After all the test taking, application filling, essay editing, campus touring and acceptance waiting, the big event is almost here: Dropping teens off at college. You'd think that would be the easy part, but move-in day on college campuses is actually a high-anxiety, emotionally draining affair (so says the voice of experience! Believe me, you're never prepared enough). There are boxes to unload, roommates to meet, dorms to find. And there's also that final moment when you know you have to say goodbye to your child, who may be leaving home for the first time.
Here are a few strategies to give your college-bound freshman a positive send-off the right way.
1. Be prepared. Letting go is going to be different than you expected and far more emotionally charged. After all, we've been so involved in our kids' lives and have been determined to give them the best. And frankly, this is a huge economic investment. So recognize your feelings and sort out your emotions before the big departure. This is the time to use restraint. It's probably best not to say, "What am I going to do without you?"
2. Have the significant talk before the drop-off. Don't count on having a momentous goodbye once you get to campus. The day is guaranteed to be hectic and stressful and not the best time to air your list of parental concerns. Instead, have the meaningful talk or one last big lecture to discuss those things that could become areas of contention a few days before you leave home. You might want to make a list of things you want to discuss: financial matters (like spending money and that credit card); your expectations; how you'll stay in touch; when you'll see each other next; and those safety issues like binge drinking and date rape (most parents say safety is their biggest concern). A prior talk (if you think it is needed) will let you and your kid focus on move-in day and have a more positive departure.
3. Simplify the move. Most kids are embarrassed pulling up in a big moving van. So think of boxes that are easy to pack (and throw away). Or a wardrobe already on hangers that can quickly be put into the closet. Bring a few things in one box you know your kid will not have packed: a first-aid care package (plastic container with bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, an ice pack, thermometer, medicines for upset stomach, headache, cold or flu, sore-throat lozenges or spray), a just-in-case phone card and a surprise batch of homemade cookies or nibbles for the dorm.
4. Take your child’s lead. Don't come with set expectations. Your role is to support your child. You never know how he'll respond. The same kid who was so excited may be suddenly scared to death to move. If he appears overwhelmed, give him one thing to do right at that moment to get him started ("Go find your dorm room; take that box, put it at the door."). Don't be shocked if he wants you to leave ASAP (why it's great you already had that talk).
5. Locate essential places. If you haven't already done so in orientation, help your child find for his sanity and safety: The pharmacy for prescription refills (if your child is on medication, drop off the first prescription); the bank (there probably is an ATM on campus, but sometimes it may not be the same bank as your child's, so set up a new bank account with a checkbook); the dorm R.A. (resident assistant), who is your kid's safety net. If you have any special medical concerns about your child, that's the person with whom to privately discuss those needs; and the infirmary. Point it out and tell him to go there in case he's sick.
6. Don’t get too involved in the “roommate” scene. Introduce yourself, and then lay low. Your kid doesn't want you explaining your family history. If you don't like the roommate, keep a poker face. Let your kid be the one to voice his concerns — not you. This is not like a play date where you arrange everything, but a relationship your child needs to work through on his own.
7. Don’t be too quick to fix things. Use the day to start switching your role from micromanager to mentor. It's time to gently cut the umbilical cord. Let your child know with your actions that you won't continue to fix things and intervene when a problem arises.
8. Think about your parting message. Stay as composed as possible. (Do bring Kleenex and aspirin just in case.) Your child needs to know you'll be OK without him. The final words between you and your child are key. Say whatever wisdom you have to offer, whether it is 'I love you,' 'I'm behind you,' 'I'm proud of you.' Your child really will remember those words. If you can't express yourself, write your thoughts down and mail the letter to your child immediately after you arrive home. Just don't drag out the goodbye. Your child doesn't want you hugging and crying and having the long goodbye in front of their new roommate and the rest of the world.
9. Take a second to glance one final time. Recognize who he has become — he's in a whole new world now, and you've helped him become the person he is today. This is what parenting is all about. Drive off. Cry a bit. But also remember to celebrate the moment. You deserve it!
One of my favorite sayings is a Navajo proverb: "We raise our children to leave us." This is the supreme moment of parenting. Do keep in mind that you're not losing a child. You're gaining an adult!