It’s that time of year again—the days are blistering hot, tan lines are fully developed and summer is starting to wind down. For those of you with college-bound kids, it means one thing: saying goodbye. You’ve probably been preparing for this for a while now, but deep down, you know you’re not ready to let your baby go off into the “real world.” College will be a huge adjustment, and no matter how much you’ve tried to prepare them, you don’t want them to go. How could you? You’ve watched them grow for 18 years, and now they’re going to leave you for what seems like forever. The best way to deal with this separation is to prepare yourself because honestly, this is probably harder for you than it is for them. Here are a few simple steps to follow that will make your transition from ever-present parent to empty nester much smoother.
Don’t smother your kid
I can’t emphasize this enough. I know, it’s tough when your teenager is about to leave home for 4 or more years, and it seems like all they ever do is hang out with friends or spend money, and they’re never content with just being with you. They think they’re ready to be on their own; they’ve probably been fantasizing about college and dorm life and parties for the past few years, and it’s finally becoming a reality. Of course, they’re being distant, because in their heart they know that they’re going to be lost without you, and the only way to comprehend that is by acting like they’ve already left. It might be hard for you to understand, but they’re not trying to hurt you. Just give them their space and your love; there’s nothing worse than them starting college desperate to escape from their “overbearing” parents.
Make some friends
I know, you’re probably glaring at your screen defensively, muttering under your breath, “I do too have friends.” And I’m not implying you don’t. Once your child leaves for college though, you’re going to have a lot more spare time on your hands—less laundry, less cooking, fewer people to yell at, etc. You’re going to realize just how much time you spent taking care of your now grown-up child. Suddenly, your life will seem empty or flat-out boring. My advice to you is to make some friends or spend more time with the ones you have. The best way to deal with “losing” your most cherished person is to transfer that attention to new people. If you’re not too keen on spending time with people, find a hobby or hobbies. Read more books. Learn to square-dance. Heck, you can even go skydiving! After 18+ years of having a child to care for every single day, you’re finally free to do the things that you love. Don’t pass up that opportunity. While they’re at school expanding their minds, you can be learning a new language or writing the most groan-worthy dad jokes anyone has ever heard. The choices are endless!
Have realistic expectations
The most common mistake of parents is expecting their child to stick to the rules set at home and to basically remain under parental control, even from a hundred miles away. That’s not going to happen. If there was a list of all the times that kids have stuck to all of the guidelines set at home when they were away at college, there would probably be a grand total of five names on it. Don’t expect them to call you every night and want to talk about their day; you’ll just be disappointed. Don’t expect your straight-A high school student to be pulling a 4.0 in college because it probably isn’t going to happen. Don’t be upset when your kid doesn’t answer your call because they were at a party, even though you specifically told them you weren’t paying for them to party. You might say, “Weekends are for studying, not playing” a million times, but it probably won’t change their plans a whole lot. So, when your kid calls you back from a heavy metal concert somewhere in northwestern Washington on a Saturday night and promises to be back to their dorm before class on Monday, trust that they’ll make it on time because you’ve raised them well.
I hope some of these things will help you transform from “parent of a teenager” to “proud parent of a college student” relatively painlessly. Letting go and trusting an 18-year old with their life is hard, but it doesn’t have to end badly. Trust that you’ve raised your baby well–they’ve made it this far after all.