Empty Nesting during COVID-19
As states reopened, so did colleges and universities leaving college students and their parents to make very personal decisions as to retuning to campus or not. Many colleges and universities have been operating a hybrid of in-person and online classes this fall, and will continue that for spring semester. This means that many parents have potentially become or will become empty nesters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike those of us who’ve been through a “normal” empty nest, this one is decidedly very different.
Parents are probably feeling a roller coaster of emotions. It’s absolutely normal to feel sad about your student going away to college and it is anxiety-provoking to send one’s college student off into a world with COVID-19. Not only are parents dealing with the very real empty nest syndrome, they are also dealing with a pandemic. Parents may be very concerned about their children’s health while also wanting their children to experience the college life. It is certainly providing a dilemma in balance.
The Mayo Clinic describes empty nest syndrome as “a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” There are plenty of empty nesting online resources in a non-pandemic world. Many suggest keeping your calendar full and staying busy to fill the void. But many may be unable to do that right now. So how do you face an empty nest during a pandemic? How do you address both fear and loss during this time?
- Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your student’s experience to your own experience or expectations. Instead, focus on what you can do to help them succeed in a COVID world.
- Acknowledge the accomplishment. Raising responsible, independent, well-adjusted good human beings deserves accolades. Find the joy in the change.
- Keep in touch. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Make an effort to maintain regular contact through visits if possible, phone calls, emails, texts and regular video chats.
- Seek support. Share your feelings with loved ones and friends whose children have left home as well. Join an online support group for empty nesting parents. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor and a mental health provider.
- Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage, personal interests, or new hobbies after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change.
- Trust your student. Stress to them that they are responsible for their health and well-being. Make sure they have a COVID survival kit and know the steps their university has set out to report any symptoms.
- Socialize. Organize a get together with your friends either in person or online. Talk on the phone with friends and family.
- Take care of physical health. It’s time to start taking care of yourself again. Cook healthy meals, exercise, and get plenty of sleep at night.
If you and your spouse are going through this together, support one another. Maybe it’s time to start planning trips and vacations for a post pandemic world. Get into a new routine together. This is the time to begin a new hobby, work out or cook together.
Above everything, remember that you’ve done a good job. Your child was ready to fly the nest anyway, pandemic or not. Facing an empty nest during a pandemic might be unplanned and unwanted, but you, your spouse, and your student have all got this.