Parents typically have eighteen years or so to try to accept the inevitable reality that their child will one day ‘fly the coop.’ But the truth is, there’s just no preparing for the day you drop your child off at college. Watching your child walk away, taking with them all that you have done (and all you didn’t do) to prepare them for this profound chapter in their lives, is a moment that a mother can never truly be ready for.
As I sit here now, typing through my tears at 4:40 a.m. in the morning of the day I will drop my child off at college, there’s simply no denying that this is an emotional, gut-wrenching, and just plain hard, parenting milestone to pass through.
Batten Down The Hatches
As we see college steadily approaching in the distance, we begin to discuss options, make plans, and set goals. However, we don’t necessarily consider how we will emotionally nurture ourselves and our children through what is, undoubtedly, a monumental transition for the entire family unit.
When helping our kids prep for college, we tend to focus on the logistics — helping them prepare for unfair, biased, outdated, stressful, anxiety-causing tests like the SAT/ACT, arranging tutoring, encouraging studying, considering colleges, arranging the required extra-curricular activities and charitable work. Not to mention, planning high school graduation, also known as the entire second semester of senior year.
A Wasted Opportunity
But can we truly blame our kids for slacking off during their final semester when modern academia isn’t necessarily providing them with the sort of knowledge they need to survive and, more importantly, to thrive, in the real world?
Ideally, the second semester of senior year would be exclusively devoted to preparing students for the harsh reality check they are about to experience. Students should be taking crash-courses in financial planning, accounting, and budgeting. They’d be learning basic life skills, like practicing compassion for their fellow students and respect for their future roommates. And let us not forget, that mandatory ‘introduction to street smarts’ course they could certainly all benefit from taking.
Cutting the Cord
For a mother, a child leaving ‘the nest’ is like a rebirth, in a way. While the physical umbilical cord that connects a mother to her child is disconnected at birth, the emotional cord that connects a mother to her adult child is severed when her adult child leaves the safety of her side, the scope of her watch, and the comfort of her home. Not to mention, the nourishment inside of her refrigerator.
While this ‘college-life’ landmark presents our children with the opportunity to learn how to breathe entirely on their own, as parents, we are also forced to learn how to breathe on our own accord and how to function without our children within an arm’s reach.
Bound to Worry
The past 18 years flash before our very eyes and questions of self-doubt begin circulating within our minds; all that we have done right as parents, and of course, sometimes, that which we did not. Could we have done more? Is it too late now? Can we still teach them from afar? How will they cope?
How will they eat when schools do not provide sustainable, nourishing healthy options? How will they function off vending machines stocked with junk that only interferes with their learning- especially considering the heavy academic load and unreasonable performance expectations they’re carrying around on their shoulders all day?
There is a pressing need for community colleges and universities alike to modernize in this area; the stress-prone, anxiety-ridden students of Gen Z are in dire need of pragmatic tools to cope with the shell-shock that accompanies insta-adulthood. Simple practices like breathwork and Yoga are types of coping tools that could significantly benefit students within the current climate of today’s educational system.
Open the Flood Gates
Simply put, college drop off is hard. And truth be told, I’ve never cried so hard. For three weeks, I wept like an emotional, hormonal pregnant woman. I would just cry, and cry, and cry, sometimes out of nowhere. I layed in bed at night and cried myself to sleep. Then I woke up in the middle of the night and cried some more. I cried a lot. But I embraced those tears because, well, they were imperative to my unique emotional path through this profound life transition.
Sure, the moments of sadness still kick in. Moments of my ‘new reality’ hit me hard when I least expect it. But I’m okay today. I’m slowly adjusting to my ‘new normal,’ with increased daily self-care, and by engaging in cathartic activities when I can, like writing this to you now.
Remember to Breathe
I find myself questioning all of my parenting ways. Did they or did they not work well for my child? We don’t realize while raising a child that we often end up creating mini-version of ourselves. I find myself wondering if I taught the real things, the essential elements, like empathy, compassion, and empowerment. Is my child emotionally prepared for this moment- Did I properly prepare them for it?
It is as if we are forced to learn how to let go and let GOD. And it’s hard. We must find a way to keep afloat as our children leave the nest to learn how to spread their wings and eventually fly. We have to breathe. We have to be tough for our kids. And we must remember that our children will grow through experience and become increasingly self-sufficient over time, especially once they’re out on their own, as will we.
Always know that your job to be the ever-so-positive and completely-non-nagging voice in your child’s ear never ends. So go ahead and encourage them to stay connected with you, friends, and family. Both the parent and college-attending child can ask themselves and each other- Are you paying attention to the self? Are you feeling sad? Why? Are you feeling stressed? Why? Can you help you right now? How? Can I help you right now? Can you tell me what you need?
My advice is to find someone who’s going through something similar or someone who has been before, and simply confide in them. They’ll most likely be able to offer you some insight into their experience that could ultimately help you get through it all a little easier. If anything, just knowing that you’re not completely alone in your struggles can be powerful medicine, even for the weariest of souls.
Go Find You
The day I dropped my child off at college, I felt that faint feeling of being on the other side of the fence from my child. It was so hard. But I had no choice. I could not stay in the dorms or volunteer at the school, nor could I take my child home with me. I had to let go. So that’s what I did.
For the past 18 years, I raised my children hands-on and without consistent help from family members, nannies, or baby nurses to share in the stress, sacrifices, and commitment inherent in motherhood. I was always an extremely active and present person, so in a way, there was never an inner tug-of-war nudging me in a different direction. Perhaps, at times, this level of dedication has made it difficult for me to loosen my mama-bear grip when life requires a little leeway.
Turning the Page
We all experience parenthood differently. As the aching in my soul begins to dissipate, a strange, subtle sense of excitement begins to build… for both myself and my child. Letting go of your child, for your child, as they begin a new chapter in their life is like childbirth- it’s painful, and it’s a process, to say the least. But at the same time, it’s also a beautiful new beginning. So be sure to treat yourself and your child with the self-love, patience, and acceptance that you both deserve.
Parents, we must use this time to connect with ourselves on a deeper level. Yes, it’s a huge transition. But it’s also an entirely new chapter in our lives, so let’s make it more than just a ‘good’ one. Through self-care, and the care of one another, I know we can make it great.