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Coping with Sending Your First Child to College

Coping with an empty nest as your child moves away to college.

Dealing with your first child leaving for college is a heavy burden to bear for most parents. There is no right answer on how to cope as every family is different and each parenting relationship is unique. The truth is that your child deciding to go to college is a big deal and preparations should begin well in advance. This rings true for both the child and the parent.

Keep the Goal in Mind

Remember what your child is trying to accomplish and keep that first and foremost in your mind. During their sophomore year in high school (or maybe earlier) students should begin looking toward their post-high school plan. Whether the current focus is standardized testing or college visits and applications, the ultimate objective is for your child to obtain marketable skills, either through a college degree or workforce trade that interests them and allows them to grow and live a fruitful and fulfilled life. Having honest conversations with your child about what it is they truly want out of a career is important. What are they interested in? What type of skills or certifications are needed to have that type of career? Are both co-parents supportive of this chosen career path? What implications will this have on selecting a school? Will your child attend an in-state our out-of-state school? Public or private education?

When it comes time to go on college visits, co-parents must decide if both parents will attend or if they will be split. If the decision is made to divide up the visits between co-parents, the Shared Calendar and Info Library features within the TalkingParents app are helpful for tracking visits and taking important notes for review later.

Once the goal is established, the next questions will probably revolve around finances. Having both co-parents on the same page in the decision-making process is vitally important. Are both co-parents in agreement on how school will be paid for? Will your student self-finance their education or will you and your co-parent contribute? Splitting the costs of college are made easier with the TalkingParents Accountable Payments feature where co-parents can easily transfer funds between their accounts. More information regarding paying for college like scholarships and financial aid can be found by checking out our Co-Parenting College Students blog.

Senior Year Woes

You might find that as your child progresses through their senior year of high school they become combative or may lash out. This could easily be a sign of a teenager that is frustrated with waiting on the next stage of their adult life to begin or possibly as a means of helping put emotional separation between them and their family before physical separation is a reality. It’s important to not take this type of negative behavior personally. Co-parents should keep constant communication regarding this behavior and what is observed in their respective homes and ensure that the expectations and consequences remain consistent across the board.

Plan Ahead for their Absence

Planning can make all the difference with a parent successfully coping when their first child moves away to college. Not only will planning make your child’s departure easier for them, but it will also help you, as a parent, to deal with their absence. Mentally preparing for the transition to an empty (or at least emptier) nest can be a slow process, but it will prove helpful in the end. Co-parents should also work with their child to plan breaks and visits home so all members of the family are able to spend time together. Students will need to communicate with both parents and co-parents will need to remain flexible, especially at first. This is a huge adjustment period, not only for the student, but for the entire family.

Acknowledge the Change and Shift the Focus

The emptying of the nest is a transition into a completely new stage of life. A parent’s day-to-day schedule will change immensely. One of the biggest hurdles that a parent might have to deal with is finding healthy ways to spend all of this newly found time and exert their energy. Some may choose to focus more on work, take up a new hobby, join a club or launch themselves into a new personal project. Whatever way you choose to shift your focus, it’s key that it be a non-parental way. If there are younger children still in the home, remember to stay balanced with them as well. Don’t forget about them while wondering what your new college freshman is doing but you certainly don’t want to immediately begin overparenting them just because you have the extra time on your hands. It’s also important to keep family traditions going for both co-parents for any younger children even if there is now one less child in the home.

This could also be a prime opportunity to explore new relationships in your life, whether romantic or platonic. You might find that your social circle primarily revolved around your child, and his or her absence might negatively impact platonic relationships so investing in those or creating new ones will help positively shift your focus.

Give them Space

Keeping up communication is important but don’t push the limit. Kids freshly entering college are typically searching for new relationships and getting their first taste of freedom and independence. Being overly competitive for their time and attention can quickly be viewed as a turnoff and cause them to push you away. Don’t forget that freshman year consists of a lot of going out (yes, even on school nights) as part of the overall student life experience. Instead, try to schedule a weekly catch-up call and rely more on some casual texts to overcome the time that you don’t speak. In the long run, it’s about keeping a safe distance while still being available.

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