You and Your College Student Will Find Your Own Way to Separate

I’ve seen many posts in the Grown and Flown Parents group from parents who are desperately worried about their kids adjusting to school. The posts are angsty and full of recriminations.

Does my child call too little or too often? Is it coddling to let them come home for the weekend? Should we make them “tough” it out? Should we jump in if we think they are struggling? Are we going to ruin our child if we get involved?

For our generation of parents, for a myriad of reasons, since the moment our children were conceived, parenting has been something of a competitive sport. And the judgments of other parents have often been swift and harsh, leaving us tossing and turning in a sea of self-doubt.

college freshman and parents
It’s hard to separate, but you can do it your way. (Helene Wingens)


First, “they” tried to convince us that if our fetus wasn’t exposed to classical music in utero, they would be steps behind their peers. Then, if our child was not exclusively breastfed, they would surely lose precious IQ points, suffer from an inferior immune system, or absolutely fail to bond appropriately. And on and on, it went throughout childhood and into the teen years.

 If they didn’t start soccer by age 4, they would never master it. They had no athletic future if they didn’t play on travel teams. They wouldn’t get into a competitive college if they didn’t take AP classes. If they didn’t find their passion in high school, that would present a problem.

Even now that the children are fledglings, the comparisons abound, and so do the feelings of inadequacy surrounded by the sneaking sensation that you are not doing this as well as you ought or your fellow parents. Our current worry is that we are not doing the college separation correctly and not separating successfully.

As my mother kindly reminded me the other day, I was one of those college freshmen who called home constantly and cried through almost every one of those phone calls. I missed my home, my friends and my parents. I have no idea how my parents felt about my sadness. We never discussed it except for my dad saying he was happy they had given me a childhood whose end was worth crying over.

My folks stayed in their lane. I knew they were there if I needed them. I was welcome to come home whenever I wanted. Time passed, and life, as it does, took its course. We all adjusted. Despite my rough start, I somehow became a fully functioning, well-adjusted (by some standards) adult. If you ask my 86-year-old mother, she’ll tell you she doesn’t see or hear from me as often as she would like.

The right way to separate from your child is the way that works for you

Some kids call every five minutes, and some do not at all. Some need their space, and some need that continuing connection with mom and dad. Like any other developmental stage, most of us get there in our own sweet time. Your timetable is as unique as you and your child.

You will not ruin your children if you talk to them all the time or if you let them come home for a weekend. Nor should you think that the kids who don’t communicate are setting the precedent for your relationship with them going forward. 

As when they were infants, whether you held them all day or not, whether you nursed or bottle-fed, attachment parented or not, THEY ALL GREW UP.

College is not real life. It is a unique inflection point, a moment in time, a sometimes-difficult transition, harder for some than others. We all have different ways of coping with change. There is no right way, no wrong way, no better way, no worse way; there is only the way that works for you.

When my first son was born, I had an old-time pediatrician who had been in practice for about 50 years. When I wept in his office while cuddling my 3-week-old, telling him of my breastfeeding woes, he said something I have never forgotten.

“A happy mother is the most important gift you can give your child.” I took that advice to heart then, and I still do. Rest assured that eventually, we will all find our way, parents and kids alike. Trust your instincts and the process. And, you do you.

More Great Reading:

Professor Offer Best Advice for College Freshmen

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

Read more posts by Helene

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