Empty Nesters: Coping With Aging Parents & College-Bound Kids

By Cheryl Proska

Every August, teens leave home for college and embark on a new and exciting chapter in life, but they are not the only people facing a new beginning. Parents left with a suddenly empty nest must also begin again and live a life without kids residing in their home. Managing this transition is tricky for kids and adults.

Some parents must deal with the sadness of children leaving the nest, while at the same time, handling an aging parent. While one family member is preparing for life on his own, another is slowly becoming more dependent on adult children for support. These situations can create a ton of pressure, and work, for caregivers.

Here are some tips on dealing with the departure of children while also coping with the responsibilities that come with caring for aging parents.

Preparation Is Key for Both

First, parents must realize that this a massive life change for their son or daughter. Even if they don’t seem nervous about the transition, they’re probably holding in a ton of stress about the situation. Sometimes discussing the change on a regular basis may help. Parents will want to prepare them for the move and get used to the idea that they won’t be sleeping in the next room every night. Be sure the kids know how to do laundry, keep track of their checking account and cook easy meals. This preparation will give them the proper skills to live on their own.

Prepare your parents for some of the things they might have to do with help such as grocery shopping, work around the house, and anything physically demanding. Now might also be the time to reevaluate their ability to drive. Whatever the case, be sure to let them know that this doesn’t mean less freedom, just more assistance.

Discuss the Ways to Stay Connected

Technology makes it easier than ever to contact loved ones across the state, across the country and the world.

It’s vital to stay in touch with kids while they’re away at school. This doesn’t mean hovering over them and wanting to know their location at all times. Remember that there’s a way to make sure they’re ok without technically “checking in” on their status. Send a text that’s got nothing to do with finding out where they are or what they’re doing. Instead, send some conversation starters that will force them to give some reply. “Did you watch the last episode of Game of Thrones?” or “do you think I should start taking boot camp classes?”

Be sure to set specific times for both kids and aging parents. Give them a window of where you’ll be at certain times to “connect.” If you’re always sitting around reading on Sunday afternoons, or just trying to keep busy most nights, let your kids know that you’re available to talk during those times.

Set Aside the Worry

Caring for an aging loved one is not the end of the world, and you need to set aside your fears. Even though you may feel a constant sense that “something” will go wrong. When concerns seem vague in your mind it’s easy to get lost in exaggerated worry. Find clarity by asking yourself this question and answering honestly: Realistically, “what is the worst that could happen?”

Spend some time figuring out what you’d do if that unlikely thing happens. Spending a few minutes to think through the situation and realizing you’re probably worrying for nothing will save time, energy and internal suffering.

Rediscover Your Life & Your Partner

There may have been parts of your life that went away because you were constantly caring for kids. This is a great time to become reacquainted with yourself. Are there hobbies or interests that you are ready to rediscover or begin? How has being a parent affected your marriage? Have you maintained a good balance? If you haven’t, now would be the time to work on rekindling that relationship.

In the same vein, how has being a full-time parent affected your relationship with your parents? Have you lost touch with your own family while raising kids? Now would be a good time to work on those relationships as well, and not just as a caregiver, but on being a son or daughter to your parents again.


Both of these situations can be scary but with some preparation, level-headed thinking, patience and time, both situations can be beneficial to everyone. While the uncertainty of both of these situations may be a bit unsettling because they involve change, with some preparation, level-headed thinking, patience and time, they can also be excellent opportunities for growth for all involved.

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