That Perfect Letter

You know those wonderful, heartfelt letters that moms slip into their kid’s camp bags or leave in college dorm rooms, the ones with wisdom and love that make lifetime momentos? Yeah, well, I have never written one of those. Everytime I hear of a wonderful parent who takes the time and care to compose such a missive to their college kid,  I beat myself up for a few moments as a derelict parent. And then promise myself, next time.

Love stamp And as I am fairly certain in the rush to get my third son off to college I will once again fail to write that perfect letter, here is what I might have said, if I could get my act together.

College is a Privilege

Sure, I expected you to go and, in turn, you expected nothing less from yourself. But this in no way takes away from the fact that spending four years learning, growing and focused almost exclusively on yourself is a gift like none other. Before you set foot on campus think through the sweep of human history and try to guess how many people were given this opportunity. Only after you have acknowledged just how rare and special this gift is, will I help move you into your dorm.

Best Four Years of Your Life

You have heard adults say it a hundred times and it may be true, but it is not automatically so. Imbibe deeply of all that a University has to offer. Heap your plate with its academic, athletic, cultural and social offerings. Never again will life mix youth, freedom, opportunity and resources together in quite this heady combination. If these are to be the very best years, you must make them so.

First Weeks of College are a Time like None Other

Everyone will want to meet you and there will be none of the social awkwardness that usually accompanies rushing up and speaking to total strangers. Do not squander this short window of opportunity, it will never come around again.

Drinking Dilemma

You are now in a place where alcohol is both tacitly allowed and legally forbidden. The only thing that stands between you and a very bad experience is your own good judgment. But here is the tricky part. You need to exercise that good judgment at the very moment when it is already impaired by alcohol.

Being Friends in High School was Easy

You sat in the same classes or did the same activities as your high school friends. In college, maintaining friendships is a bit more work. After college it is a lot more work. Investing in friendships now pays dividends forever, truly forever.

Living With Those Who Love You

It is your good fortune to never have lived in a place where no one loved you or frankly cared a whit about you. At the outset, college is that place. Despite everyone’s outward cheer in the first weeks of college you will have no real friends. Sure you will know some kids, but these are not true friends, yet. They are still just acquaintances you really like. It is better to live amongst those you love, but it takes time and only you can make this happen. College gets better after that first Thanksgiving.

Do Not Fool Yourself, I Was 18

When you look at me you probably see “Mom” and “Old.” Do not fool yourself. Not one fiber of my being has forgotten how it feels to be 18. If you have a problem, talk to me. Few things you will say will shock me and there is every chance, though admittedly just a chance, that I might have a good suggestion. And while the law may recognize you as an adult, I promise you that you still have much to learn.

I have loved you every moment of your life. Even as you prepare to move out, I shock myself by loving you even more. This love comes without strings, but life does not. If there are things you want to achieve, knowledge you want to gain, friends you want to make it is now entirely up to you.



  1. says

    Sorry, my thumb hit the wrong button too soon! It sounds like you’ve written the perfect letter. We were supposed to write one of these at my daughter’s college orientation a few weeks ago. Completely overwhelming to do on command. I might borrow some of these suggestions now though!

  2. says

    I plan on hitting print and saving this for the day my son goes off to college (3 more years…ahhhh)

  3. says

    As close to perfect as I have ever seen. I am going to share it with my granddaughter who is starting college.

  4. says

    Oh so very well said, Lisa! You have nailed exactly what kids will face and have not sugar coated anything! Great letter…..even if it’s a “might have been!” I’m going to copy and save for my granddaughter when she heads to college in another year. Thank you so much :)

  5. says

    Since graduation, I’ve been writing a letter in my head to leave in my son’s t-shirt drawer when I leave him for his freshman year next month. Every time I think of what to say (usually when I am driving alone) I start to cry. Thanks for your timely words. I may have to incorporate some of these thoughts into it.

  6. says

    Absolutely gorgeous reflection and crystal clear expression of the expected and unexpected facts of college life. The drinking dilemma, particularly. Loved this and will share.

    • says

      The drinking is so hard. Sure they understand expected behavior when you are sitting in their bedroom chatting with them. But at a college party some of that knowledge seems to fade!

  7. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    Wonderful letter. Like you, I remember being 18 very clearly and recall so many details about college. Maybe because they were four of the best years of my life?

