When Your Child is Headed to College and You’re Not Crying

If your child is headed to college soon and you aren’t shedding tears, it’s ok. If picking out dorm bedding doesn’t make you wistful, it’s all good. If you walk by your kid’s bedroom and don’t feel a pang of impending emptiness, you are not a bad parent.

When a child is headed to college, parents have a mix of emotions.

My oldest graduated from high school and left for college last year and I wasn’t sad at the prospect of her leaving. My biggest trepidation about her going off to school three hours away from me was the fact that I was going to be left behind with her dad and two brothers, the lone female in a sea of testosterone and farts.

[More on advice for young men (including “clean is sexy” here.]

I know that not every mom feels this way. Some parents are almost distraught at the thought of their children leaving the nest. That’s ok, too. I just couldn’t relate. I questioned whether what I was feeling was normal. Shouldn’t my eyes be getting misty as I passed the college dorm essentials display at Target? What kind of mother was I, anyway?

[More on our list of 10 college dorm essentials here]

Annie is a great kid and we have a good relationship, so it’s not that I was ready to finally have her out of the house. Instead, I was just so excited for her and the opportunities that lay ahead.

Maybe I felt that way in part because I had such a great college experience myself. I could imagine her having late nights with new friends, having her mind opened in new ways by professors who would challenge her. I was happy that she was going to get a chance to step out of the “responsible first-born” role and live for herself, not having to shuttle little brothers to practice or pitch in to help make dinner and do laundry. I had the sense that college is where she would really come into herself, where she would shine.

I had confidence that we had done a good job teaching her right from wrong and how to make good decisions for herself. I expected that she would make mistakes, but knew that part of college is learning how to make, recover, and learn from those mistakes.

Even if you aren’t sad about your child leaving for college because they have made parenting really tough, that doesn’t make you a bad parent either. College is a great reset button for everyone. A little distance might be just what the two of you need to see each other in a different light. Wouldn’t it be great to have a fresh start?

I wasn’t completely devoid of emotion when my daughter left for school. I’ll admit to sitting in my bedroom the night before she left and having a good cry. But the day of the big move came and went with no hysteria, no tears, no regrets. Annie, my husband, and I were excited and ready to take on the adventure. We arrived on campus where swarms of students descended on our minivan and carried up ALL THAT STUFF in one trip. We helped her make her bed and do some basic unpacking. Two hours later, after a couple of big hugs and a reminder to “Make good choices. Be a blessing,” we were on the way back home.

It was, in my opinion, a great way to send a kid off to college and I’m thankful it was our experience. So, if you are looking around at friends weepy at the looming departure of their kids and you can’t muster up a tear, don’t feel bad. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. This is what we’ve raised our children for – to fly.

Photo credit: Illinois Springfield


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AMagan_headshotAmy Magan is the mother of a college-aged daughter and two teenage sons. She blogs at The 4th Frog Blog

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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