The Insider’s Guide to Healthy Hawaii: How to Cope With the Empty Nest When Your Kid Leaves Home

When kids move to the Mainland for school it can be hard to adjust, but these tips can help you through it.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

This fall, many Hawaii parents are dealing with the transition of having their child away at college for the first time. Here’s one parent’s perspective and how she copes.

Empty nest
When Cesceli Nakamura flew to Minneapolis to drop her son Brad off for his freshman year at college, she cried on the plane to Minnesota. She cried during dinner on their last night together. And she cried before returning to Honolulu.

Having her son away from home for the first time was “a whole-body kind of hurt,” she says.

Flying the coop
That sense of loss or isolation when a child leaves home for the first time is known as empty nest syndrome. “These feelings are normal,” says Keith Pedro, PsyD, a family counselor in Honolulu. “At some point, parents have to cut the cord.”

Pedro says being an empty nester is an opportunity for couples to embrace their next stage in life. It’s a time to reconnect with their marriage and explore new interests, such as a sport or hobby. “You did a good job raising your child. Now it’s time for you,” he says.

Pedro has these tips for empty nesters: 

  • Create a “vision board” of what you want your life to be. “Start writing the next chapter in your life,” he says. “It’s a new beginning.”
  • Take that dream vacation. If you can’t afford an overseas trip, take advantage of kamaaina rates at local hotels.
  • Embrace your space. Redo your child’s room into more living space. Or maybe it’s time to downsize to a smaller home.

Pedro says parents shouldn’t be afraid to seek counseling or get advice from other parents if they need help coping.

Recreating the nest
Although Nakamura misses having her son at home, she’s excited for his opportunity to live in a new place, meet new people and gain a good college education. After all, she wants the best for her son so he can become an independent young adult.

Another bright side: “The house is quieter, there’s more food in the refrigerator, and we don’t run out of toilet paper as often,” she laughs.

Nakamura connects with her son every day by phone, FaceTime or text. “We’re still a family. That’ll never change,” she says.

This content originally appeared in Island Scene.

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