It’s the moment you’ve been preparing for essentially since birth: that moment when you hug your college freshman as they head into their first apartment or dorm room and you get in your car and drive away.
It’s a scenario many parents will face in the next few weeks as their high school graduates leave the nest. It’s a time of great anticipation — excitement mingled with fear — for both parent and child. Parents may be excited for this major developmental milestone while at the same time question whether they’ve properly prepared their children to be on their own. Meanwhile, teens are excited to have so much freedom, but a little fearful of leaving the safety net of their parents’ homes.
If you’re a parent preparing to send your child to college in coming weeks, here are some simple last-minute steps you can take to ease the transition for both of you.
First, prepare a binder for your child. The binder can contain a variety of practical information, such as what to do if he or she has a medical emergency or gets in a car accident, along with necessary insurance information. The binder can also include key contact information, laundry instructions, even a copy of the food pyramid and favorite, healthful recipes to help your child avoid the notorious “freshman 15.”
Second, schedule a meeting with your child. At the meeting, you can present the binder and review its contents. It’s also a good time to determine how you will keep in contact with each other — whether by phone every Sunday, weekly e-mails or text messages a few times a week.
Third, build your social network. This is an excellent time for you to develop friendships with other parents who have gone through or are going through the same transition. These friends can reassure you that you’re not alone and that your own mixed feelings are very normal. Additionally, if you’re like most parents, you’ve spent a lot of emotional energy raising your child; you’ll need a new focus for that energy.
Fourth, help your child move. Move-in day can be a great day for families. It’s helpful for parents to see where their children will be living, eating, studying and spending time; it’s helpful for students to get their parents’ approval of their choices and surroundings; and it’s especially helpful for everyone to see they’re not alone. Both parties will see dozens of other parents and students moving into the same new phase of life.
Finally, be the parent. It’s normal to feel sad when saying goodbye, but it’s important not to be overly emotional in front of your child. It’s fine to be a little teary, especially if you do so with humor. But if the focus shifts to you and your emotions, you need to reverse it right away. It’s much harder for a child to say goodbye to an emotionally disabled parent. It’s the parent’s — not the child’s — responsibility to provide the reassurance and confidence.
Once you say your goodbyes and are out of your child’s view, go ahead and let out the emotions. Give yourself time to adjust. And remember step number three: you’ll be doing your child and yourself a favor.