We Sent Our Daughter Back to College Alone and That’s Okay

We sent our daughter back to college alone. Family weekend, Mother-Daughter Rush Week, and Spring Break decimated our one-income travel budget. My husband and I both took airplanes alone back to college after our freshman year. Both of us left our small midwestern towns for East Coast schools. I went to Smith College in Massachusetts, and he went to Fairfield University in Connecticut.

I still remember slowly pulling each massive suitcase up four flights of winding stairs to my tiny dorm room. I even recall the exhausted relief when I carried my last box from the hectic mailroom down the street. 

My parents did not offer to help with move-in day, nor did I think to ask them for assistance. Smith College meant forced independence and inevitable self-reliance. 

My daughter returned to college alone and was fine. (Photo credit: Cynthia Leahy)

My daughter was stunned to learn we were sending her back alone

She was stunned to learn we had booked only one ticket back to college. Her eyes glistened with disbelief and betrayal. All her close friends at college would have a parent there helping. The friends even organized a mother-daughter dinner the night after move-in day to celebrate the new school year.

My husband and I shared our amusing move-in stories. Most of them centered around never-ending steps to sweltering rooms. We told tales of box fans, boom boxes, storage, and sweat. We howled until we realized we were the only ones laughing. We told her we had faith that she could move in independently. We assured her that we did everything we could to set her up for success. 

She left for Sophomore year one month later with two fifty-pound bags and two bursting carry-on bags. My husband dropped her off at security and called me immediately. Often, married couples take turns carrying guilt. I felt resolved and resolute. He had regret and remorse.

We followed her trip back to school

We called and texted her at the airport. We stalked her flight on the app to feel in control. When she arrived, she was greeted by a driver holding a plaque with her name. He helped to carry her weighty bags to the car. 

My husband and I stayed in contact with her all day. We reminded her that her stored and shipped boxes would be delivered to her dorm room that afternoon. We shouted gratitude over FaceTime to her roommate’s dad for conquering the multi-piece entertainment center. We attempted accessible absence.

In the evening, she texted us that she had barely unpacked all the boxes. She would send us room photos soon. We waited with phones in hand, but the pictures of her dorm room never came. My heart fell. My guilt overflew. I second-guessed. I fought REM sleep all night.

Sometimes, the first word your child speaks in the morning can determine your day. Her voice was soft, light, and warm when she answered the phone. My soul sighed. She proudly showed us her partially finished room via FaceTime. Her roommate’s dad planned to take them to the store for last-minute items before his late afternoon flight.

Our daughters’s return to college was unaccompanied but not partnerless

Our daughter and her roommate had a wonderful time at the evening mother-daughter dinner. The moms thoughtfully all sat on one side of the table, and the girls sat on the other. At the end of the evening, the moms generously paid for our daughter and her roommate’s portion of the bill. 

Our daughter’s solo return to college was unaccompanied but not partnerless. Her roommate, her former suitemate, her roommate’s father, and all the friends’ moms came together to ensure our daughter’s move went well. 

Her faraway school has stretched our family financially but strengthened our daughter’s perseverance and our family’s sense of community. We are grateful for the reach.

More Great Reading:

Real Advice For College Move-In Day: 11 Things NOT to Do

About Cynthia Leahy

Cynthia Leahy is a proud alumna of Smith College, where she majored in English Language and Literature. She resides in Illinois with her hubby, two teenage girls, and two rescue pups. She survives on black coffee and dark chocolate. 

Read more posts by Cynthia

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.