    • says

      For me they were truly not, but I have to believe that for so many others, like you they were. Hope this for my boys…

  8. says

    Oh my – just beautiful. Might have to borrow this for my daughter, who leaves in a few weeks. Thank you for putting into words what so many parents feel/think!

  9. Sharon says

    Omigosh…you nailed it! May I borrow it? My first is ready to go off to college…he’s hard to read..sometimes excited, sometimes seems apathetic. I think he is a little nervous but is so conflicted, because everyone says he “should” be excited, but the reality is, he is going 6 hours away, knows no one…I am sure it makes him a little apprehensive. It’s all new!
    Again, I am so enjoying this blog…thank you!!!

  10. says

    I have loved you every moment of your life. Nine truer words have never been written when we think of our children. What a lovely letter – I vote for sending it too!

  11. says

    This is the most beautiful going away letter I’ve ever read! May have to steal some of it for my boys – it’s so hard to get the emotional thoughts out sometimes. Thank you!

  12. Jill says

    Another beautiful post, thank you! Clearly your third son will get the letter, because you’ve just written it! My son will (hopefully) leave for college in a year, and I will print this out to give him along with a few words of my own, I hope. Though in my experience, the meaningful birthday letters I write don’t get paid much attention to–maybe when my son is older, or away from home, they will matter more to him … !

  13. says

    This is spot on! As an empty-nester now, I know how valuable such a letter is to a son or daughter. I wrote MANY of them to my son when he was in college (five hours away). That first semester is rough any way you look at it (mine was, too, when I was 18). Somehow, we all survived. I think the best advice is to back off and let them make their own decisions. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, they’ll make mistakes. But how else can they grow and learn? Now, a year after commencement, he finds he still has college friends-for-life — how special that is!

  14. says

    It’s amazing how quickly the four years go. Then you are sending them off into the real world.

  15. says

    Each of these are right on point but your characterization of the alcohol dilemma sums it up better than I have ever seen before. We tell our kids to make good choices and, I guess, hope that the muscle memory of making good choices keeps them safe after a few drinks.

  16. says

    Great letter Lisa! I didn’t write those letters either. It was more an endless stream of conscience the entire summer and then a few cutesy little notes I stuck here and there for them to find.

  17. Carla Shuffield says

    Great letter! I hope I get to send my son somewhere soon as I think it’s best to be “away”. Last year of high school is this year. I’ll definitely save this letter for reference and more than likely time will get the best of me and I’ll just print it out! 😉

  18. says

    Yup, all of that. I made both of my daughters a “mom in the box” and left it in their dorm rooms. A plastic box with all of the mom things…bandaids, tylenol, scissors, tape, needle and thread, just enough ribbon for a gift, a few stamps…you get the idea. I was so pleased with myself. Alas, when they came home, the box…unopened…came with them. It’s the thought I guess!!

  19. says

    Oh, I knew I would love this before I even clicked over… you say so many things here that ring true. It is simply a time in life like no other. And for both my kids I wish for it to be as great an experience as it was for me.

  20. says

    This beautiful letter makes me cry. It’s so true, and so apt, every word of it, and it reminds me how quickly I’ll be standing on this threshhold too. xox

  21. says

    I love this! My daughter is leaving for college in a month, and I’m working on her letter already!

  22. Harriet says

    I loved these missives and as a grandma feel deeply for all the thoughts that went into those letters . You really
    Hit the targets.

  23. Terri Kaminetsky says

    Great advice! Love it.

  24. says

    Lisa, first I can’t believe you are sending your 3rd son to college, wow. This is a very poignant, yet full of anticipation kind of letter. There are so many things I liked about it, especially how our kids see us through a certain lens of old and just a parent. No doubt you’ve reminded them that we parents are people too. Lovely to meet you.

  25. Jill says

    Great post! I just found your web site and like it very much. Just a quick, friendly suggestion. The word judgment is spelled without an e after the g. I saw this mistake several times and thought it a shame because it distracts from otherwise great writing. Other than that, keep up the good work. I look forward to reading regularly.

  26. Michelle says

    My youngest of three college grads is 26 now. I was a heartfelt, busy letter writer, but please know that it’s well written ones like yours that gave me inspiration then, and now help me consider the content for future workplace, marriage, and “now that your a parent” letters! So well written, and thank you Lisa! :)


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