Returning home after the big drop-off

A student piles up belongings on drop-off day. Photo courtesy of USC Beaufort

How many Facebook posts have you seen over the last few weeks where families are sharing their pride and angst as they drop their children off at college for the first time? Lots. And why not? Heading off to college is truly an American milestone that deserves to be celebrated.

Parents have been responsible for their children for the past 18 years, and now, we believe, our bundles of joy are ready to face the world.

There are all kinds of support systems in place at colleges to help students acclimate. There’s freshmen orientation, resident advisers and a slew of student services available. But what about the parents? After that long drive home, after that especially sweat-inducing move-in, how do parents manage?

Understandably parents’ reactions are all over the map. In some cases, there’s relief because everyone’s been counting down the days to move in and it has finally arrived. In many cases, the drop-off is just the first step in the letting go process. It’s especially poignant when it’s the last drop-off and parents are heading home to an empty nest.

Below are the postings from a friend, a mom of twin boys, when she was dropping off her first son:

“Never before have I been so proud, sad, nervous and hopeful. Feeling emotional.

This is only the first of the two! The waterworks are difficult to control now. Can’t imagine next Saturday! Ugh!!!! This really is one of the toughest parts of parenting thus far … letting go. Intellectually I know and am thrilled with the school choices they have made and confident that they will succeed, but I really like my kids. They are entertaining, bright kids whose company I truly enjoy. I will miss them tremendously.”

Comments from friends:

– nooooo. cannot. believe. it!!

– You have so much to be proud of! I think you are a wonderful mother!!!

– no words.

After the second drop off, she shared:

“Sending my “youngest” down to Clemson today. Swelling with pride, angst, sadness and too many other raw emotions to list. What an exciting journey ahead!!! The deed is done! I’m officially an empty-nester although right now all I really feel is empty. I know tomorrow will prove more hopeful.”

Comments from friends:

– You can do it mom … Just take a deep breath and think about what a great job you have done!! Good luck!

– … cannot, cannot believe this. you must be so proud.

– It’s been a rough weekend for us all! Good luck!

– You have your friends here to comfort you. Many of us have been through this, just not two at once! In my prayers for your sad heart to be happy!

– I still get choked up thinking about the day my parents left me at college … And that was almost ten years ago! Tough day, but the start of a great adventure!

– Hang in there! It’s tough as you know what! Thinking about you and praying you stay strong. Big, big hugs

– They will be home for Thanksgiving! Maybe sooner.

– Love you! Glad you are going through this first! I’ll need you in 2 years!

And my favorite comment:

– Just remember, for the first time in 18 years, you can walk through your own house naked! 🙂


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: