College Parents and Separation Anxiety

man in airport separation anxiety

College Parents and Separation Anxiety

Published December 31, 2019 | Last Updated June 19th, 2024 at 03:53 pm

man in airport separation anxiety

This article was written by Barbara Greenberg, PhD.

So here it is again. I’m referring to that sinking feeling that you get when your adult children leave your home after a lovely visit.

Or maybe you’ve been on a vacation with your young adult kids and just when everyone was starting to relax and get comfortable, it was time to leave.

Perhaps, your oldest child is going off to college. You can insert your own scenario here. 

You see, it’s not just children who experience separation anxiety but it’s adults as well.

Adults and Separation Anxiety

When your kids are teenagers, you are significantly less likely to experience separation anxiety because, let’s face it, they are very complicated creatures and you don’t mind getting a break from them.

Fast forward ten or twenty years and your kids become a pleasure to be with.

They are, in most cases, more agreeable, less emotionally unpredictable, and generally more fun to spend time with.

This leads to more painful good-byes and to the letdown that you experience when your time spent together comes to a temporary screeching halt.

Let’s focus on the word temporary so that I can help you deal with the inevitable separation anxiety that parents everywhere can certainly relate to.

In sessions in my consultation room and in conversations with friends, parents consistently discuss the emptiness that they feel when their children go off to college.

Yet others describe missing their children when they find jobs and create homes in different states.

Parents describe feeling proud of their kids’ independence but nonetheless missing and worrying about their kids. Kids and parents get older but the worrying never stops, does it?

So you may be looking forward to a visit with your adult kids but when it ends you know that you will be at a loss. Maybe we should consider this a double loss.

Your kids are leaving AND your feelings of joy have now morphed into disappointment.

You have experienced these feelings of separation anxiety before but you are never quite sure how to deal most effectively.

Ways to Handle Separation Anxiety From Your Young Adults

Let me help you here so that you can let go more easily and comfortably. This will be beneficial for you and your kids.

The stress level will decrease as you tap into a new set of ideas.

  1. When you are saying your good-byes set up the next plan to get together.     

    There is no question that people of all ages have any easier time separating if there is a future plan to spend time together. What you are then doing is saying goodbye for a finite amount of time rather than for what seems like an eternity.     

    Everyone does better when there is less ambiguity. 

  2. Allow yourself to feel a bit sad and uncomfortable emotionally but try very hard to limit the amount of time that you focus on the ending.           

    After all, this is only temporary if you have followed step 1 and made a future plan. If you can’t set up your next plan to get together then set up a date for your next phone call or FaceTime contact.            

    [How Often Do College Students Talk to Their Parents?]

  3. Have a plan of activities to engage in after your kids leave. You will need to have something to immerse yourself in so that you aren’t stuck in the negative zone. (see #2 above). And, if possible, make it something fun so that you associate the end of the visit with positivity.
  4. Create even more connections and threads of conversation when you are with your kids.       

    Take note of what your child is interested in talking about so that you can continue the discussion during the next contact. Listen to your kids and stay curious about their lives. This will keep you connected even when you are not physically together.     


  5. Keep in mind that if you feel a bit of separation anxiety that that must mean that you and your adult kids are connected.

After all, your feelings go beyond relief, yes? 

Good luck but certainly not goodbye for long.

This article originally appeared in Psychology Today.


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