Separation Tips: strategies to help you with the empty nest syndrome

It was one of the hardest drives I ever had to make.  A pile of used tissues on the empty passenger seat attested to the “trail of tears” from Winter Park, Florida north all the way to the Georgia border and halfway through that state…two tissue boxes of tears, sobs, and agonizing will-power to keep the car headed north until I arrived in Quechee, Vermont.

I had left my only child at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, 1300 crow miles from my Vermont home.  I left her at her “dream school.”  I left her in the land of sunshine,  I left her with a caring faculty.  I left her

“She” is an only child raised by a single mother.  For thirteen years our home consisted of the two of us with our female German shepherd.  And now, there were two–my dog and me.


Take heart in knowing that there are some strategies which will help with the empty nest syndrome.  None of these are meant as a “cure” to overcome the loneliness, but they do provide some coping strategies to help you through the initial stages.  Of course, if you are one of the parents who leaves your student on campus and then runs away shouting, “Yahoo,” you will not need any advice from me to help you change gears!


Today’s technology has indeed lessened the distance between you and your college student.  Email is a fabulous way to stay in touch, even if the agreement is for your student to just hit the reply button and send your message back to you!  Doing the Instant Message trick is also great especially for the first months of separation.  You don’t have to be concerned about missing phone calls or trying to be available during the thirty seconds that your student has to make contact!


Take comfort in knowing that your student WILL learn how to do laundry!


Find freebies sites which offer free samples, and have them sent to your student’s college address..Even with all of our wonderful technology, an empty mailbox is still a sad site!


Get to know the airport’s schedule so that you know what flexibility is offered.  Don’t rely on travel agents for the best deals.  Go to the web site of the airlines that travel from your airport and check out prices there.  Then compare them to Travelocity and Expedia.  Make the most of your money by signing up for the Frequent Flyer programs of the airlines you might be using.  Then see how else you can earn miles by staying at certain chains of hotels, using a specific long-distance carrier, etc.   For example, my daughter would be flying out of the Manchester Airport in Manchester, NH.  Southwest has daily direct flights from there to Orlando.  They have been running a special of earning double credit by booking over the Internet. They will add points through MCI for long distance, by renting through certain car companies, and staying at a Marriott Hotel.  Doing this legwork can save you hundreds of dollars.  We earned two free tickets in one year which I have used for flights which total almost $800!


If this was your last student to leave the nest, definitely consider adding something new to your schedule.  I started to get involved with computers several years before my daughter went off to college.  My daughter was very busy with many school and extra activities which also filled my social calendar. With those hours now available to me, I began to develop web sites.  I could also now add a regular exercise routine to my schedule and actually stick to it!! So, whatever you like to do, and whatever you should do to take care of yourself, take the separation as an opportunity to do it!!


There is a song and saying that you should do one thing everyday that you have been afraid of doing.  Well, I had a major fear to confront, and I used this time away from my daughter to do it.  I had developed a fear of flying which kept me out of the airways for almost ten years.  Well, now I am faced with a daughter in college in Florida and with me in Vermont.  I drove her to her college and then drove home by myself(as noted in the introduction above), but this can only be done with enough time.  Kristin’s parent weekend was in February, so I used the time in the fall to investigate programs to help me conquer this fear so that I could fly to her Parent’s Weekend.  Well, through the Internet I ordered a program which I could work on at home.  There were courses offered at airports, but the one which is an hour and a half away from my home cost $1000.  This amount was impossible for me.  So, I spent $100 to order a program which consist of tapes and a booklet.  I followed the information as it was presented, and I am happy to say I did my solo flight to Orlando and back in February. The point here is to use the quiet time you have to reflect on yourself (for a change), and then do something that you would like to do or should do!  


It will be much easier for you to focus on yourself if you feel that your student is making a successful transition to college life.  Rollins College is a model for schools in the support that is given to freshman to help them through this process.  For the fall semester, freshman are enrolled in courses taught by their advisor.  This allows the students to form a relationship with their advisors immediately. Part of the class includes doing activities outside of the classroom to aid in the bonding process. My daughter’s advisor, Peg O’Keef, has been a precious asset to Kristin’s successful transition to college.  Check with your student’s college to see what programs are offered to help your student be seen as an individual.


Being away from home means that your student will need to develop a means of paying for items when cash is not an option.  Many students have checking accounts; however, I found that the bank nearest my daughter’s college charged fees which were too high for students, so my daughter has a credit card.  Yes, this means that she has to develop self-control in using it, but I feel this is a good time to start.

It used to be that students needed to decide between having a computer or not having a computer.  Today, the choice is, should it be a laptop or desktop. My daughter at first was convinced that she wanted a desktop because that was what she was used to.  I was wondering how we would send a computer from Vermont to Florida, or maybe she should just buy a computer on campus. and how much easier it would be if she would just choose a laptop!!  Well, on a tour of Rollins College, our tour guide pointed out that the gazebo by the lake was wired so that students can take their laptops there! Well, the decision was now made for a laptop, and Kristin has been grateful she made that decision. When she is working on shows, she brings her laptop to the theatre so that she can work on her class materials during the down time.  The issue of space has also been important.  Her first room was very small, and there really was no space for a desktop.  When Kristin is in her room using her laptop, she attaches a mouse to it to make the navigation more convenient.

Janet Horton