It's time ... to send your baby off to college. Can you believe it? Does it feel like you just brought them home? Well, now your teenagers are ready to spread their wings, and while they may be ready to go, it's mom and dad who are having a hard time saying goodbye. Parenting expert Michele Borba has some advice to help you two deal with your teenager's big transition.
What to do before you leave home:
Be prepared. Leaving your child at college can be a very emotional thing. But, let’s be honest, you’ve had 18 years to prepare for this moment. He or she might be miles away. But this is why you parent — to let your child spread his wings.
- Michele’s advice: 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?”
Have the talk before you leave. You’re hoping your child will have the morals and values you’ve instilled in them since youth. Before you pack the car and bunk the beds, make sure you have had the talk with your child. Tell him or her what you expect before you even leave the driveway.
- Michele’s advice: 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.
Simplify the move. Be organized. Get the boxes packed early. Make sure you have the toiletries. And explain to your child he should keep his possessions to a minimum … explain to them that between exams and adjusting, they won’t be fishing through first semester of college, so they probably don’t need the fishing pole.
- Michele’s advice: 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, a surprise batch of homemade cookies or nibbles for the dorm.
How to act when you drop your child off:
Follow your child’s lead. Your job is to be the supporter now. Don’t be PTA mom in the parking lot. Let your child go into the dorm on their own, find the RA and locate their room. He is an adult now; in the next day or so, he’ll be living on his own.
- Michele’s advice: Don't come with set expectations. Your role is to support your child. You never know how they'll respond. The same kid who was so excited may be suddenly scared to death to move. If they appear overwhelmed, give them one thing to do right at that moment to get them started (“Go find your dorm room; take that box and put it at door.”) Don't be shocked if they want you to leave ASAP (why it's great you had that talk).
Locate the essential places. At orientation your child became acquainted with the campus buildings; now is the time to locate the places for personal business, e.g., the health center, a local pharmacy for prescriptions, the bank with an ATM. You don’t need a sick child wandering the campus looking for the health center and the nearest pharmacy.
- Michele’s advice: 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 machine on campus, but 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 to discuss those needs with privately; and the infirmary. Point it out and tell him to go there in case he's sick.
Don’t get into the roommate scene. Let your child make their own friends. Don’t interfere. If you don’t like the roommate, don’t let your kid know. Remember the roommate is not your child.
- Michele’s advice: 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.
Your parting words
Think about you want to say. No kid wants to see their mother balling her eyes out in the Quad. And no kid wants to hear that “life won’t be the same at home without you.” Your child is going through enough; don’t add to the anxiety or emotions with your own. You don’t have to say much. A simple “I love you!” or “We’re just a phone call away” will give your child the encouragement he or she needs.
- Michele’s advice: 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” or “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 need you hugging and crying and having the long goodbye in front of their new roommate and the rest of the world.
Take a second look… (after they've turned away). You should be proud; this is one of your crowning moments as a parent. You’re allowed a tear or two.
- Michele’s advice: Recognize who he has become — they are in a whole new world now, and you've helped them become the person they are today. This is what parenting is all about. Drive off. Cry a bit. But also remember to celebrate the moment. You deserve it.
Once you get home
The empty room. You’ll inevitably walk by your child’s empty room. Now that the room isn’t inhabited on a daily basis, you can go to two extremes. You could either make it a shrine to the child, or go in the other direction and make it your new home office. Don’t do either. The kid isn’t moving out for good. He’ll probably be back for a few holidays, breaks or summers during the next four years.
- Michele’s advice: You never know if they are coming back — and that room is a source of security.
Keeping in touch. At the end of the day, every parent wants to know their child is safe. This doesn’t mean you need a daily check-in from your child. Keep conversations relaxed and comfortable.
- Michele’s advice: Watch those phone calls. Best to remind your child you're available —and love to talk at any time, but let him initiate those calls. You just may be hampering his social life — calling in the middle of class (hmmm). You could be weighing down those wings to independence, and the phone will become the extended umbilical cord into adulthood.