Adjusting to College Life: Empty-Nesters’ Guide to Reliving the Glory Days

A smooth transition to college is not just about the college student. Adjusting to college life can also be challenging for the parents. On one hand our hearts break to pieces as we leave our ‘little one’ all alone in a strange new world; on the other? Who doesn’t want to relive their glory days of college?

Empty Nest Syndrome is real. As parents, our role changes, some of us get lost in that transition. The next chapter of the new student’s life is fairly well-defined, ours is not as clear. But you are not alone. A simple Google search shows just how many parents share your predicament. You’ll also find some good resources. And Focus Collegiate’s Parent Support and Program Development Consultant, Leslie O’Brien, can help. She has more than fifteen years of clinical experience developing specialized programs supporting teens, adults, and groups.

“It’s not the end of parenting; it’s a shift…Think of it as the shift from active parenting to mentoring. They still need you.”[1]

Communication and support are two main areas where parents can become better mentors.


Communication can be tricky. Colleges do not share as much information as high schools do. While FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974) protects student records from the prying eyes of their parents (and others less well-meaning) it leaves some parents feeling frustrated and disconnected.

“FERPA also permits a school to disclose personally identifiable information from education records of an “eligible student” (a student age 18 or older or enrolled in a postsecondary institution at any age) to his or her parents if the student is a “dependent student” as that term is defined in Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code. Generally, if either parent has claimed the student as a dependent on the parent’s most recent income tax statement, the school may non-consensually disclose the student’s education records to both parents.” Read more here. But the parent must request that information.

And like their schools, some colleges students do not share much information. They notoriously eschew email; and too many texts can be disruptive to them and to you. Consider a group text with the whole family – while it won’t replace conversations around the dinner table, it can create a new and healthy habit that will benefit you and your student. Choose a communication style and time that everyone agrees upon – put it in your calendar. It can become an excellent routine that contributes to the structure of student (and home) life.

Focus Collegiate parents also get the benefit of regular communication regarding their student’s academic, emotional, social, and physical well-being.


Build greater trust and mutual respect by becoming more of a mentor and less of an authority.  You are still the parent, but as your young person transitions to adulthood and successful independence, you have to make room for a new and potentially deeper relationship.

  • Become a sounding board – this requires good listening skills
  • Encourage self-sufficiency by letting go of perfection, inviting inquiry and exploration
  • Celebrate the victories – no matter how small
  • Choose encouragement over criticism
  • Follow your student’s lead – be responsive rather than intrusive
  • Respect boundaries – yours and your student’s

Glory Days

Certainly, as parents we want to regale our young people with wonderful stories of “when I was your age”. The upside of this is that “Many parents see their kids as extensions of themselves. And watching their child do something they couldn’t do reduces their regrets about the past.” Which can be great, but the downside is much greater causing some students struggle to create their own identity, others are more likely to become chronically dissatisfied.[2]

Your glory days are as glorious as your student’s will be. Give them that opportunity by practicing the very self-care you want them to exercise. Create new traditions, reconnect with old friends, set long-term goals.[3] Flourish. Be an excellent example of it.  




Photo by James Garcia on Unsplash

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