The Sting of Saying Goodbye to your College Freshman

The first “letting go” is usually that tearful pre-school or kindergarten goodbye. Fast-forward 12+ years and now you’re saying goodbye to a college freshman.

Karen Levin Coburn, author of “Letting Go” describes the transition to college as a “mixture of anticipation and anxiety, a sense of loneliness and freedom, fantasy and reality.” Are our parenting days really over and done? For most families the answer is no, but, there is unquestionably an adjustment phase. It seems like everything changes from concrete items such as purchasing less food each week at the supermarket, less laundry and less noise to subtle affects on siblings, a refocus on the marriage and coping with the realization of an emptier nest.

Parent Reactions to Saying Goodbye

Birth order has a lot to do with how parents handle saying goodbye. In my own experience as a middle child, I felt slightly overshadowed. My brother, three years older was teasingly referred to as “Jesus Jimmy” because he could do no wrong in our home! My mother, my father, my sister and I were devastated when the U-Haul pulled away. By the time my turn came, my parents were accustomed to saying goodbye and there were few if any tears. But, my sister was the baby and her departure clearly signaled the end of an era.

It’s smart to prepare mentally for the loss. If you think of your home life as a stock portfolio, the byword is always to diversify. You don’t want everything invested in bonds in case the bond market fails. You certainly want to invest in your children but it makes sense to have a variety of other interests. For many mothers that means planning for the adjustment and reestablishing themselves in the workforce years earlier. Dads are often surprised at their reactions. One dad in Levin’s book wrote “Knowing that my little girl is leaving home makes me feel that any past control I had as a dad, is now slipping through my fingers. I realize that once she is away, it will never be the same in our household again.”

The good news is that for most families anticipating the departure is far more stressful than actually dealing with the students being away.

Student Reactions to Saying Goodbye

Most students are ready and eager to leave. They’re excited about meeting new people, sharing new experiences and oh yes, learning new things! Once the dorm room is set up freshmen typically want to say goodbye and become ensconced in their new lives. Often their demeanor becomes cooler as they try to distance themselves from their family. Part of it is defensive, they may be afraid the first tear will unleash a waterfall.

Letting go can be hard. This too will pass.

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