Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: When your child leaves home for college

Preparing for the empty nest

by  Dr. Ann Wagner

It is an exciting time of year for many families—getting ready for a child to head off to college. Yet with the joy and abundant dorm room purchases also comes fear, and sadness, especially if a child is headed to another part of the country or even another part of the world. In this week’s blog, I’ll share a few things I learned when I sent my own child off to college, along with some commonalities I’ve noted among other parents as well.

It's hard.

Sure, it is a time of pride and joy. But it is important to acknowledge that things will truly never be the same. When the emptiness comes—and it will—try to remember that your child will be back. Your relationship is still of primary importance to them. This is what you’ve been working toward, together, for all these years.

Before they go, spend some time together doing something you both enjoy. For my son and me, it was a day at Disneyland. Living in Southern California, it was something we did together often throughout his childhood. We still do it. And it is still a blast.

happy mother and daughter

There will be tears.

Yours. Your kid’s. One big sloppy, wet mess. It is all part of the process.

You can help. Some.

If you can, helping your child move into their dorm can be great; however, sleeping in their dorm with them for three days is not. Even the most socially adept child is going to be nervous about making new friends and settling in. Make sure you give them some space to do so. And when it is time to go: go.

dorm room

They won't call.

Yep. You will make plans to talk every Sunday afternoon. And at first, you will. Then they will get busy. It will hurt, but it is a good thing. They are making friends. They are studying and writing papers. They are being college students. You will worry, but eventually, you will appreciate not knowing every detail.

Until they need something.

I remember talking with a friend who had recently sent his son off to college. We laughed often about how irritating it was because his kid never called or picked up the phone. I told my friend, “Don’t worry. He’ll call when he needs something.”  

Then one day my friend came to me and said, “Guess what! You were completely right.” His son had called. And he needed help. His son couldn’t find his bicycle and feared it was stolen. And my friend, while supportive, reminded his son that he was hundreds of miles away and needed to handle it on his own.

And then it happens: you cross over from wishing they would call, into dreading when they do.

They are going to fail.

They will sleep through an important class. They will run out of money before they run out of month. They will nearly miss a flight home because they didn’t allow enough time to get to the airport. And you are going to be supportive—and you may need to help sometimes—but you can’t fix everything.

student with suitcase walking away

They will come back.

Your baby is home for the holidays—yay! Most likely, also ugg.

You’ve started to enjoy a quieter household. They expect that house rules no longer apply and want to borrow your car until 2 am. Both sides will need to adjust expectations and agree on some ground rules.

Things will get easier.

Of course, every child and every situation is different, but I do not doubt that at least a few of these feelings and situations will ring true. Despite all the adjustments and worrying, it will be a thrill to see your child grow intellectually and mature. Bonus: they may even begin to appreciate you more.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their masters' degrees.