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College time adjustment time for parents, too

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Going to college is an exciting and challenging time for a student. But it's also a time of change and adjustments for the parents.

"The student's departure ... ushers in a time of separation and transition (for the family)," said Don Bower, an Extension human development specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "This is a time of adjustment for parents, the college-bound youngster and the whole family."

Whether the student lives at home or moves away, going to college is a big step toward adulthood, he said. It can bring a physical or emotional separation for the parents and the student, too.

Separation issues are more often thought of when speaking about young children, Bower said. But the end of high school marks the symbolic end of childhood.

No more fighting over the phone

Parents may talk excitedly about looking forward to more free time, less loud music and not having to fight for the phone, computer or car. But most will experience a sense of loss, which is often called the "empty nest syndrome."

"They begin to notice how quiet it is without the student at home and comment on how much less they spend on groceries," he said.

Parents may not be ready to give up their roles as primary caregivers and protectors.

"Successful parenting requires devoting one's life to a totally dependent being," Bower said.

But when the student leaves, the parents are left behind. It can be difficult for parents to adjust when they are no longer needed in the same ways.

Children no longer report in every day

"When students are in college parents are less privy to every aspect of their child's life," he said.

The parents often don't know the details of the student's whereabouts or friends.

"Parents must realize that young adults must make their own decisions," Bower said.

To adjust, parents should redirect the time and energy that were once focused on the child. "It can be time to develop, reawaken and pursue old and new hobbies, leisure activities and careers," he said.

Parents can also welcome and develop an adult-to-adult relationship with the child.

"Children always need parents," he said. "But the relationship may become more peer-like."

They should encourage their children to make independent decisions.

Parents should also remember adult children want privacy, he said, and that mistakes will be made. But mistakes can be a good way to learn about life.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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