How I Survived My Son’s First Year Away From Home – Without Annoying My Friends
Sending my eldest off to college was hard, I’m not gonna lie. I dreaded it his whole senior year and had all the usual angst-filled thoughts (“this is his last…”,”we won’t do this as a whole family ever again”, “he won’t be here for this next year” ).
The whole time I was trying not to be a drama queen in front of my friends who weren’t there yet, or who had already survived. No one likes the obsessive droanings of a first-time parent or a new college student’s parent! Right?
Looking back, I did make a nuisance of myself some of the time, but I also did some things right. I’ve also watched quite a few others go through it and have tucked their ability to weather this period of life with grace into my memory for later. The moms I knew whose kids served in the military were especially tough – maybe that’s how they got such brave children.
Now it’s that time again. I have another son headed off to school in a few weeks. I’ve dusted off my coping skills and will attempt to share them with you without crying tears all over the keyboard.
- Remember that you set the tone for how your child will approach this. If you are hyper-emotional, they will either soak that in and be sad, too, or they will cringe away from the tears and retreat. Save the excess for the other senior parents or your journal.
- Starting their senior year, don’t focus on the lasts quite so much. It is hard, especially if they have been involved in extracurricular activities for most of their high school years, such as football or yearbook club. Reframe it into “they are finishing strong,” or “they get to do this again”.
- Try not to look at old pictures and home movies until you have to. Pull them out right before the pictures for the graduation announcements are due. You can drag the emotion out all year, if you want to, but who wants to be chronically sad?
- When it hits you hard, let it all out – to a spouse or a friend who is going through it with you. You can sob on one another’s shoulders together. Watch a sad movie – bonus points if it is about sending a child off to school/career elsewhere. Rob Lowe wrote an especially heart-wrenching post about his firstborn leaving home here.
- Once they are accepted to a school/job/military, find the Facebook group for the parents of that group or find a group in your similar circumstances. The amount of similar-minded groups that are on FB is amazing! “Grown and Flown” is a great one. Join Facebook for the first time if you have to! They are full of great information and people who share your feelings and can commiserate with you.
- Take a road trip/long drive with your child. Don’t fire questions at them (my mistake, for sure!), but take a trip down your own memory lane with them. Recall your own mixed feelings about going away to school, your own panic about making new friends and leaving your old friends, your excitement about the next step, and anything else you recall about that time. Bring up memories of being on your own for the first time and how you coped with a particularly difficult situation, such as a drunk friend puking all over your car or forgetting about an exam. Laugh about how different life is now with Google searches and cell phones. Then you can gently insert questions into the conversation, like “what are you looking forward to?” or “is there anything that makes you nervous about next year?” There is something about being in the car, focused on the road, that makes teenagers more likely to share their thoughts.
- Take this time to begin to focus on you. Even if it is your first child of five, it is still the beginning of a new chapter of life for all of you. Take up a hobby, invite a new friend to coffee, or find fun things for you and your spouse to do together to solidify your relationship.
- If you do have younger children, encourage outings for them all to spend time together without you, that last year of high school. This is an emotional time for them, as well. I know my middle and my youngest really bonded that last year, in a way they hadn’t before. My youngest expressed his feelings in a poem he wrote for school and it shocked me how deeply he was dreading the impending separation. If feasible, plan for the younger siblings to visit at some point during the year.
- On move-in day, do your best to keep it together until you get away. Express excitement and anticipation for all that is in store. Don’t have expectations about anything. Your child may react exactly as you expected or may not. They may be sad or they may be sullen, wanting you to leave already! It’s all normal.
- Adjust your expectations during the school year, also – your child may call you, incredibly sad and homesick every day, or you may not hear from them for weeks. Don’t panic. They have to settle in. (Set up boundaries, though – “if I text you, I expect an answer within three hours.” And get phone numbers of a roommate or the dorm’s front desk, in case of an emergency. Just for your own peace of mind.)
- Be prepared for the holiday surge of emotions. You are so excited to see them again! You expect (dangerous stuff, expectations!) for things to settle into a familiar rhythm, but it won’t. They have been on their own for months, they miss old friends and are off to see them, they missed the dog more than you… And then, the short break is over and they are off again and you are hit with the pain of their leaving all over again.
- And this is a good time to mention, none of this may apply to you. You may feel guilty because you aren’t more sad. Or because you don’t miss them quite as much as you thought you would. You’re happy to hear from them and you get a twist of anxiety or nostalgia as they walk into their dorm, but then you go back home without tears. This too is perfectly normal. You are you and that is okay,
I’m sure after I close this post out I will remember twenty more things I could have mentioned. But then I would be annoying…Leave any of your own tips/ideas in the comments for other parents to learn from, as well. And keep me updated about how things went!
**I know that the Covid epidemic has altered many things, but the same basic idea is there. It is tough to step back from the primary parenting role as our kids mature. Whether they are staying home for community college online or heading off to live away, we all have to deal with our own emotions about the whole “growing up” process. **
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