Exactly two years ago, I was preparing for the biggest transition of my parenting life: Sending my kids away to college in two different states. You see, I am a mother of twins. When my first went to college, so did my last. And boy, did it rock my world. Which is why I wanted to share my story, so that other parents wouldn’t feel alone in this major life transition.
There were so many intense emotions that I experienced during those first few months after my kids were gone, that I often found myself asking my therapist, “Is this normal?” I felt sad, alone, lost, purposeless and oh-so-very tired. At the same time, I knew in my heart that my son and daughter were exactly where they needed to be, even if it was hours away from home.
I avoided both of their bedrooms for at least month since I couldn’t bear to feel how empty they were. When I saw their favorite foods in the pantry I would cry. I’m embarrassed to admit that I chastised my husband for purchasing my daughter’s favorite drink, which reminded me of her absence every time I opened the refrigerator.
The good news? My therapist assured me that all these feelings were normal and pointed out that sending a child off into adulthood, or to college, was in fact a loss. It was the end of an era of having my whole family under one roof and it was perfectly fine to grieve that loss. So, for all the parents who have that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs as they prepare to drop their first, last or middle child off at college, this blog post is for you.
The Next Chapter
When we said goodbye to our daughter on the lawn of her dormitory on a warm summer day, I remember thinking, “This is it.” She hugged me and I started to cry, whispering how proud I was of her. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tiny crack in my heart when her twin brother hugged her goodbye, realizing that the four of us wouldn’t be together again until Thanksgiving. Then we headed to the car while she walked into her brand-new life.
A mere two weeks later, it was time to say goodbye again and I wasn’t any more prepared. When my six foot, one-inch son bent down to give me a hug, my mind went blank and I couldn’t think of anything inspiring to say. But I didn’t need to. As he hugged me tight, he said, “Thank you for letting me go to school here. I’m going to miss you so much.” And in that moment, I knew everything was going to be okay.
Tips for Making the Transition
- Saying Goodbye: Let Your Child Be Your Guide
Try not to over plan how, when and where you will say goodbye to your college student. Leave it up to them. As much as it feels like your moment as a parent, it really is their moment. They need to feel empowered to start getting acclimated and making new friends. Some kids want to do this as soon as possible. Don’t let your feelings be hurt by their autonomy. It is a good thing and will help them transition to this new chapter in their lives more easily.
- Staying in Touch: Ask What Works for Them
In today’s world, there are so many ways to stay in touch with your college student. Given the busy start of the semester and myriad of welcome activities, it’s not likely that your student will have time for phone calls right away. Plus, they prefer texting and Snap Chatting anyway. Both are fast, easy ways to let them check-in, so you still feel connected. As the term progresses, it helps to let your college student call when they want to talk. Trust me, you’ll have a more robust conversation this way, instead of having them call home on a required day of the week.
- Your Changing Role: Coach vs. Manager
As your child embarks on the college journey, they start to practice something their generation calls “adulting.” Basically, it means figuring out life on their own terms. It can be as simple as doing laundry or managing their own expenses. What it means for parents is that after managing your child’s day-to-day life, you are now on the sidelines, as more of a coach. So, when your college student calls asking for advice, try not to immediately offer a solution. Rather, help them explore all the facets of the problem, and let them make the decision themselves. It still gives you the chance to parent, but in a slightly less overt way, and your kids will thank you for it.
Park City-based Liz Yokubison is a former marketing professional who worked at Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, and an online startup, before pursuing her love of writing. If you’d like to learn more tips on sending your child to college, please visit her website or find her book on Amazon, They’re Ready. Are You? A Parent’s Guide to the College Transition.