Dear Mom (and Dad, too),
You made it! Your kid survived infancy, preschool, kindergarten, middle school and high school. You celebrated the achievements. You comforted him through the disappointments.
Now, he’s going to college. (I say he because I’ve sent two boys, not because this doesn’t apply also to daughters.)
You’ve done all you can. The stuff is purchased — no doubt way too much stuff! The bags and boxes are packed.
The day approaches. He’s going to college. He’s ready.
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How did 18 years go by so fast?
Somehow, we spend their whole little life (18 years isn’t long), preparing them for independence. There’s so much advice to help parents navigate the early years. How to get them to sleep through the night. Potty training in a day, a week, without tears. Whatever!
We learn to let go — and so do they — the first time that school bell rings. And by the time they reach high school, we’re used to the house being quiet during the day. Or when they go out with friends. To be honest, at least around here, I look forward to school days, the routine, and time alone.
But, going to college. That sneaks up on us!
We are so focused on getting them ready.
College orientation. Check.
Dorm application complete. Check.
College packing list. Check. And double check.
There’s probably a new computer in there somewhere. Am I right?
We cram all the advice we can into the short summer between high school and college. If your kids are anything like mine, they “listen.” And then walk off to promptly forget every sage piece of heartfelt wisdom shared. The summer is filled with conflict — them getting every minute of fun, friends and freedom in before college, us wishing for every moment of family, togetherness and time. to. slow. down!
And then, it’s here.
Load the car. Drive to school. Unpack. Say good-bye.
Say good-bye again.
And they’re gone. Your heart is ripped from your chest, left behind with the baby you have nurtured for 18 years. Forget kindergarten separation. This is the one that really hurts. This good-bye is different. This one really, really hurts.
The college-goodbye. What parents really need to know
Oh my goodness. The day I left Nathan at college, knowing he liked his roommate and had chosen a great school and was ready, my heart broke. He was so excited, ready for the adventure ahead and his first step into adulthood. I knew he was ready. I knew he could do it. And, deep down, I was so happy for him.
But for me, a chapter in my parenting book slammed shut. In an instant. I would never, ever, be the person he talked to after school each day. Every day parenting, on call 24/7/365, was done. He was free.
I was not.
I had to find a new me. That meant, I had to accept that this chapter was done, and a new one had begun.
Thankfully, I have a dear friend who is several years ahead of me on this path called parenting. She wisely, and gently, shared advice through that last summer which really helped me through it. Yes, my heart burst into a million pieces, but she promised I would get through it. And, I did.
I was once told, during the long potty training years, “You’ve never seen a 16 year old go to high school in diapers, right? He will figure this out one day.”
So, I’m telling you, Dear Mom, “You’ve seen lots of kids and parents survive college, right? You will figure this out one day.”
Advice from parents who “survived” — and even thrived!
To help you get through these next few weeks, saying good-bye and finding your new normal, I’ve asked friends to share their best advice for navigating the transition from high school to college! This is for you, moms. You’ve done your job. Trust that they’re ready to soar.
From Becki, who blogs at A Book Lovers Adventures, says:
When you drop your kid off at college, if you want something be verbal about it. For example, if you want to help set up their dorm – say so. If you want the picture in front of the school sign – say so. And let your kid know before hand that you’ll be asking for things as they come up so they know to expect it.
Becki’s advice is so on point. Our kids are focused on their new life. They’ve got a million things going through their head: making friends, navigating the cafeteria, finding classes, studying… Okay, not that last one. They’re focused on the fun and excitement of their new adventure. They’re also a little nervous, but they won’t admit it. BUT, with all the thoughts swirling through both your heads, you need to communicate. They cannot read your mind. They don’t know this new life any better than you do. Communication is key! Whatever it is you want/need/desire.
With my oldest, I told him before college move in day that I knew he was ready for college and would love his years there. But, I also told him that while I knew what it was like to leave home for school, I had never done the “mom lets go” thing before. So, I apologized in advance for any tears, assured him that I wasn’t crying out of fear or sadness — just experiencing “all the feels” of a new mom-first, and that I would be okay. I also promised to try not to embarrass him too badly. Not sure I succeeded there, though.
