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Home sickness for kids, empty nest for parents

August 29, 2013
 

Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656

 

SPRINGFIELD – While leaving home for freshmen year at college is an eagerly-awaited, life-changing experience for many students who relish the opportunity of being on their own, others may find themselves a bit homesick as life in the dormitory begins. And, it can be a bittersweet time for parents, too.

“Needless to say, leaving home for college is quite a momentous experience for the young adult. Amidst the often frenetic preparations for leaving home and the excitement and novelty associated with the start of college, there are very large psychological adaptations occurring as students adjust to the semi-independence of the college experience,” said
Dr. Barry Sarvet, vice chair of Psychiatry and chief of Child Psychiatry at Baystate Health.

According to the psychiatrist, the first year of college is quite stressful for many students who may experience bouts of separation anxiety, difficulties balancing study with social and recreational interests, emotional ups and downs, and substance abuse.

“This is the age when certain psychiatric issues such as depression may first present themselves. Parents should keep in mind that even though their child is leaving home, their emotional support and ongoing availability may be as important as ever at this time,” said
Dr. Sarvet.

 

As for living on their own once again, many parents experience “empty nest syndrome,” a feeling of sadness and loss when one or more of their children come of age and leaves home.

“If you’re unprepared for this life-changing event, then you may take it quite hard. It’s entirely normal to experience strong emotions at the time of such a profound life transition. The day-to-day experience of caring for a child is an organizing principle in a parent’s life and
provides parents with a powerful sense of meaning and purpose,” said Dr. Sarvet.

“One of the many difficult things about being a parent is that your children are constantly changing and you have to continually adjust to their changing developmental needs. This particular time is perhaps the most challenging and momentous, with parents needing to abruptly ‘let go’ of their caretaking and protective relationship and begin to develop a new relationship with their child as a young adult,” he added.

 

In addition to coping with the loss of the daily presence of one’s child, Dr. Sarvet said parents find themselves re-evaluating their sense of identity and contemplating their own mortality. He noted parents usually get through this difficult time without too much suffering.

“It certainly helps for parents to prepare themselves for these feelings and to get emotional support during the transition by talking honestly to their spouse, friends, and
family members. It’s worth trying to talk with your college-bound young adult about it, as well, although remember they may be dealing with their own anxiety about leaving home by pushing you away or avoiding you. Try to have a thick skin with this,” said Dr. Sarvet.

On the other end of this transition, parents should remember that there is much to look forward to. “You are not losing your children. Rather, they are changing and you will be developing a new relationship with them. As they mature further, you have an opportunity to establish a positive and meaningful relationship with them as adults. The time for actively influencing or controlling their lives is over, yet you may be lucky enough to become a trusted advisor and to take pleasure in their successes,” said Dr. Sarvet.

 

Some couples also experience challenges in their marital relationship. “Relationship needs may be neglected for years while focusing on raising the kids. When the kids leave home, couples may need to get to know each other again. This can be a painful process, but it can also be a time to renew the relationship and begin a new life’s journey together,” said
Dr. Sarvet, who noted some couples find marital counseling very helpful during this time.

Encouraging social networking skills for parents may be a help in easing the transition for both the student and parents, noted Dr. Sarvet.

“Get on Facebook and learn more about how to use it by visiting facebook.com. Send and receive texts with embedded pictures and video. Learn how to use Twitter by visiting twitter.com…it’s not as silly as you think. Learn how to use the communication media in which your kids are immersed. The world is truly made smaller by technology, but you must keep pace with its rapidly changing media if you want to stay connected,” said Dr. Sarvet.

 

For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc, or for
more information on Baystate Children’s Hospital, visit baystatehealth.org/bch.

 
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