This is from last year. Update: Our son is heading out in two days for his sophomore year of college. It simply doesn’t feel that much easier this year. So proud of him, but I don’t look forward to saying goodbye again.
The end of August brings the last lazy days of summer, a temperature drop and the bittersweet start of school. For college parents, it can be an especially trying time. Having just moved our oldest into the dorm at a University, I can say that the process couldn’t have gone any better and yet it was one of the worst days of my life.
I’m so happy for and proud of our son and yet I wake up every morning, with a hollow place in my gut. Something just isn’t right around the homestead. Somebody is missing.
Over the summer, strangers and other college parents were full of unsolicited advice. Kind of like a pregnancy, people touch your stomach if they want to and offer home grown advice at will. After talking with countless parents, I know exactly what I won’t be saying to parents whose children are going to college.
Five things not to say to college parents:
- “You’ve done all you can.” Right away the parental mind starts listing shortcomings and things you wish you had taught your child. It also implies the parenting process is over. Instead, verbally applaud the parent for all they’ve done to help prepare their child for higher learning and this next adventure in family life.
- “At least you have more children at home.” This implies that the children are interchangeable and as long as you’ve got someone at home, you’ll be fine. Not true. Every family dynamic changes when a child leaves. Instead, inquire as to how the children at home are coping with the changes in their family.
- “You shouldn’t be sad, you should be celebrating!” No one wants to be told how to feel or be reprimanded for feeling sad. After working through your grief, and it is a grieving process, you’ll be ready to celebrate the great things your child is doing. Expecting an all out family celebration to occur from day one can come across as inappropriate to the child who moved out. Instead, offer understanding that you’re certain they are proud of their child’s accomplishments but acknowledge that it must be sad as well.
- “They are only 1, or 2 or 3 or (insert number) hours away.” Maybe this a little dramatic but it’s true; if your child moves next door, they still aren’t living with you and the dynamic in your home changes. This feels like a loss and can still require a grieving process. Location does not make everything okay. Instead, ask when the next visit with their child will be, encouraging the parent to look forward to that.
- “You need to let them go.” Feeling sad doesn’t mean you aren’t letting them go. It means you simply love your child deeply and are sad that things are changing. Instead, acknowledge how are hard change can be.
As with any situation, if you don’t know what to say, it might be best not to say anything at all. Offer a smile of understanding and maybe a hug, just don’t rub the belly!
It’s important to note that my friends have been glorious and supportive and wonderful. They have held me up in prayer and cried and rejoiced with me. In short, they have been a rock and I don’t know what I would do without them. The above advice is predominantly from strangers.