college student and yourself. How you respond and what you do in their absence can either have a positive or negative impact on your college student, your marriage and you.
#5 Be Intentional with your time
“Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.”
—Dr. Margaret Rutherford.
To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job. They are a gift from God – not ours to keep but to teach how to soar on their own and fulfill their God given purpose. And as they leave the nest, we must also find the strength to search our hearts for the purposes God wants us to fulfill in the next phase of life. After the whirlwind parenting brings, empty nesting has the potential to make you wonder how you fit in the world.
Ecclesiastes 3:2 says there is a time to plant and a time to uproot. For us, the new season opened the door to personal freedom and meaningful relationships. Months before your student leaves home, pray and make a list of things you want to learn or do. Prioritize each other and your marriage. Find rewarding ways to spend the time you now have – like mentoring a young mom or dad, investing in a student, or volunteering (2 Tim. 1:5, Titus 2:3–5, Heb. 13:7). Find communities that share the same values as you. Cultivate adult friendships that bring meaning and push you to become a better version of yourself.
#6 Set check-in guidelines
Students tell me that their parents scam their phones when they get to college. Adjusting to college life and its demands outside the warmth of one’s home is genuinely difficult. No wonder students ghost their parents. You may think you are supporting your student but blowing up their phones does nothing but add more pressure. Establish and agree on a time to catch up and check in before your student leaves for college. Trust, that if your student needs you, he or she will reach out to you.
#7 Hands-off unless invited
Your student is changing drastically. He or she is now an emerging adult who secretly still needs their parents’ approval while they figure out how to do adulting without your help. When your student struggles, resist the need to solve their problems unless they ask you to help them. Boost their confidence by being a good listener and encouraging them to find their own solutions.
#8 Shower them with words of affirmation
College life is not easy. Find ways to remind your student that you love them and are proud of them.
#9 Send home-made packages
Send them care packages with their favorite things. For years, one of my favorite things to do was to invite other mothers who had students in college to my home to bake, write cards, pray and pack care packages.
#10 Acknowledge and celebrate changes
Commit to understanding and celebrating the changes your student has experienced while at college. Most students tell me that it is extremely difficult to come back home during their breaks. They rather stay away if they could afford it. Their number one complaint is that their parents still see them as the kid that left for college rather than the emerging adult that has experienced drastic changes and is learning to take ownership of their time and actions.
Work together on modifying previous house rules and establishing new expectations. Trust me, the time they have at home is limited. Use it wisely to fight for their heart and enrich your relationship with them.
Do you and your college-bound student need support? Contact us today to find out how we can help you.