There were so many things I had left to say when I pulled out of the parking lot nearest her dorm hall, things she needed to know, wisdom I needed to share. She stood and waved goodbye as the car shifted from reverse into drive and I made my way past the maze of cars. I carried the unsaid words with me as I turned right out of the parking lot. Tears filled my eyes then, and they do again as I recall that day. But, we all survived. And, if you are preparing to say goodbye to your son or daughter as they begin their college journey, you will too.
In the last of my 3 part series, I share the lessons I learned between the “Goodbyes” and “Welcome Homes!” Plus, I offer links to the wisdom of others who have already crossed this bridge, some more than once. Please take the time to visit those posts.
I love you, goodbye, but wait…
- They want to know they’ll be missed but don’t want to (nor should) feel guilty over leaving. Don’t make them responsible for your happiness, Mom and Dad, because they aren’t. Balance your tears with joy and excitement for them. Let them know you’ll miss them and freely share some specifics of why (like their smile in the morning or sharing a favorite TV program with them.)
- Their excitement over departure and the start of classes (whether their 1st year away or their 4th) should NOT be taken personally. It’s not about you; it’s about them and their joy. This is a big step for them, and they want you to be excited for them, too. Celebrate with them!
- Sure, there will be some homesickness and tough days. Be prepared for tears to creep up. Yours and theirs. There will be self-doubt and second guessing. Those doubts and insecurities are normal and don’t need to fixed. As they come up, your job is to listen and reassure your child of your faith in their abilities. Texting and regular Skype chats help you keep a finger on the pulse of your child’s emotional state.
- Become familiar with and keep your ears open for the warning signs of mental illness. Depression goes deeper than mere homesickness or frustration over a bad day and must be taken seriously, especially if your child has any history of depression. Offer him/her tips for handling homesickness, stress, and the rough patches before school starts. Become familiar with the on-campus resources available to your student before you leave so you can recommend avenues for help. Is there a counseling center available? Are there peer counselors? Ask for the roommate’s contact information. Encourage your child to keep an open dialog with you about the good and bad days and, if needed, to access the resources available to them. If you suspect your child is dealing with depression, intervene. Depression is an illness that requires treatment, just as cancer or pneumonia do. However remember if they over 18, they are an adult and you are limited by HIPAA laws, which is why it is so important to have trust and an open dialog about this sensitive subject before the need arises.
Winter, spring, and summer breaks will either pass too fast or last too long.
- You’ll be jumping out of your skin to have your “baby” home, excited to share leisurely chats and family meals. They, on the other hand, will be excited to see their bed, for sleeping in, and to visit with their friends. Yes, you are on the list, but likely not the top. It doesn’t mean they haven’t missed you; it means they are exhausted and are looking forward to catching up with the friends. This is not personal!
- Talk about your expectations for re-entry during the holiday and summer breaks before they come home or within the first couple of days home. Do you want them home for dinner that first night? Do you expect them to get a job, resume chore responsibilities, or mind a curfew? Let them know what rules you expect followed and the consequences if violated.
- Ask them about their expectations. Remember, they’ve been out on their own, not following house rules for a while. If their expectations are far from your expectations, consider compromises and choose your battles wisely. Re-entry is a time best managed with a discussion of expectations before conflicts arise.
- Try to view the holiday and summer breaks as an opportunity to preview your relationship after they’ve made that final move out. Treat them like an adult and expect adult behavior in return. If you receive anything less, address it adult to adult, with a bit of parent thrown in. After all, it is still your house and you get to set the rules.
And, last but not least, something from the experts:
- Each and every one of these links offers wisdom and support as you wind your way through this maze. Please, click over. If time is limited, please bookmark this page so you don’t miss a single one.
- this excellent reminder from the ever-wise Sharon Greenthal of Empty House-Full Mind, because their college years will pass faster than a blink.
- this perfectly expressed sentiment about saying good riddance by Lisha Fink of one of my very favorite blogs, The Lucky Mom.
- THIS! from wonderful Lois Mark of Midlife at the Oasis, where she and her husband share honest thoughts as a mom and a dad when their youngest left for school and left them Empty Nesters.
- this thoughtful and informative post by Kim Dalfares, author of I Was in Love with a Short Man Once.
