Growing up my mom would always celebrate this time of year. There was a Staples back-to-school commercial that would show a dad gliding on a shopping cart through the aisles with his head flung back and a wide grin on his face while his children begrudgingly walked behind him with their own soured expression. He was thrilled for his kids to return to school, while the children clearly were not. Meanwhile, the song, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” would play in the background. My mom would laugh and laugh each time that commercial came on! However, when it was time for me to go away to college, that laughter turned into tears…for my mom and for me.

Sending kids away to college can be a difficult transition for many families, filled with joy and apprehension. We call this phase of the family life cycle the Launching Phase. The launching phase begins the moment your first child leaves your home and once your last child leaves, you become an “Empty Nester.” With any transition, change can be welcomed, resisted, or both.

Consider these 5 Essential factors during the launching phase:

  • Establish healthy communication with your child: Take time to talk with your child without distractions (e.g., multi-tasking). Although texting or using social media can be a convenient way to quickly send messages, don’t rely entirely on those outlets to maintain your relationship. Remember, nothing quite compares to human to human conversation. Regular, uninterrupted conversations will strengthen your relationship. Video chatting may ease the pain distance may cause because you can see one another face-to-face.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries with your child: Parents can easily over-function for their children during this time causing tension within their relationship with their spouse, or with their child, or within themselves. Clarifying your role or your expectations is key to maintaining healthy boundaries. 
  • State clear expectations: Discuss your expectations with your child. Topics can range from the frequency of visits (e.g., who will visit whom and when), to finances (e.g., who pays for what), to maintaining grades, or to dating. 
  • Recognize your child is becoming an adult: As your child leaves home, he or she will continue to gain independence. Your child is entering the adult phase and it is important for you to acknowledge that your child is capable of making decisions and working through any consequences (many times without your intervention). Your child may want you to take over, and at times this is necessary, but other times they will thank you for allowing them to embrace this new phase and responsibilities that comes with being an adult. 
  • Develop an adult relationship with your child: Especially if your child lives away from the home for a while, challenges occur when they return to your home and the same rules apply to them as they did when they were a child. It’s important to still be your child’s parent, but also modifying your relationship to treat him/her as your adult child.

Sending children away to college can be a liberating experience for everyone involved. Each member of your family will experience transitions differently. The goal is to work through any change with compassion for one another. However, launching can be especially difficult for families because it marks a major transition in the family and can feel like a great loss. If you or someone in your family is having difficulty through a transition consider talking with a licensed professional.