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8/24/14blog post

how kids leaving for college affects a family

“These are our last 23 days,” declared 16 year-old Annika as she reflected upon her older sister leaving for Ohio State University in a few weeks. “We’ll never live together again for the rest of our lives…it’s like losing a close friend.”

While the departure of your child for college can be a cause for celebration, it is also a time of change in family relationships. While your young adult deals with a myriad of exciting adventures and confusing challenges in college, parents and siblings confront different types of issues at home.

Marriages change after kids leave for college. For some, there is an emptiness that reflects the reality that a child may have been the glue that kept the marriage together. Some parents feel less needed and wanted by their child, and disconnected from their spouse. They may experience depression. Other parents see this as an opportunity to get closer to the younger children, or to their marriage partner.

The impact on younger siblings is also significant, ranging from relief to loss.

In families where sibling relationships were antagonistic or uneventful, an older sibling moving out of the home can be beneficial to the younger child. It may be a respite from comparisons, competition and conflict with an older brother or sister. This is an opportunity for younger sibs to get more attention and recognition from family and friends.

For others like Annika, the loss can be profound, as her older sister was a source of emotional support and friendship. “The longest we’ve been apart is a week….and we’ve shared a room for as long as I can remember,” reflected Annika.

Her sister leaving for college represented another loss for Annika, in that she will no longer have regular contact with her sister’s friends. While Annika will stay connected to her sister in college, she realized that “my life will completely change.”

The impact on siblings, even when they are close, is not completely negative. In thinking about his brother’s departure for college in a year, 15 year-old Luke speculated that he’ll “get more attention from parents” and will move into his brother’s room. Annika spoke about it being less busy around the house and getting to drive the car more often.

For kids like Luke and Annika who have great relationships with their siblings, parents recognize that their younger child will need time to figure out how to deal with this loss and that family dynamics will change. While these loving sibling connections created in childhood will never be the same, the support and friendships will continue throughout their lives.

Annika may say little to her sister as she departs for college, but she’s already anticipated that event. “I’ve written her a letter….”