When I dropped off my eldest child at college, I thought my heart was going to break. However, just a few weeks after that sad weekend, I had adjusted to and accepted the fact that my daughter was no longer a permanent member of my household. Here are a few tips to help you adjust if you are sending your child off to college for the first time.
1. Reassure your child that they will be fine on their own at college. Though your child may act ready to leave and excited to start this new adventure, there is sure to be a little anxiety and apprehension. If you show your child that you are confident that he or she will succeed, it will help make them feel more confident also.
2. Don't draw out the goodbyes. The most difficult part of beginning college is often the final goodbye, right after the dorm room has been set up and everything is unpacked. Make it as quick and painless as possible -- like ripping off a bandage. There will be tears -- yours and theirs -- but that's ok. Don't be hard on yourself or your child for feeling so much emotion. On the other hand, don't be surprised if you child is somewhat cool and quick to say goodbye -- that's perfectly normal, too.
3. Don't hover. Don't constantly call, text, email, Facebook chat, tweet, IM or anything else. Let your child take the lead on contacting you. Sooner or later they all call home. By letting them call you when they need the comfort of your voice or a few extra dollars, you are allowing them to manage their feelings on their own, which is an important element in growing up. Inevitably calls from your college kids will come as they are walking to and from class, a time when they may feel somewhat isolated and lonely in the beginning.
Now the next step.. .adjusting to your home with one less person.
The most difficult thing is adjusting to them not living in your home. The empty bedroom, the chair where they usually sit at the dinner table, the reduced chaos -- it's quite startling how different things are when a family member is living away from home. There are a couple of things to do to make the transition a little easier for you:
1. Focus your attention on other children still living at home with you. Many parents find that senior year of high school becomes one long conversation with the graduating child, beginning with college applications and ending with school selection and prom dates. Now you can pay a little more attention to younger siblings, who were possibly rolling their eyes around the end of March when college acceptances (and rejections) started arriving. Soon enough younger children will be leaving too -- enjoy them now!
2. Take the opportunity to do a deep cleaning of your college kid's bedroom. If nothing else, it will make you realize how nice it is to have one room that is neat, clean and organized... at least for the time being. Be careful not to throw away momentos that could be important to your college student!
3. If you have a little more free time, do some of the things you've been wanting to do but haven't been able to. Perhaps you could find a little corner in your college kid's room and make it your reading nook. Or maybe you now have time to do things with your other children that your college student didn't enjoy -- sporting events, theater, whatever they are interested in. Some of the things that you enjoyed may be behind you now, but new interests will fill the void if you are patient and open to new activities.
There is no way to know how long it will take for any one person to adjust successfully to having a child leave home for the first time, but by letting go, keeping busy and knowing that they will be back for Thanksgiving, you are doing yourself -- and your college student -- a big favor.