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The Things You Discover When You Are Away from Your Parents for the First Time: A Cautionary Tale for Incoming College Freshmen

No one will burst into your room without knocking and no one will get angry with you for talking back. No one will set you a curfew and no one will do your laundry. No one will cook for you or provide you with cash whenever you need it. For the first time, you are alone.
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Dorm move-in is probably the biggest thing I've been looking forward to for the past four years. I've never been particularly close with my parents and while I know they work hard and care a lot, I've spent my entire high school years wishing I could just be away from them, free to be myself, unrestricted, the way I want myself to be.

For you college freshman out there, dorm move-in is soon, it's now, and I know most of you couldn't be happier. University is where things happen: where parties rage, where there is no curfew, where you can eat whatever, whenever you want. That time has finally come.

Let me warn you, though: leaving your proverbial nest will not be as wonderful as you think. Sure, the weeks leading up to dorm move-in will be pure bliss; they will be slightly bittersweet, as you'll be saying goodbye to your home, but simultaneously preparing for this huge next chapter in your life, which, I can tell you for certain, will contain some of your worst and loneliest moments.

The weight of your loneliness won't settle completely until the exact moment when your parents leave you, whether it's before you board your plane, or right in the doorway of your dorm room.

When you are away from your parents for the first time, you will discover exactly what and how much they have done for you, no matter what you think about them now.

I guarantee it. No matter how rocky your relationship with your parents is, that first night you are alone, right after they hug you awkwardly goodbye and leave, there will be an ache in your chest, an ache so heavy and miserable that you'll be tempted to claw your heart out.

For some of you, this may be difficult to believe. In fact, it might just sound flat-out ridiculous. It will sound trite and hackneyed because so many people have preached it to you before. You've convinced yourself, I won't be like that. I won't yearn for my parents once I'm out of their grasp, but of course -- until you've actually parted from them, until they've actually left you, of course -- you will be thinking that.

I know you don't get along with them most of the time. I know sometimes your dad raises his voice too loudly and your mom is always hypercritical... and not to mention hypocritical. I know it's unfair that your curfew is way earlier and your texting plan is way lower than anyone else's. I know your parents have said hurtful things to you before, and often act immaturely, in very un-parental ways.

When you are away from your parents for the first time, you will realize your parents are human too.

They may be adults, but they make mistakes. They are not perfect, and like you, they never will be. But please, please remember, they are trying their best. They are giving their 100 percent, and this too, I guarantee.

When you were five or 6 years-old, when you accidentally slid a Lego piece under the refrigerator, your mother dropped everything she was doing to crawl on hands and knees to fish it out. She pressed her face to the cool linoleum and swiped her hand blindly under the dusty, disgusting corner of the kitchen floor, just so you could have your Lego block back. Please remember this.

When were 13, you were meeting your friends at the movies and your dad was giving you a ride there. You told him to just drop you off across the street (because God forbid your friends see you climb out of his embarrassingly outdated minivan), but he insisted on driving you all the way to the theater's entrance. You were annoyed at him then, but the moment you stepped out of the car, you realized how grateful you were to be so close to the front doors because it was freezing at that time of year, and there was literally no one else loitering outside. He saved you 10 minutes of trekking through poor weather, and probably from frostbite. Please remember this.

Around this time in the summer, your parents are frantically buying you things you don't think you'll ever need. Hand vacuum! Water filter! Laundry detergent! They are making you pack things you swore you'd never again touch once you turned eighteen. Huge parka! Dictionary! Family photos! But at least they're doing all this for you. They are embarrassing, annoying, impossible to please, and lately, really, really moody, but like I said, they're trying. They are trying so hard. Don't forget this.

Also don't forget that your mother is the only person who will ever ask you if you've had enough to eat and if you'd like second helpings. Don't forget your father is the only person who will ever make you take a sweater when you're going out, even when you obviously don't need it (but will end up wearing anyway).

When you are away from your parents for the first time, you will discover they are the only people in the world who care enough to even mention these things to you, so just for one moment, disregard their impatience, their constant nagging, and their other little flaws, and just listen.

Just listen.


I acknowledge there are exceptions. In the cases of absent parents or negligent parents or just downright unsuitable parents, I know this article won't do much for you. I would like to say I know how you feel and that you'll get through it eventually -- but the problem is that I don't, and you probably won't. I also know there have been a countless number of people who have had the nerve to say they know how you feel and you'll get through it eventually -- but they most certainly do not, even if you maybe will.

There is nothing in my power to make things "normal" for you, because in life there really is no norm, but whatever your situation is, I hope you are happy and well. If you are going to college, you are lucky or you are gifted, and if you aren't, you probably are both lucky and gifted, but your fate just doesn't point to a university setting, at least not this year. You are alive, and you're making the best of it, which is all that counts.


The first night I was on my own, I wasn't as happy as I anticipated I would be. My heart pounded for no apparent reason other than that I actually missed my dad and missed my mom -- two people I'd never even considered missing before -- and tremors ran down all my limbs. At one point I was arranging groceries in my new fridge, when I clumsily dropped a quart-sized tub of yogurt onto the kitchen floor. My roommate and I spent an hour scrubbing curdled dairy out of that cheap apartment tile; afterwards, I bawled for another good hour.

You've been looking forward to this moment your entire high school life; for some of you, perhaps even since earlier. You've been waiting for the day you'll have no one nagging at you to clean your room, and no one forcing you to eat your steak when you've clearly declared yourself to be a vegetarian.

No one will burst into your room without knocking and no one will get angry with you for talking back. No one will set you a curfew and no one will do your laundry. No one will cook for you, run your groceries, or provide you with cash whenever you need it.

For the first time, you are alone.

The things you discover when you are away from your parents for the first time will make you appreciate them more than you have ever before.

For the first time, you'd give anything just to hear someone tell you to keep your dirty socks off the carpet. You'd give anything to be yelled at for leaving crumbs on the table, for staying up too late or out too long. You slowly realize it might be a while before you have anyone at all. And you'd give anything just to have someone, anyone, back.

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