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Just a few weeks ago, we traveled over 500 miles to move my college freshman into an apartment she'd be sharing with five other roommates she had yet to meet.
It was exciting and scary, exhausting and emotional. It was new and stressful, fun and hopeful. We said goodbye, and there wasn’t enough time to linger — probably a good thing for her and for me.
On the long drive home, I actually felt good! I was proud of myself, surprised by my strength. I could handle leaving my baby so far away to live on her own. The college is exactly where she needs to be. Letting go is easier when you’re confident your kid is ready to leave.
But ever since we returned, I’ve felt a deep ache. I struggle with missing her, with worrying and wondering about her, with wishing I could hug and be with her. I’ve since learned this is the hard part — coming home and doing life without her here.
There are so many things I’m trying not to do to keep myself from falling apart, but these are the five most important I’m working on now…
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my baby’s childhood. It surrounds me in pictures all over my home and everywhere I go.
Although I love to think about all the special times we shared during her growing-up years, I try not to linger down memory lane too long. I find that when I do, I wish it all back. I want to start over and savor every moment just a little bit longer, knowing now how fast it all goes.
Those years are sacred to me, and I’ll cherish them for the rest of my life. But I can’t dwell on them or I’ll miss out on where my big kid is now. She is moving on and I must, too. There’s so much more ahead — so much life right in front of me I dare not miss. So I try to celebrate these days instead.
Crying hurts my head. It exhausts me and makes my eyes swell.
It’s important to release all that grief, but I’m trying to stay steady and positive. When I see a car that looks like my college kid’s car, and my heart sinks with sorrow, I allow the emotions to gather in my throat but then try to remember how great it is that she’s experiencing so many new and exciting adventures on her own.
I’m being intentional with my thoughts, shifting the heaviness into something lighter. Thinking about how much she’s learning and growing helps lessen the heartache. I will always miss her and want her here with me, but that’s not how it’s supposed to be.
Not knowing everything that’s going on in my daughter's life causes me to worry more about everything that’s going on in her life.
I worry about whether she’s feeling comfortable with the new roommates she’s just getting to know. I worry that she might be tired and run down with her busy schedule.
I worry if she’s making friends and feeling secure in her own skin. I worry about her finding contentment about where she is and why she’s there. I worry she’s not pacing herself or practicing self-care. I worry that she’s not advocating for herself when she needs to be heard.
My worries can get out of control if I let them. So to stop my mind from spiraling, I pause to remember how strong and wise my girl is. I remember all I’ve taught her and realize she will slowly but surely find her own way. She’s brave and responsible and compassionate and kind. All those traits in her will surely shine. I must trust that and believe she can make good decisions and care for herself well.
If I could, I would text my girl as soon as I wake up (and possibly every other hour of the day until I go to bed).
I want to check in every time I think of her which is, basically, A. LOT.
I want to hear her voice, and make sure she’s well from the sound of it. I want to share my day-to-day stories and listen to hers, too, just like we used to do when she lived at home.
How are her classes going? Is she learning interesting things? Is she cleaning up after herself, and sorting her darks and lights? Is she making friends?
I want to hear every detail because I feel lost without knowing.
But I can’t expect her to think about me the way I think about her. As she navigates a new life, she doesn’t need the added burden of responding to my texts or calls. She doesn’t need to take care of me when she’s learning how to take care of herself. This is not her job.
So I wait and let her do her thing. Building a new life takes a lot of energy, time, adapting and strength. I let the hours go by, and sometimes the days, and when she calls, I listen and praise, encourage and support.
Eighteen years of raising a child adds up to 6,570 days you dedicated to their physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being. After all the time and energy and hard work you poured into raising your kid, through every stage and phase, and age and season, it’s suddenly over.
It can feel like you've been abandoned, left in the dust of their childhood memories, withering away with your wrinkled-up face and swollen eyes, wondering how this could be. Shouldn't your precious baby miss you so much (as you do them) and want to share every single thing that’s going on in their life?
Alas, the long road of hands-on parenting has come to its end. Your child has moved on to discover a new world without you in it. Thanks for the job well done!
This part of parenting is hard. It hurts. But what I’ve come to realize (and accept) is that my girl must detach from me in order to be empowered and to prove to herself she can do this on her own. She still loves me, and she’ll still need me. But right now, she must find her own way and be her own guide.
Also, our kids are BUSY trying to learn how to manage SOMANYTHINGS. They’re not reaching out for help or wanting our affirmation or counsel because they're trying to figure it out themselves as best they can.
Isn’t that what we want most of all? Our goal is for our kids to be secure in who they are and what they do. All our parenting comes down to this very truth. We best not get in the way of them testing out those wings we’ve nurtured all these years to prepare them to fly.
But the five things I'm trying not to do will help us both. I’ll still cry and send random texts now and then. I’ll still feel a bit slighted she hasn’t taken the time to fill me in. But mostly I’ll know this is how parenting goes. We feel joy and we ache and we just keep taking it one shaky, uncertain step at a time.