How To Cope When Your Teen Isn’t Coming Home For The Summer

Despite the fact that my daughter and I are close, I was really okay last Fall when she went to college six hours away from home. I told myself that I was fine because she was fine—more than fine. She was elated.

Sure I felt a little sad that she would no longer be a daily part of my life, but she was so excited about all the new adventures and experiences awaiting her, it was silly to be very sad—at least that’s what I told myself.

She was ready—more than ready. Even one more week in our small, rural town would have been too much for her. It was time for her to fly, to spread her wings and move to the big city to see what more is out there. “This is how things are supposed to be,” I told myself reassuringly.

“This is the best thing for her.”

“She’s going to learn and grow.”

“She’s going to be so happy and have so much fun.”

I told myself all of this, and all of it was true. So, really what was there to be sad about?

“Besides,” I told myself, “next summer will be here before we know it, and she’ll come home, and we’ll have the whole summer to catch up and to hang out just like always.” But that wasn’t true. I just didn’t know it yet. Maybe if I had, I would have been more sad back in August.

Well, I’m sad now.

The fact is, I didn’t even realize how much I was counting on those weeks together until she told us that she isn’t coming home for the summer. Instead she’s taking a job working at a resort out west. Now I’m struggling, really struggling, to be the easygoing, spread-your-wings-and-fly-little-butterfly-fly mom that I was last Fall.

My college daughter isn't coming home this summer

Instead I’m the mom who has (quite wisely) pointed out that, when she factors in travel and expenses, she will make more money if she comes home for the summer. I’ve tried bribing her with promises of home-cooked meals, shopping, and a trip to the beach. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve resorted to guilt. Her little sister has missed her. Her little brother is growing up so fast. I’ve even sent her links to videos about bear attacks.

None of it has worked. She’s determined.

I’m trying to use the same self-soothing tricks I used back in August. “This will be good for her.” “An adventure!”  “A once-in-a-lifetime experience!” It’s not working. Try as I might to muster some enthusiasm for her summer plans, or even just some acceptance, all I can think is, “I thought we’d have one more summer.”

I envisioned her packing all her college belongings into her Subaru and racing home after finals, exhausted and eager to fall into her own bed, in her own room. Her first few days at home would consist mostly of her father and I gazing upon her lovingly while she sleeps and her waking up to bowls my homemade chicken and dumplings and warm chocolate chip cookies. The rest of the summer (when she wasn’t working to make way more money than she could at the resort) we would spend binge watching Netflix, sipping iced coffees, and taking her younger sister on college road trips—one of which would obviously be near a beach.

I wasn’t that sad when she left home for college because I didn’t realize this was it, that she really wasn’t coming back to stay for any length of time.

I thought we’d have one more summer.

I thought we’d have one more summer for family cookouts with all our kids at home. One more summer for staying up to late together and lingering over coffee at breakfast. I thought there was still time for weekends at the lake or a family road trip. I thought there would be one more summer of day after day stretching before us and taking our time together for granted. I thought I had a little more time before all my time with my daughter consisted of rushed weekend visits and a few weeks at Christmas.

Of course, maybe she’ll come home next summer, but I doubt it. Like most college kids, the older she gets the more she will feel the need to get an internship or a “real job,” and there aren’t many of those in our little country town. This is her free summer. This is her big chance to have a little fun.

So, why am I begrudging her that? The truth is, in the end, I won’t. By the time May rolls around, I will have my act together and my brave face on.

I will wave a cheerful goodbye and congratulate her on all the fun and adventures ahead of her. I’ll give her a big hug and tell her I’m proud of her. Then I’ll slip her a can of bear spray—just in case.

And I’ll cry the tears I didn’t shed in August.


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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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