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.