My friend Ann, whose kids went to school with mine says:
My most important thing was NOT to hover. This is their time. I never got in touch with their professors. If the kids haven’t figured out how to negotiate the ins-and-outs of dealing with instructors without parental assistance, they aren’t ready for college. Let them go- they need to do this on their own. Send “I’m thinking about you!” and “I love you” messages but it’s time to let them do this. Give them parameters- if they can’t keep grades up to [x] GPA, then your financial contribution will be reduced or maybe they have to take a semester off to reevaluate their goals, but otherwise, let your little birds fly.
Her advice echoes Becki’s. It really comes down to communication. And when it comes to parameters, we did the same with our kids. I went a step further creating college contracts to make sure expectations were crystal clear.
*** Read more: Teen Contracts for college, driving and electronics ***
One of the hardest things for us, as parents, is to let go. BUT, they need the freedom to succeed — or fail and recover — to become successful adults. If parents swoop in to fix everything, we deny kids the important opportunity of realizing they CAN figure it out.
At college orientation, you will learn about the resources available to your student on campus. AFTER orientation (not the drive home but a few days later after your kid has had time to process it) and BEFORE you leave them at the dorm, ask if you can talk with them about who to contact if they have trouble at school — so that they have the tools if they need them.
Some resources they will have are:
- Their RA (Resident Advisor) at the dorm is a good first point of contact and can refer them elsewhere if needed,
- On campus counseling services if they feel overwhelmed,
- Academic support services (from proof-readers and tutors to counselors),
- and their academic advisor (who is responsible for helping them navigate the course load to get to graduation).
Val, who owns Bed, Bikes and Beyond — a fabulous AirBNB, says:
If you know a responsible adult in the area, take the time to introduce them to each other. If both parties are willing, have them exchange contact information in case of an emergency. Our son was able to attend church while he was at college with a young family until he was more established to the area.
This practical advice gives mom some peace of mind, knowing that there’s someone close by who can help out if needed! Some colleges even arrange for parent meet-and-greets or have a parents group to help build relationships.
My oldest went to college nine hours from home. When he had a dental emergency, and again when he needed some major car repairs, a mom local to the area was my lifeline. She made recommendations that I passed on to him. Knowing she was there made it easier for me to let go.
Hmmmmm…. that one falls under communication, too. Maybe that’s the big takeaway. The college transition is tough, but with some intentional communication before the big day, on the big day and even after, it’s one you will get through!
And from me:
Trust that you did your job well for 18 years and give yourself, and the family, time to adjust.
For your college kid, RESIST the urge to check in those first few days. If you text/call every day, then send a short text to say “good night” or “I love you.” But keep it short! Don’t ask questions. Don’t get all weepy and sappy. The first few days at college are really important for your child. He needs space to meet people, figure out a routine and decode all the new stuff going on. Colleges fill that first week with loads of activities to help kids meet new friends, get comfortable on campus and find their feet. Give your child space to do that!
But, you need the same thing. The best MOM ADVICE I got was “don’t go straight home after you drop him off.” With my oldest, that was pretty easy. We had a nine hour drive, so we broke it up with a stop at Great Wolf Lodge. Taking a day to play and adjust to being a full-time family of four, not five, was really important. I still hated coming home to a quieter house, but at least I had a little time buffer.
Our second went to college much closer to home. We didn’t need a hotel stay, but we still needed time to adjust. So, we took our daughter out to dinner at her favorite restaurant — focused on becoming a full-time family of three. It gave us something to look forward to, so we didn’t focus only on what (who) we left behind.
So there you have it, Dear Mom.
Pack the stuff!
Offer advice when you can.
Then trust that you have done your job well, and say your good-byes. You will be okay. So will he. You raised him to soar!
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Parents who have been there, what’s your advice?
Parents, this is our place to talk and share. It’s not my blog. It’s OUR COMMUNITY! What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had known before you sent your first off to college? OR, better, what’s the one piece of advice that you got that helped you with the transition to a new stage of “emptier nest” parenting? Leave a comment here so we can learn from each other.
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