What’s a Parent to Do When a Child Leaves for College?

Engage with the West Michigan Woman Community!

The shift in roles when sending a child away to college is as scary and significant as the change in roles when you become a new parent. You've spent years actively protecting, teaching and directing the daily life of your child—you were in charge and responsible. Now, your role and responsibilities are completely changing.

Parents are innately aware of this and yet are unsure of how to successfully navigate the transition. While striving to do it perfectly, they fear missing the mark. So, it's important to remember this is only the first of many important thresholds your adult child will pass through.

Navigating both the highs and lows is an imperfect process, so offer your child the gift of honesty by owning up to the reality that neither of you will do things perfectly, and that it is OK to talk about the blunders so learning and growth can occur.

Each journey is unique, but below are a few tips to help along the way.


Remember, your role is changing to cheerleader and consultant, rather than director.


Don't make your angst and grief apparent to your child. Instead, focus on your child's emotions and find healthy spaces to process yours.


This is a time for your child to form new relationships that don't include you. However, you remain important in their life, so make sure to set up times to connect.


Every interaction doesn't need to be a detailed check-in, which could lead to your child limiting contacts with you. Remember: Your new job role is cheerleader!


While you may really want your child to come home frequently or think about surprising them with a visit, resist acting on these urges.


Step back and appreciate the incredible young adult who is forging a new path.

For more insights on this topic, read the full article or more back-to-school and parenting tips and topics on the Pine Rest website.

Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW is a therapist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services and also is their Telehealth Clinic manager an outpatient regional director.

Courtesy of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

 Photo courtesy of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

More stories you'll love