You dropped your kid off at college. You moved more stuff than they could need into a space barely bigger than a closet. You’ve handed over the credit card to be used only in emergencies (like ordering chicken fingers at 3:30 AM). You told them how proud you are, reminding them that you worked 100 hours a week and took out a second mortgage to send them to school. You gave them one last hug.
You cried. Admit it. Even on the inside, tears count.
Wherever you and your kid fall on the continuum of “I hope you never leave” to “I can’t wait until you move out,” your child’s sudden absence is
likely to stir up some stuff. I am a parent and a psychologist. I went to school longer than I needed to and spent the last 20-plus years working with college students. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to handle this change:
Feel the pain.
Discomfort and grief are fundamental and vital parts of our lives. They are the signs that we have felt joy and were connected. While longer-lasting or more intense, you felt this pain the first time you dropped your kid off at kindergarten or sleep-away camp. Let it show you what you’re missing so that you can treasure every precious moment you have with them.
In case you’re not hurting, that is OK, too. We experience change in unique ways.
Give and take credit.
The loss of connection and control that comes with your kid leaving home can be unbearable. As the hours go by without a text or DM or a call, your mind may wander to everything your parents never knew happened. At that moment, you may feel the urge to rescue your kid. Before you do that, remember this: you survived all the stupid stuff you did in college and thrived enough to raise a college kid. And you probably reached out for help when you needed it. Trust them.
Live the life you want for your kids.
The best way to teach someone anything is to model behavior. While others on campus are actively shaping your kid’s experience, you are still on the hook for teaching them how to live a good life. If you want your kid to graduate and work hard every day, keep working. If you want them to take time off when they drop off their kids at school, take time off. Do what you dreamed of doing when you were at college. Show them what all the hard work is for.
Get help when you need it.
Finally, pay attention to how you and your kid cope with the distance. You want to be aware of feeling overwhelming anxiety or sadness. Think carefully about whether your or your kid’s appetite or weight has changed drastically. And while college life almost demands changes in sleep, be careful whether those are causing problems. As soon as you ask yourself, “Do we need help?” reach out to a psychologist or other mental health professional. We endured our share of this to be able to validate feelings and provide perspective.