Saying Goodbye: The Dinner, The Drive and The Departure

Even the savvy parents who managed to get through the entire college admissions process intact have a difficult time on the day of departure. Emotions are raw for everyone with parents lamenting that their baby’s leaving the nest and freshmen traveling moment to moment between excitement and apprehension.

Plan a “last supper”
 Ask your child in advance to save the last night for family. If you have close family friends who are also saying farewell to a freshman, feel free to join forces. If you give your children enough warning, they can schedule their goodbyes with their friends at other times. Decide if your child would prefer to be at home or go to a favorite restaurant. Surprisingly, most students choose the home-cooked meal.

Packing up the car
My recommendation here is to ask your child to pack on their own and bring their belongings to a central loading spot the night before the drive. Identify the family member with the best spatial/engineering sense to figure out the appropriate packing sequence. Don’t forget to leave room for any siblings coming along for the ride!

The Ride
The drive can either be a brief and usually quiet interlude or, depending on the distance from home, a mini family vacation with a hotel overnight, meals out, etc. Choosing to take younger siblings along is an individual family decision. In some cases, everyone wants to explore the college town, see the tiny dorm room, meet the roommate and get a sense for the new life of their older sibling. In other cases, it’s a chore and the family dynamics are better by having just the parents around for the final send-off. Carol Barkin author of “When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents Survival Guide” quotes one mom who said “We made the choice not to take our younger two along. I thought it would be very distracting and even more nerve-wracking for our daughter. And I didn’t want to have to think about anyone’s needs except hers; I wanted to focus on her.”

Early-Bird Gets the Better Mattress!
If the college hasn’t specified move-in time, try and unload as early as possible. History has shown that heat waves tend to strike on college move-in days! It is usually very hot, humid and the elevators, if you’re lucky enough to have one, are ridiculously slow.

Saying Goodbye
Don’t hang around too long.  It can be tempting to feather your child’s new nest, but leaving sooner than later is better. Many colleges make it relatively easy by scheduling programming for the students and having a specific time for the parental departure. It goes by fast, too fast. Many parents choose to write their children a letter and leave it with them or plan ahead so it arrives the next day. However you say goodbye, be sure to wish them well, share your excitement in their new adventures and your confidence in their future success and let them know that you are there if and when they need you or just want to talk.

On My Bookshelf
“When Your Kid Goes To College: A Parents’ Survival Guide”, Carol Barkin, $12

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