Congratulations to you, yes, to you. Although your high school senior has certainly worked hard to be recognized by their college admissions office, we parents know that no kid does it alone. Almost two decades of loving support is what led your teen to this day, so amidst the shouts of glee and the excitement you and your newly admitted college freshman are feeling, stop for one moment, raise your left hand and with your right hand give it a high-five. Then begin to embrace the very different future that now awaits you.
Save the Pain for Later
There is a clock that has probably already been ticking in your head and it is about to get a whole lot louder. Don’t let it drown out the happiness of your last months together. It is hard not to think, “three months and he will be gone” or “six weeks and we drop her off” and as the drumbeat gets louder you will begin to feel a certain sadness. There is no way to protect yourself from the pain of watching one of the people you love most in life slip away. So give up trying to steel yourself ahead of her departure and give over to the love you want your child to feel in her last few weeks at home. There will be plenty of time to reflect after she is gone.
You Messed Up, We All Did
You may start to fear that you failed to teach your child everything they needed to know. And, you did. We all did. Suddenly your parenting failures may seem glaringly obvious and you may wonder why some of this did not occur to you earlier. Don’t go there. Be easy on yourself, parenting is not over and none of us is perfect. Our kids may be out of our homes but they are not out of our lives and there are still decades of parenting to come. It is far easier to teach life lessons to a college freshman than a high school senior who is just focused on getting out that door. Most importantly, that wonderful 18-year-old who is standing in front of you is all the evidence you need that you did plenty of things perfectly.
This is Change Like You Have Never Seen
You will be amazed. You think you have seen growth in your child. You watched him learn to walk, you watched her learn to swim and high school was truly transformative. But even the most independent teens have their training wheels on as they come home to their families every evening. In college those wheels come off. The growth your teen will experience is more like the first year of life, than the last year of high school. And once again, it will take your breath away. The difference is that this time he is going to do it without you.
Set Down the Phone, Walk Away
There will now be people and places that mean the world to her that you don’t know and have never seen. She will mention names and you will have no idea who she talking about. You will only know her grades if she tells you. The same goes for boyfriends, how much she drank and where she went on Friday night. He will get sick and all you can offer is advice. It will not be any easier than when he was three, in fact, it might be harder because you can do so little to help. There will be times when you think she needs a hug, or know that you need one, and a “love ya” or “miss ya” down a poor mobile phone connection is all you will get. He will find himself in situations in which you know you could help and you will want to help. Instead, you will set down your phone and walk away, letting him handle it poorly or not.
Nothing Will Ever Be The Same
You may try to tell yourself that it really will not be all that different. Your high school senior never seemed to be home anyway. Off with friends or busy at school, it almost seemed like he had already moved out. Go ahead and tell yourself this, but it is not true. When our kids still live under our roofs we keep in touch with their daily lives in a way that becomes harder and unhelpful when they are in college. When they were home they would sit at the kitchen counter or be captive in our cars and in that time share some of daily details of their lives that are of such interest to parents. We had rules and we enforced them. Once they live in a noisy dorm or apartment your conversations are wedged in between classes as they walk across campus or wait for a friend to go to dinner. “Gotta go” replaces those long lingering conversations.
Parents who have been through this before will tell you that it will be fine, that it is great to see the kids growing up and becoming adults. They remind you of how proud you should be that you have a child in college. All true, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t feel, for weeks, like someone hollowed out your chest. When one of the greatest loves of your life walks out the door, it leaves a hole.
Now and Forever
Finally, while you might feel as though you are saying goodbye to a young adult, and in some ways that is true, you are also bidding farewell to a teen who is still very attached. Even though your child worked hard to get into college when the day comes to leave there can be more than a few mixed feelings. Saying goodbye to everyone they have ever known and loved, including their own comfortable bed, siblings and the family pet can be difficult. Tell them, in words, a text or a letter that as parents we expect them to work hard, hope wonderful things will happen to them but no matter what, now and forever, we are here for them.