It’s OK to Be Happy When Your Child Goes to College

My son is leaving for college next week. And I am happy. Does that make me a bad mom?

I spent my son’s whole high school career preparing myself for this day. When he graduated from the sixth grade, I warned myself, “Only seven more to go.” When he started his freshman year, I reminded myself “These years go by so fast! Hang on! He’ll be graduating before you know it!” When his junior year rolled around, I was almost hysterical. “One more year left!” And then finally, that dreaded senior year came.

When a child goes to college, parents are both happy and sad.

I teared up. A lot. Throughout the year. Football, basketball, track. They were all his “lasts”. He was at the top of his class – he was honored at an academic banquet – his last. I fought back tears while addressing graduation invitations. I put off preparations for the party for as long as I could – denial. I was so scared of the actual ceremony. I totally expected to be a puddle.

And then something strange happened.

I made it through the ceremony with just a few tears. After the ceremony, I was suddenly, unexpectedly excited for my son and all of his friends. They just closed an amazing chapter in their lives! Here stood a line of wonderful, powerful young men and women, ready to embrace new possibilities.

And I was no longer sad.

Summer came and went. With it, I hardly ever saw my son. Somehow, during the summer, he went from my sweet, teenaged boy to a grown man, who made his own decisions, set his own schedule, and checked in with mom and dad every now and then, out of respect. He was preparing us.

And I’m ready.

Move-in day is only a few days away. I wonder, am I a bad mom? I am (selfishly) happy he’s leaving. With him goes a little bit of my responsibilities. Out the door. On their own. I am no longer in charge of his day-to-day. What a relief! One less kid to take care of.

Truth be told, we raise our kids to leave us. We raise our kids knowing that someday, they will go. We were never meant to be their entire world. From the minute they are born, they are working on moving away from us. Every milestone celebrated, every precious new skill developed is one step further away from mom and dad; one step closer towards independence. It is supposed to work that way. Our children were borrowed to us, for a very short time. We are to love them, teach them, and give them all we have. And then we set them free.

But we are here, in the shadows, if and when they need us. Always.

And in the shadows is where I am ready to be. I have worked hard these past 18 years, and I’m tired. I have five more kids to get out the door yet. I love them all. I give the best of myself to them, day in and day out, just as I did their brother. But won’t it be nice when the youngest two finally leave for college as well? Does that make me a bad mom? I don’t think so.

There is no shame in doing your job well. There is no shame in appreciating the beauty of all of your hard work. And there is no shame in relaxing and enjoying your life once you are free from the day-to-day responsibilities of raising a child.

The time is so fleeting. I am going to appreciate it while I have it and look back fondly on it when it is gone. And, as each child moves on to embrace their own possibilities, I too, will move on, to re-embrace my own. There is a reason parents before us have turned their kids’ bedrooms in to offices, exercise rooms, or craft rooms. I fully intend to explore those reasons! I have enough kids’ bedrooms that I should have room for all three; an office, an exercise room and a craft room! I’ll even have a guest room for my babies to come home to.

As my oldest leaves for college, it gives me hope. Someday, all of my boys will walk out of this house as beautiful young men. They will return, time and again, as adults. We have the best years of our lives ahead of us, as friends. My husband is looking forward to fishing and hunting with his six boys and their kids. Me? I am looking forward to using the bathroom by myself. And that, my dears, does not make us bad moms.


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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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