- this touching post by Joan Stommen of the lovely blog, Gramcracker Crumbs, about that first night away and the lifetime wisdom left under her pillow.
- this comprehensive post by Lisa Heffernan over at the very resourceful site, Grown & Flown.
- this terrific column about paying for college by Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors.
- this timely advice about move-in day from College Parents of America.
- And last, but certainly not least, this lovely post about earned wings and senior year good-byes by Mindy Trotta of Relocation: The Blog.
Now, it’s your turn. What counsel would you off to those just venturing into the higher education water with their children? What questions do you have for the veterans? Please share your wisdom or ask your questions in the comments.
(In case you missed, Part 1, click here. And, if you missed Part 2, click here.)
24 thoughts on “First Year Lessons Through the Rearview Mirror (Part 3)”
Amazing tips and tools! I wish I had these words to read and re-read when my kids headed to NYC in 1998. OMG…I could have used some of this great advice!
Thank you, Ellen, so very much!
I am really enjoying your posts and will share them with my daughter because her daughter starts college next week. How is that possible? I hope I handle it better with the granddaughter than I did her mother.
I love that you included depression. My 17-year-old stepson died of suicide. Depression can be a fatal illness. Your advice is so valuable!
Thank you so much, Doreen, for the kind words and I hope your granddaughter has a fabulous time in school.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your step-son. I lost my brother to suicide 4 years ago. Depression can be a fatal illness, and mental illness needs to addressed and treated like the medical illness it is
But that bird….
I know, right?! LOL
I hate saying goodbye, I think I was damaged as a child (always my default excuse) and I have abdicated my ability to successfully say goodbye. My children come and go….it took a long time to figure out who I was after they didn’t need me any more, well they need me, I insist that they need me….but not for the same reasons as before. Hard business this mother thing
It is a hard business, but filled with reward. Well, most days, anyway. Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting!
Excellent point of view, Mary, and I just love how you provide links to other useful and important posts on other blogs. Ah, children, ah empty nesting. Your series was marvelous.
Thanks so much for including the part about depression.That’s an important conversation to have. Yesterday we sent our youngest to Amsterdam for the year (!!!!) and in the morning I told my husband “Our lives are about to change again.” He said, “yes, but not as much as hers.”
These are tough times for parents, especially moms. I has been 11 years since I dropped my one and only off at her dorm room. I recall the day and the emotion with complete and utter clarity. It brings tears to my eyes even now. No, it isn’t about us, but our lives are gravely affected and will never be quite the same. All good things. Time marches on, and we with it.
There is absolutely we can’t be affected by such a large change in our daily lives. One day they are asking for pancakes and the next they are sharing stories about places we’ve never heard of. All good things, but sometimes this part of the march is tough. Thanks for your comment, Tammy!
Thanks for the tips! We are thoroughly enjoying every moment of our daughter and her college experiences!
Thank you, Wendy! Wishing all of you a fabulous year.
Thanks so much for including me in this great resource. You’re so right when you remind parents it’s not about us! This is a natural, bittersweet transition time and the most important thing is to stay focused on your kids’ needs – and then go cry alone somewhere!
Lois, I would include you in every post, but I fear I’d risk looking like a stalker. 🙂
My kids are much younger but I really appreciate the advice so I know what I am getting myself into!
Wow! What a really great resource Mary! Any parent with a child going to college would benefit by reading it…I will be sharing it with some of my mom friends who are facing this right now. ~Kathy
Thank you so very much, Kathy!
I love your perspective on all of this — all 3 parts Mary… The day we left David at school 1,200 miles from the safety of our mountain home, I stood in the parking lot and tears poured down my cheeks. The dean’s wife walked up to me and said, “You know, he will be just fine.” My reply?
“I am not worried about him, I am worried about me….” Bittersweet memory. I guess we all were just fine.
Ruth, I can absolutely related to these words, ““I am not worried about him, I am worried about me….” ” C is closest in personality to me, and because A and Gio are so close in personality, I can often feel like a 3rd wheel. It creates an interesting shift in dynamics for all of us; not bad, just different.
this has been an excellent, thoughtful series and even though I am not parent, I read every word and then shared.
Thank you so very much, Carol! I truly appreciate your reading, commenting, and sharing!