Leaving my pet behindKate Gallop
For some families, this summer break might not feel so different from the school year.
If your college student won't be living at home this summer because they've lined up an awesome job, internship or research opportunity in another part of the country, there might be sadness mixed in with your pride and excitement. We hope you find these reflections, from fellow college parents who've been through this, comforting and helpful. Know that you're not alone.
Our third and youngest child, who just finished her first year of college, was supposed to spend this summer at home working at a local day camp. When she was accepted for a summer-long campus research position, she (and her dad and I) felt bittersweet. None of us had realized how much we were looking forward to having her at home for a few months. She's excited by the opportunity, we're proud she has a research job, but all three of us have had some crying sessions while she's home for two weeks before returning to campus.
Our middle child (who graduated from college a year ago) eased us into summers without her. She had a local job after freshman year, and her first research job, after her second year, was just 30 minutes away and we saw her every few days. Even when her last college summer involved a position in Texas, we maximized her free time by having her spend it with family members. My husband and I wanted her to have a car, so I drove down with her. We didn't hurry, and did a good amount of sightseeing between Connecticut and Texas. There was even an impromptu hotel stay when Molly's nerves required stopping to give her the time and space to express all of her anxieties about this particular research job. Giving her a night to cry and vent and articulate her worries meant a the next day of driving was a long one, but I thought it was worth it — and Molly was a much easier companion from that point on. The drive back to Connecticut at the end of the summer with her father was uneventful. We missed Molly being close to home, and she missed being close to home, but our oldest son planned a visit with her halfway through the summer.
Bob and I know a lot more than we did nine years ago when our oldest child left for his first summer job on the other side of the country. We recognize the signs that the kids are feeling anxious and afraid and encourage them to work through some of those feelings before they go away — it's easier to help them in person than through a phone call. We also accept help from our older children. Nine years ago we all went to visit Jason, which gave him one weekend with company. Now we can arrange several visits over the course of the summer — older brothers and sisters know what it's like to be away and, even if they are a tiny bit resentful that they didn't have older siblings to spoil them, they're willing to plan a weekend visit.
My husband and I are the same people we were as we sent each child to school. Each child is different and each has had a different college experience and each has reacted differently to the opportunities college has offered. I may feel confident that we have this summer under control but I'm sure we will run into problems. And next summer will bring its own surprises, as well.
We want our children to grow up and be independent, but let’s not pretend that it isn’t really hard for parents. I don’t know what I would have done differently had I realized that, when we dropped our son and oldest child off for his freshman year, that was it. Home would just be a place to visit for two weeks here and there. I probably would have cried more! But I wouldn’t have wanted to stand in his way.
When our oldest son Nolan told us he was going to spend the summer after freshman year working in New Hampshire at an AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) hut, we were a bit sad for ourselves but not surprised. He spent a gap year in Australia so we were used to his adventures. Since we’d moved to California from Massachusetts the previous summer, we were eager to visit family and friends in New England. It was easy to include a visit to him as part of a longer vacation, and fun to see what life was like at the hut and to watch him work cooking and serving meals to hungry hikers.
We were less enthusiastic when our younger son Andrew also decided to spend the summer after his freshman year in New England. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised about this either. Andrew chose to return to a summer camp he’d loved as a child to work as a counselor. Fortunately, he had three weeks at home first, and we visited him mid-summer and were able to see him in action as an arts teacher. Seeing him happy and making a difference in the lives of his campers assured us he’d made the right decision.
In the end, both of our sons were away from home all three of their college summers. Although it would have been wonderful to have them home, we felt proud of their independence. They were following their passions, having growth experiences and creating wonderful memories with new friends. We managed to see them a bit each summer and made the most of our limited time together.
We’ve come to appreciate that we need to value quality over quantity when it comes to time with our sons. They’re doing what is best for them and we don’t want to hold them back. Having them leave us is hard and we miss them every day, but we’re grateful they are healthy, happy and pursuing their own dreams.