Today’s ’empty nest’ seems more empty for parents

Parents of today’s college freshmen are having a harder time pushing their child out of the nest, says Johnne Armentrout, assistant director of Wake Forest University’s counseling center.

“Parents have become increasingly more obsessed with their child’s success,” says Armentrout. “The over-involvement is more dramatic now than ever. That can make the transition to college harder for the parents and the child.”

Armentrout and her husband lead a “College Transitions” program for parents of Wake Forest freshmen during freshman orientation each fall. She helps them understand some of the changes freshmen will experience, while encouraging the parents to focus on their own lives. During her 10 years of experience leading the program, Armentrout says parents have become more involved in their children’s daily lives, leading to more fear and stress when it is time to let go. Parents’ questions and concerns about the college experience have also increased significantly over the years, Armentrout says.

“Parents are so concerned about their child, possibly their only child, having the perfect college experience that they want to insulate them from all failures,” she says. “But we tell parents to let their children make some mistakes, that is part of their development.”

Armentrout suggests several practical ways parents can nurture a new

relationship with their freshman: make phone calls from home brief and non-prying, send hometown newspaper clippings about people and events familiar to the student, mail goodie bags of favorite treats from home and subscribe to the campus newspaper to keep up-to-date on campus happenings.

“We emphasize more and more to parents to take a hands-off approach,” she says.

Helping parents take some of their focus off the child and put it back on their own relationship is also an important part of the transition process, but can be difficult, Armentrout says. Parents should work on three major areas of their relationship during this time: improving communication with each other, improving conflict management and spending time determining what they want from their future together.

“We ask the parents to think back to when they were dating and remember what they used to do together before they were parents,” says Armentrout, who is a national board member of the Association of Couples for Marriage Enrichment. “That is a great starting point for re-focusing their lives from being parents to being spouses.”

“Anything that makes the parents’ lives happier and more stable will help the student,” she adds.

The average attendance at the workshop, which offers separate sessions for single parents, is about 250.

Categories: Community, For Parents, Student