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How to cope with an empty nest | University guide for parents

How to cope with an empty nest | University guide for parents

by Judith Charlton

Let’s be honest - it’s tough being a parent when your child leaves home to go to university.

You want them to become the wonderful, confident and independent person you know they can be, but it’s hard to see them go.

You want them to be safe and well, making friends and having amazing experiences, but you’re worried about how they’ll cope in a new and different environment.

So, how do you cope when your child goes to university? And what can you do to prepare yourself, and them, for this new chapter in your lives?



  1. What is 'empty nest syndrome'?

  2. Dealing with an empty nest at university

  3. Be prepared

  4. Stay connected

  5. Things to remember

  6. Find out more


What is 'empty nest syndrome'?

It’s ironic that parents spend so much of their time carefully nurturing the skills and self-confidence in their children so they can let them go. And then when they do leave, those same parents are floored by how successful they’ve been.

They’ve become victims of 'empty nest syndrome': a feeling of loss and loneliness when your child leaves home and you realise your role in their lives has somehow shifted.

'Empty nest syndrome' doesn’t discriminate and can strike anyone – mums, dads, parents with only one child and those with children still living at home. You may start out determined to be unaffected, only to find that somehow, it’s snuck up on you.

And you can end up feeling horribly conflicted – happy and proud that your child is growing and discovering their own path in life; lonely and lost, and wanting them back home where they ‘belong’. It can also leave you questioning what you do next.

It doesn’t help that coping with an empty nest at university is exacerbated by very natural anxieties about how your child is settling in, whether they’re coping, are safe, enjoying themselves and doing well in their studies. But realising what’s happening and accepting it are two very different things.


Dealing with an empty nest at university

It’s inevitable that you’re going to miss your child once they leave for university, so try to stay positive, both while they’re still at home and when they’ve gone.

  • Be proud of their success – they’ve worked hard to get the grades they need to go to university
  • Be excited for them – they’re taking the first steps in building their future
  • Be involved in their hopes and dreams – seeing them realise their ambitions will leave you confident they’re following the right path




Be prepared

In the run-up to your child leaving for university, there’s lots to do – from shopping for student essentials to packing for the big move. But if you want to sleep easier at night once they’ve left, there are a couple of things you could add to your ‘to-do’ list.

Teach them how to cook. Your child doesn’t need to be a master chef, but knowing they can make simple, satisfying meals will be one less worry for you. Send them off to university with a culinary repertoire of basic, nutritious recipes, and you’ll feel more confident and happier about their ability to look after themselves.

Take them food shopping. A few tips on savvy shopping to make their student budget go further will also put your mind at rest about how they’ll manage their money. If you’re worried about how they’ll make ends meet – and how you might have to help them financially – discuss how they can budget.

In short, if they’re prepared and ready to cope with student life, you’ll feel better about them leaving home.


Stay connected

Talk to your child about how you're going to stay in touch when they leave for university, and explain how regular updates from them – however short – will save you unnecessary worry!

In this digital world it's so easy to stay connected through free messaging and video chat software, so set up a family account where all family members can chat with each other, leave messages and post pictures. Not only will you feel connected to your child at university, but you’ll also be keeping them in the loop about what’s going on at home.

Arrange a time to video call them; bear in mind they’ll be busy with their studies, their new friends and flatmates, so be sensible about when and how often you call.

Even a quick text message can help you stay in touch and leave you feeling reassured that they’re ok.

And don’t forget you can always contact the university directly if you have any serious concerns about your child.




Things to remember

It’s inevitable that you’re going to miss your child once they leave for university, so try to follow these tips to help you stay positive: both while they’re still at home and when they’ve gone.

  • Take pride in a job well done. After 18 years of love, care and support, you’ve raised a human that is funny, kind, confident, balanced, embracing life and dazzling in their sheer potential – which is pretty good!
  • Don’t feel guilty. Day-to-day family life will be different, but it will reform around their absence – this doesn’t mean you’re excluding them. Your child is at university doing amazing things without you and the rest of the family; you’re allowed to do your own thing, too. Instead of feeling guilty, enjoy telling them all the family news, it’ll also help them feel connected.
  • Take your time. Coping with an empty nest can leave you wondering ‘What now?’ particularly if you’ve sacrificed your own career for your children. Be wary of rushing headlong into making drastic changes in your life. Instead, take time to work out what you want to do next.
  • Try not to worry. Try to be excited for your child, rather than constantly worrying about them – you’ve already given them wings, so don’t clip them now with your fears and anxieties.
  • Be ready. Now they’ve left home your child will have to make their own mistakes – you can’t stop them and you shouldn’t try. They will still need you, in different ways and at unexpected times, so be ready to jump back in when that time comes.
  • Enjoy the freedom. The run-up to your child going away to university can be hectic and stressful, so once they’re settled in, indulge in some of the things you want to do. Who knows - you might actually start enjoying your new-found freedom!


Find out more

Newcastle University is a special community and we want our students to thrive in an exciting and enriching environment. Read our blog to find out how our dedicated teams will support your child.

Remember: you can’t hold your child back, even if you want to. But that most fundamental aspect of your relationship with them will never change – they still love you; you still love them.

After all, you will always be their mum or dad.


Although we use the terms parent/child in this blog for simplicity, it is intended for anyone fulfilling a parenting role.