The Post Drop-Off Blues

In the past two weeks, eager college freshmen and their parents packed boxes for shipping or loading into the trunk of the car. There was most likely a trip to Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond for dorm essentials, or possibly to REI for pre-orientation wilderness trip gear. Inevitably, moms or dads shed some tears while saying goodbye to their college matriculant—or on the long drive home where they could veil their tears.

The college drop-off is an important time for families.

Some parents are surprised at the depth of the sadness they feel when leaving a child at college. Here are some suggestions on how to cope during this transitional time.

  1. You Are Not Crazy for Feeling Sad. When a child leaves for college, it means that parents are moving on to a new stage of life. As your child moves toward independence, your identity as a parent is shifting. You might feel some loss that childhood is over for your son or daughter. The transition may cause you to think about getting older and this might be unsettling for some. Perhaps you are questioning how well you prepared your child for the next stage. One parent told me, “I worry I didn’t teach her everything she needs to know.”
  2. Know Your Child Sees it Differently. If you found yourself imploring your daughter to spend more time with you in the weeks before she left for college, then you may have discovered that your emotional state didn’t match up with hers. Teens want to spend every waking minute with their friends. This may have annoyed you because you viewed this time as your last chance to be with your child before everything changed. Your child, however, expects you will be around forever. She is not questioning your impending old age the way you may be, so she doesn’t feel the same urgency to connect as you do. To college-age children, you are still mom or dad, and they don’t think you are going anywhere. 
    As your college student settles in, enjoy your own time and independence.

    As your college student settles in, enjoy your own time and independence.

  3. Allow for Independence. I remember calculating which day my son would return from his pre-orientation trip a week or so after my husband and I dropped him off for freshman year and expecting that we would get a call that day. Two or three days passed before we heard from him. As anxious as we were to hear how the transition was going, we waited to hear from him and resisted the urge to call or text. Let your child set the tone for communicating. It is reasonable to expect to hear from your child once a week. However, hearing from your child daily or anytime he needs to make a decision may mean he is overly dependent on you and he might need your help in becoming more self-sufficient.
  4. Enjoy Your Freedom. So not only are you missing your son or daughter’s company, but if this was your only or your youngest leaving for college then you may need to figure out how you will use all your extra time. Where last fall you may have spent Saturday afternoons cheering on the soccer sidelines, this fall you have freedom. It’s a gift so enjoy figuring out how you will use it.

The cartoonist Frank Clark said, “The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” That doesn’t mean our children still don’t have much to learn. In college, they have four more years of practice on how to become an adult, with lots of structure and support. It’s okay for you to let them go.

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