Dropping Your Kid Off at College? You'll Be Okay
Let me start this by saying the weekend I dropped my first kid off at college I was decidedly NOT okay. So, if you're looking at that title and thinking I must have no idea what you're going through...that's probably not the case.
But already you know I survived it. And you will, too.
I started the grieving process during my daughter's senior year of high school. Actually, I kind of started it earlier than that. When we would attend sports banquets and the last choir concerts of the year, I couldn't imagine getting through those senior tributes. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was our turn.
And for those of you who think the term "grief" is too strong for something like this, let me assure you it isn't. Bringing your kid to college feels very much like a loss. In fact, it's so difficult that I have a friend who decided NOT to have kids because she knew letting go would be too hard. That's how difficult it can be.
I thought I had it under control. I allowed myself those moments leading up to her graduation to be sad and feel what I needed to feel. So, when I got to that parent drop off moment, I thought I was golden.
And I was. Until I wasn't.
I sailed through approximately 50% of that weekend. The school she was going to had their system DOWN. Seriously - all colleges should do what they did. Volunteer students unloaded our car in five minutes flat so I didn't even have to take the 20 trips it would have taken to get her up to her room. There were lunches and activities to get us ready. We were busy.
I was doing okay.
What I wasn't prepared for was that they had a "goodbye" ceremony where they welcomed the new kids and the parents were supposed to leave directly after that. I sat through that ceremony suddenly feeling a panic I'd never experienced before, simultaneously never wanting to leave my child and wanting to get the hell out of there as soon as possible so I wouldn't lose it in front of thousands of people.
The final goodbye felt swift and was something I wasn't ready for. I left alone (one of the more painful moments I've experienced as a widow) and went back to my hotel room...
…where I proceeded to have a nervous breakdown.
I sobbed so hard I exhausted myself, took a nap, woke up, and started crying all over again. Getting on the plane the next day was a major concern. I honestly didn't think I could do it.
So, if during the course of dropping your kid off, you've thought this is a pain you'll never overcome...I get it. I've been there.
Now comes the second worse part: coming home to a house that has one less person in it.
I went into her room and made up the bed she had left just a few days before. I picked up a few things. Then I shut the door, went into my room, and cried again.
I have two younger children, but the absence was glaring. There were less activities to go to. Less kids in and out of the house with all of her friends away at college, too. Cooking for less people. Filling time that had always seemed so manic before.
You're about to experience this, too.
The odd thing that we experienced was that just as I was getting used to my new pace and having my daughter out of the house...she began to feel the first pangs of homesickness.
About a month into school, I was doing okay and she was calling in tears. The newness of college had worn off and now the real adjustment began. With her being out of state, there was no just popping home for a weekend. She was GONE. She was in a place where she didn't know anyone, learning a new city, and trying to find her way.
The good thing was that because we were kind of taking turns on the nervous breakdowns, I felt more capable of supporting her. This flip-flopping of adjustment seemed to last well into her freshman year.
The best thing I could do was just sit and listen. There's no fixing this. It's just getting through it. If I had thought for one moment my daughter's mental health was in any danger, I'd be there in a heartbeat. And at one point I did say that. I told her, "I'm really worried. You seem to be so upset all the time."
She replied, "I'm not. You're just the person I can talk to about all of this, so you get to hear all the bad stuff."
So, keep that in mind. If you're their "go-to" for support...you might hear a lot of "bad stuff."
When They Come Back
I feel safe saying this will happen to you because a friend told me this is what happened to her and she was absolutely right.
By the time they come back for Thanksgiving and Christmas, you've adjusted pretty well to them being gone. You're happy to see them, of course, but when they leave after those breaks you're okay. You're learning that just because they've left doesn't mean you won't see them again. It's just a different stage.
When they come back for summer vacation...you might start counting the days until school starts again. You have a new rhythm. They've had a taste of freedom and are becoming adults. You're still happy to see them, but it feels a little more like you have a visitor in your home. They leave messes and you've gotten used to a clean house. You forget what it's like to work around someone else's schedule.
You adjust again.
Our situation was different because of COVID and I bring that up because, should you ever feel like you're breaking down, remember you don't know what lies ahead. When I dropped my daughter off at school I thought this was it. She would never live permanently at home again. Then COVID happened and she was home for almost a year and taking classes online.
So, hang in there.
Some Practical Advice
If you've just dropped your child off at school and you've tearfully gone into their bedroom and cleaned it, I get it. I did the same thing. I wanted it to be perfect for when she came home again.
That was the first year.
The second year, I bitterly looked at the piles of junk on the floor and the unmade bed and shut the door. I wasn't going to deal with that crap.
This year, I've decided to walk my daughter through our home before she leaves - kind of like a home inspection before you buy the house. Here's what we're looking for:
Trash taken out of bedroom (I learned that the hard way last semester when I shut that door).
Bedroom cleaned up so I wouldn't be completely embarrassed if someone opened the door.
Overall, walk through the house from basement to bedroom looking for any messes that are there's. It's not fair that they leave for four months and we have to clean that up.
It's Okay to Feel...Whatever
It's quite possible that you've read this and have no idea what I'm talking about. You might have dropped your kid off and you're thrilled that you now have the freedom to do things you haven't before.
And I get that, too. I'm hoping I feel that way when I drop my youngest off.
The point is that it's more likely that you're going to feel a range of things. One day you'll be thinking how lucky you are that you can just make scrambled eggs for dinner and not have to worry about cooking for kids and the next you could be crying over their baby picture.
Anything is to be expected.
This is a VERY common thing that many of us experience. Lean on friends - so many have and are going through it! Make plans if you can. Take time for self care. Cry. Plan things that you've always wanted to do so you have something to look forward to. Take a class just for fun. Join a networking group.
You've got this, mama.