It's August, let's talk about your children leaving for college. Or remember when you left! Yes, I know it brings up many feelings. One minute you're laughing with them at a Kmart Blue Light Special, the next minute you're dissolving into tears. The thing about being a parent is that when we finally master one stage of development with our kids, they've already catapulted into the next.
Leaving for college is a big transition for a family. For many parents this separation feels like a little death. In a way it is - death to the original family construct. Think about it, for years the focus was on researching prospective colleges, visiting the schools, talking about what subjects to study, filling out applications, writing essays, meeting deadlines. Then came the anxious wait for acceptances. Future hopes and dreams were realized or crashed with every day's mail delivery.
Suddenly, the day arrives: the rental van is packed like a biblical camel trying to move through the eye of the needle. Some reports say those camels got down on their knees to squeeze through the historical gate. Not too unlike parents who feel this moment brought them to their emotional knees.
When you arrive on campus the excitement is visceral. Where did all these people come from? Trucks, vans, SUV's and a million kids in cut-offs. Am I in Woodstock? I've never seen anything like it. On the outside we parents are genuinely thrilled for our kids. A college education is a privilege that maybe we didn't even have. But inside, right below the exhilaration and gratefulness we feel for providing it, we moms and dads feel an aching sadness, the result of a suppressed emotion of imminent separation and unexpressed fear, Will she be all right? Will he remember to wash his clothes and call us once a week? If we dig a little deeper we wonder, Will I be all right? "Here, let me make up your bed." "Here, let me help arrange a few pieces of furniture."
These eleventh hour 'momness' acts are understandable - raising our children took 18 years to master! We fed, clothed, drove, enrolled, counseled and consoled this curious, intelligent, talented, creative, petulant genius that we have loved since we moms heard the words, "you're pregnant." And dad? He just wants his kids to stay away from the beer keg, stay out of trouble and stay permanently on the dean's list. He also realizes his son's yelling over nothing last night was a face-saving technique that 'the dad' didn't take personally because he understands how acting mad keeps everyone from feeling that painful separation anxiety that everyone feels anyway.
Parents, realize that you are not alone; millions of us look back wistfully on the days of Dr. Denton's, little league games and Santa Claus. Realize the new way your kids need you now. Realize your present task is therefore to assure your children that they will be fine. Tell them outright that you have confidence in their intellectual capabilities, that they are a friend "magnet" and you're only a cell phone call away plus you've already cranked up your minutes! They'll know you are lying about the minutes but they'll love you for it. When you turn to get back into the van, pull out your calendar, put the first parent's weekend on it and smile as you do. Then, confidently tell your kids you love them, they'll be all right, then hug them goodbye.
Remember, you did a great job giving your kids wings, now delight in their first solo flight that every parent knows is a triumph and a terror for the student and the instructor.
Lots of love,
Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP, just another mom and grandmom
Author of When Every Day Matters
Simple Abundance Press, Sarah Ban Breathnach, Publisherwww.WhenEveryDayMatters.com