When junior heads to college, helicopter parents turn to empty-nest coaches

March 7, 2024

Kenny Hayslett recalls bittersweet feelings when his oldest child left for college. But he didn’t expect the profound sadness when his middle child said goodbye last year.

“They all sting, but this one hurt,” the 56-year-old says.

Helicopter parents get accustomed to tracking their children’s every move via smartphone, keeping activities tightly scheduled, scrutinizing homework and grades, exchanging miles of texts. For a certain cohort of hands-on parents, getting their teens into college marks the finish line. Then comes the coup de grâce: Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad! See you at Thanksgiving!

The kids are fine. It’s parents who need help, reports The Wall Street Journal. The exit of high-school seniors leaves many feeling like “they’re being fired from a job they’ve had for 18 years,” says Jason Ramsden. He has made a name for himself on TikTok as The Empty Nest Coach.

“Even though you know it’s coming to an end, it is such a shock,” comments Ramsden, who ushered his last child out the door a little more than two years ago.

Empty-nest coaching is a growing livelihood—with training certification, support groups and $250-an-hour private-counseling sessions. Demand is driven by parents who feel an emotional and logistical vacuum after years of shepherding children from one moment to the next.

TikTok’s algorithm—sensing Hayslett’s pain when his second child left for college last year—served one of Ramsden’s empty-nester videos. Hayslett, of Clearwater, Florida, says he felt like “this dude is talking right to me. I can’t believe this is a thing.” He paid Ramsden $2,000 for weekly videoconferences over about three months before Camden left for college.

Like other things no longer taboo—from getting fired to not wearing pants—empty-nesters want to talk about their struggle.

Ramsden has drawn more than 50,000 subscribers to his TikTok account since becoming a certified coach in 2022. Elsewhere on the internet, the

Facebook group Empty Nest Moms has more than 12,000 members seeking guidance and assurance from others in the same emptied boat.

The Inspired Empty Nest—an online community started by empty-nester Bobbi Chegwyn—offers to connect local parents seeking to commiserate about the sudden silence at home.

Worried about missing family life, Hayslett switched careers and became a real-estate agent after the birth of his first child so he wouldn’t have to travel for work. Over the years, Hayslett coached flag football, helped with homework, and treated each of his three children to one-on-one trips.

Hayslett was a pole vaulter in college and coached his second son, Camden, when the boy took up the sport in seventh grade. In high school, Hayslett volunteered to coach track. With his youngest child, Kate, a high-school senior, now on the launchpad, he plans to circle back to Ramsden.

“I’ll be looking him up again,” said Hayslett, “since we’re going through this again.” He and Kate took many trips to Manhattan, he said, visiting the American Girl store when she was a child and Broadway shows as she got older. Next fall, he and his wife will be true empty-nesters.

Executive and life coaching were popular specialties when Valorie Burton, CEO of the Coaching and Positive Psychology Institute in Atlanta, began in 2002. In past years, she says, coaching services have widened to people going through a divorce or career change. Training can last a weekend or as long as six months, teaching coaches to help clients set goals and carry them out.

Empty-nesters get plenty of unsolicited advice from friends and family: Get a job. Get a hobby. Get a life. Empty-nest coaches say such suggestions aren’t helpful first steps.

“They need to grieve,” said empty-nest coach Natalie Caine. She became a $250-an-hour certified coach in Los Angeles following her own entry into empty-nesthood 15 years ago. “I get asked all the time,” Caine said, “ ‘Do other parents feel like this?’ ”

Christine Oakfield, who has a podcast called Your Empty Nest Coach, says many of her clients have focused on raising their children “to a point where they have no idea who they are. Their whole identity is their kids.”

Camden Hayslett says he wasn’t surprised his father was sad about him leaving for college. The only time he ever saw him cry was when the family said goodbye to his older brother after they dropped him at school. What he didn’t see coming was his dad hiring an empty-nest coach.

Camden thinks it has helped. It doesn’t hurt that he talks with dad every day. “That’s something that makes him feel more in the loop,” he said.

Research contact: @WSJ