By: Vivian Tsai, Senior Director and Head of Relationship Management, TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc.

August 20, 2019

They’ve made it through high school. They’ve earned that college admission. With the funds you’ve managed to save over the years in your 529 plan, they even have the funds to pay for the dorm (yes, that expensive one) of their choosing. And you’ve run the high school gauntlet right beside them. You’ve endured senior summer as they pulled away from you, expressing a need for more independence. Finally, in a few short weeks, you will be dropping them off to begin their next life adventure, their first as an adult: College. 

I know what all of that feels like because I was there myself last summer. Parenting today is a love-worry-stress-laughter-infused 24/7 occupation that stretches over 18 years, and sometimes longer. And whether you identify as a “helicopter parent,” a “tiger parent,” or a “free-range parent” — or claim all three at different times, as in my case — as your child embarks on their next adventure, you will join the ranks of “empty-nest parents,”

With that, I will share some advice for this transitional year:

It’s OK to be emotional

You likely have been anticipating this milestone — an emptier house, a freed up calendar — ever since those sullen teen years began. Even so, this can be an emotional time — engendering feelings of sadness and anxiety in many parents. It is natural to grieve during this period — over this perceived end of an era or loss of childhood. Yet soon enough, you’ll welcome your transition to new beginnings — for you and your child.

Give them space but stay in touch

As much as your child relishes newfound “independence” in college, they like knowing you are only a text away. Figure out how your child best communicates with you — among my friends, I’ve seen all forms work. What is important is to find the form to which your child responds. Some are good with monthly/bimonthly check-ins, others like to keep the family group text chat going. I tend to want to give space, but my younger son proposed a compromise. He is a student at a college close to home and came home for dinner on a biweekly/monthly basis during his freshman year. He called these his “grounding dinners” — a way to get away from intense studies to regenerate, if only for a few hours. Between our dinners, I would occasionally text with him, but our dinners were our connection and helped him get through the year.

If you are a parent who likes to participate in events for your student, athlete, performer, debater, do communicate with your student about your availability and theirs surrounding those events. There should not be any hurt feelings should he already have “plans” or studying to do and not have time to hang out, despite you having made the effort to travel. A bonus note for parents of multiples or students in college at the same time, do plan ahead and communicate in advance with your students so as they all know that you are working hard to divvy up your time equally!

Join parent networks

I find that even as I’m not keeping tabs on my sons daily, I like to know what is happening on campus at their colleges. Many universities have established virtual or real-world networks for parents of their students. My advice is to join them. There are many college parent groups on Facebook. These groups are typically open only to verified parents and feature a treasure trove of information for the new college parent. You can gain real-world insight from responses to posed questions like “should I attend Parent’s Weekend?” to “my kid is telling me he needs $X,X00 to join a fraternity!”

For more great advice, read Part 2 of “Ready for launch: Tip for Parents of New College Students” here next Tuesday, Aug. 27.

About the author:

Vivian Tsai is Senior Director and Head of Relationship Management for TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. (TFI), a wholly owned subsidiary of TIAA. TFI operates as the 529 Plan Program Manager for the States of California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. She resides in California where her sons are students at the California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo and the University of California at Berkeley.