Sure, we want our kids to have consistent confidence – heading to college and always. That’s a topic in itself for another blog at least – maybe even a book. But what about us parents? We know that the nerves and newness quickly fade behind more relevant memories of all that college brings – good and challenging. In truth, we’re likely not as worried about their transition as we are about our own. For some it’s the OMG moment of “we’re college parent old” or the unknown experience of empty nests: mealtimes tilted, annual vacations shifted, and a whole lot of last times. A cascade of changes, even if we’ve experienced some of it with older kids. As each baby bird flies off, there is a period of parental ‘fright of flight.’
My second of two sons is about to start college and I am once again feeling extreme and understandable emotions: a deep sadness buffered by huge pride and vicarious excitement.
However, I just didn’t expect questioning if I had done enough parental preparedness. Did I instill in him everything he needs to be ‘good’? Did I teach him how to embrace opportunity and avoid risk? Did I armor him with resilience to overcome academic and social stress? Will he miss home with fondness as a foundation, not a curse or crutch?
More surprising is my own parental preparedness. Am I enough of a woman without being the everyday involved mom? Is there motivation to get up in the morning to know that the world still cares and needs my attention? Will I still be invited to help mold what is my young man’s mind to give him the support, encouragement, and direction that for the past 18 years gave me purpose?
Wow – such selfish, yet fair, feelings. Yes, I know that all will be well – in fact, I am confident that it will eventually be great. It’s just so much harder and exhausting than anyone warned me. Bittersweet indeed – it actually feels like roots are being ripped up from my emotional earth and the soil of my soul is being turned over to plant new, unknown chapters of life. It sounds poetic and profound, but also quite turbulent and uncontrollable.
So, I offer these consoling thoughts to fellow freshman-launching moms:
- Be glad that you’re sad: Celebrate the milestone as much as the emotion. We feel this way for actually very GOOD reasons.
- Think of it like paid time off: Being a mom is hard – harder than any job on earth. You can’t really choose or fire your kids. You don’t get promotions or raises. You can’t take vacation nor even get weekends off. It’s 24×7, every day forever. Consider your kid’s college years your own sabbatical. A bit of a break though not completely. You still need to be mom but perhaps a little less hands-on.
- Breathe and don’t blink: Given the past 18 years went by so fast, 4 years is barely an event! Stay engaged by making a time every day to check in with your child, your other family members, and most importantly yourself. For me, that is before I go to bed. A quick text is all it takes to let you be grounded in the moment and remind both of you that we all still do matter.
- Redirect your attention: If you have other kids, they need you even more. Big (or little) sis or bro isn’t there which stirs up newfound emotion, energy and curiosity that needs to go somewhere into the universe. It’s a new challenge to guide the other siblings so they can adjust to this new norm.
- You 2.0: Use the milestone to develop your next chapter. What and who do YOU want to be next? This doesn’t have to mean a career or lifestyle change. It can simply be taking stock of your own legacy and adding/changing/deleting things that no longer serve you. Maybe you want to learn a new languages, try yoga, or just binge watch a bit. Make this time a reward for all you did to get your kid to college!
Yeah, I know it’s so much easier to write it than live it. Please do offer your own current or past parental college advice here! We all appreciate that and will at least give me a great reason to stop crying long enough to read it!