TTU counselor offers parents tips for coping with empty nest syndrome

Empty nest syndrome may not be an official medical term, but the period of readjustment for parents is real when children leave home to go to college.

With today’s parents more involved in the lives of their children than ever before, in fact, the loneliness associated with empty nest syndrome can feel especially pronounced, says Lisa Macke, a counselor at Tennessee Tech University.

That’s one reason why she gives presentations titled “Parents Make Transitions Too” during each session of the university’s Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR).

“The helicopter parents associated with the Millennial Generation have a greater investment in the minutia of their children’s daily lives, and while there are a number of advantages associated with that trend, there are some disadvantages too,” Macke said.

“One disadvantage is that when those students leave home to come to college, it can have a bigger impact on their parents’ lives. The student’s absence can seem to leave a bigger hole,” she continued.

Other factors that can impact the severity of a parent’s empty nest feelings include their child’s individual personality traits and location of his or her chosen campus.

“A child who’s an extrovert, for example, tends to bring a livelier dynamic to the energy of a household than one who’s more quiet and introverted, so her absence might create an enhanced feeling of emptiness,” Macke said.

“The transition might also be harder for parents whose child has chosen a campus that’s too far away for him to make regular visits home during the semester than it might for parents whose child has chosen a college location that allows him to come home some weekends,” she said.

Regardless of the specific circumstances that apply to each individual family, the parents who make the most successful transition through the empty nest period share a similar outlook — one of opportunity instead of loss.

“It’s perfectly natural to have feelings of sadness and loneliness during this time, but it’s also appropriate to feel proud of raising a child who’s capable of acting independently and making wise decisions,” Macke said.

At her SOAR presentations at TTU, she offers parents tips for easing the empty nest transition.

“It’s important for parents to view this as a positive time and to realize that it offers them an opportunity to try things they may not have had time to try before,” she said.

Some ways for parents of college students to cope with the empty nest period include:

• starting a new hobby or returning to a favorite pastime;
• getting a new pet;
• redecorating or remodeling the house;
• spending more time with their own parents or siblings;
• traveling;
• renewing an interest in their relationship if they’re married, or dating if they’re single.

“Married people especially find during this time that they have to readjust to each other as a couple,” Macke said. “It’s almost like the two start dating each other and getting to know each other again. It’s not even uncommon for them to not have a lot to talk about with each other for a period of time. If they give one another some time to readjust, however, their relationship is likely to grow stronger again.”

Regardless of which method the parents choose, however, refocusing their energies is essential for having a successful transition through the empty nest period.

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