Parents Aren’t the Only Ones Facing a Difficult Transition When a Grown Child Leaves Home

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash


Significant changes in a child’s life can have cascading consequences, and always require parents to be attentive and supportive – even while we’re trying to adapt to these changes ourselves.

One of the most significant milestones for both parents and children is preparing for them to leave home for the first time, whether it’s to attend school, start a new job, or get their first apartment.

And as colleges and universities begin to welcome students back to campus, we may fail to recognize the family members who may need the most help adjusting to the change.

As our kids enter high school, it hits us… They’re getting more and more independent.  They’re home less and less.  And someday soon, they’ll be leaving home and starting their own lives.

Of course, this is natural, but it doesn’t make the transition any easier for the family.  This “empty nest” feeling often hits parents hard, and there are plenty of articles and resources available for parents who are trying to adjust.

But we are not the only ones who grieve when a grown child leaves home.  Younger siblings are often the forgotten ones when it comes to adapting to these challenges.

Many colleges and universities offer virtual programs, and many young adults choose to attend community college or a local school while continuing to live at home.

But many others are seeking their first taste of real independence by living on or near campus – and there’s often a difficult adjustment period for the entire family.

There are many reasons why younger siblings have trouble adjusting when an older sibling leaves home.

Family roles may begin to shift.  Parents may experience a feeling of loss and not quite be themselves for a time.  And this change may be the first time a younger sibling has experienced any kind of significant loss.

When an adult child leaves home, family activities obviously change.  The family dynamic shifts as younger siblings may be given more responsibility or become the oldest now at home.

Younger kids may feel anxious without the support of their older sibling, and they may be worried about their sibling’s safety out on their own, just as we do as parents.  They may feel they’ve lost a confidant to turn to for advice.

And the closer siblings are, the harder these changes may be for them to accept.

It’s not all negative – younger siblings may indeed excel at taking on their new role in the family, and they may seek and gain more independence and confidence.

But for the most part, younger siblings will need a little extra attention and support from Mom and Dad – and that may be challenging when we’re trying to cope with sadness and a sense of loss ourselves.

There are some very important things we can do as parents to ease this difficult transition for our younger children still at home.

First and foremost is to be available, ready to listen and offer love and comfort.   But families should also make sure that every family member is open and honest about their feelings and express them to one another.

We must understand as parents that both the child who has left home and the children still at home will need a little extra help during this period of change.  And no matter what we are dealing with ourselves, we are still on the job.

Open communication within the family also includes making sure younger siblings have the ability to contact the child who has left home.

Set up family calls at designated times so younger children have something to look forward to, and the kids can also work out times to talk when they have each other all to themselves.

And don’t forget, virtual calls are more popular than ever, and being able to see their older sibling instead of just hearing their voice can ease younger children’s sense of loss.

The older child can even take their younger siblings on a virtual tour of the campus, their dorm, or places they go throughout the day to help them picture what their sibling’s new home and schedule looks like.

We can’t forget just how important routines are to children of any age.  Although the family dynamic will change when a child leaves home, it does provide the opportunity to start new routines.

Find new ways to get together as a family, planning new activities you’ve always wanted to try.  And don’t forget to keep up the old traditions like family dinners, movie nights, and anything else you always do on a regular basis.

Maybe the child at school can even join in virtually when they are able!

The bottom line is that we must strive to keep communication open and do our best to stay consistent in our routines and reactions when a child leaves home – for the sake of the ones still under our roof who are missing what they’ve always known.

It’s not easy, but it is just another natural part of the journey – experiencing the ups and downs of life together as a family.