Life in the Empty Nest: Four Tips to Help Parents Make the Adjustment

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Becky Scott, M.S.W., lecturer in Baylor's Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, offers four tips to help parents adjust to life as "empty nesters."
Aug. 10, 2016

There is no ‘right’ way to cope, Baylor University expert says

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WACO, Texas (August 10, 2016) — Tens of thousands of parents of new college freshmen will experience something new in the next few weeks: silence.

Change will come as students move from their homes to college campuses across the nation. For the parents left behind, that pivot to the “empty nest” and a new stage in life can spark myriad emotions and some challenging moments, said Becky Scott, M.S.W, lecturer in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

“For parents, there may be some challenges in the adjustment to a new role in their lives analogous to the adjustment that was navigated at the time of first becoming a parent,” she said.

Scott has practiced child and family therapy for 15 years, and she offered four tips to help parents adjust when their children transition to college.

1. Know that there is no “right” way to cope.

The transition from full-time to long-distance parent may leave parents feeling simultaneously sad and hopeful, regretful and proud, Scott said. It is important to remember that there is not a specific way parents should feel during this transition. Placing expectations of feeling on themselves can make the transition even more difficult.

“Parents must live into the new role and be compassionate with themselves no matter how they respond,” Scott said. “No two parents and no two couples, if the parent is in a co-parenting relationship, will respond to this role transition exactly the same way.”

2. Talk with your children and spouse about expectations.

Setting clear expectations of parental and children’s needs throughout the transition from high school to college can help “cultivate healthy adjustment to this change,” Scott said. Parents should maintain communication with their children and each other.

“If you find yourself unsure how much your college-bound students want to hear from you by phone or by text – ask,” Scott said. “If you know you need to have a weekly date with your spouse to cope with the gaping hole in your new, child-free schedule, then speak up. If your college student finds they need to feel OK about coming home once per month to re-connect, let them. “

3. Address and resolve conflicts immediately.

The transition from high school to college will be stressful for students and parents as both parties attempt to settle into their new roles. Scott said parents and children need to take the time to resolve any conflicts that arise so that they do not continue to grow.

“Familial role transitions are great opportunities for family members to further illuminate what is already healthy and good about their relationships,” Scott said. “However, that also means that whatever is already a challenge within a family's relationships — these will be highlighted during this transition too. The conflict or hurt that may emerge during launching your adult children is almost always not new conflict, but that which is brought to the surface by change. Take time to resolve it and address it.”

4. Find the balance between supporting your children and letting them learn on their own.

Moving from the role of provider to the role of supporter and watching your children become self-sufficient is one of the many challenges of parenting, and it is important to find the balance between letting children learn and helping them succeed, Scott said.

“The delicate balance of allowing your child to become a self-sufficient adult while still supporting them can be challenging,” Scott said. “We want to teach young adults to be interdependent, and this interdependency should include their family of origin, their support structure at their college and new friends.”

by Karyn Simpson, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805


Becky Scott, M.S.W., is a full-time lecturer in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. Scott has worked as a therapist for children and families for 15 years where her practice focused on children and families receiving mental health services, as well as families involved with Child Protective Services. She is interested in researching topics such as integrated behavioral health in primary care, access to services for children, family and child development, and diversity, inclusion and equity.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The Baylor University School of Social Work is home to one of the leading graduate social work programs in the nation with a research agenda focused on the integration of faith and practice. Upholding its mission of preparing social workers in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership, the School offers a baccalaureate degree (BSW), a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and three joint-degree options (MSW/Master of Business Administration, MSW/Master of Divinity and MSW/Master of Theological Studies) through a partnership with Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business and George W. Truett Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. program. Visit to learn more.

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