What Parents Worry About When Their Kids Go To College

Letting our kids go can be hard. Part of the difficulty in watching them go to college is simply the pain of separation from those we love so passionately. But for many parents, (hand raised) worry, or maybe just concern, is a big part of the challenge. We worry about illness, safety, happiness, in short, all of the things we have fretted over since we first beheld our children. In the end, we know that most of it will be alright. But there is a wall of worry between here and the end.

As they leave we are truly excited for them as they face this adventure. I was never as envious of my kids as they day I dropped them off at their freshman dorms. To have all that learning, all those wonderful (and admittedly some not so wonderful) experiences ahead of you and so many questions about your own life still to be answered…I didn’t just want to be with my kids, I wanted to be my kids.

We asked a group of parents about their experiences and they offered us wonderful advice.

Mom (and Dad) wisdom meant to be shared

“We’re down to weeks before we start to pack my oldest for the first leg of his adventure, his college days, and my heart breaks a little every day at the thought of not seeing his sweet face each morning all rumpled and groggy. It hurts, aches and I can feel the sadness welling up, then I see the joy on his face. The excitement of it all, and I remember that glorious feeling of owning the adventure. Actually experiencing real freedom, making my way on my own and my heart heals and swells with this same joy …. knowing that by having prepared him, letting him make mistakes and being there to guide him through those mistakes, he has learned that he is loved and supported unconditionally. That by doing “my job” I have given him that same gift. His own life to live and a loving family to share it with.” Linda Parker

“I have twin daughters who are going to college in the fall. They have chosen to go to school in the city where we live, but they will live on campus. I think some of my biggest wishes for them are that they would:
(1) Click with their roommates so that THAT won’t make their first year miserable.
(2) Make really good, life-long friendships with people who are really good.
(3) Find something that they love and make it a career.
(4) Have safe and happy experiences while learning from experiences that might not be ideal
(5) Grow in confidence as individuals…
(6) Really enjoy their college years.” Carrie Hall Chute

Sometimes it is even harder if they don’t go to college

“I will say that NOT watching your kid go away to college can be harder than letting them go. My son went to a community college for a year and I was really, really sad and kind of mournful about what he was missing when his friends went to four-year schools. But after a year, he went away, too, and it was easier for me to let him go because we had the transition year, and because I knew in my heart that he really needed to go away to grow up, and I was happy he was going to get that experience. Some kids don’t need that, but for us I think it was good.

Also, I wish people would not portray the first year of college as like the end of raising your child. It’s not. They do come back. This is not the end. Don’t think that it is.” Anonymous 

We’re all in this together

“I can tell you that we all probably have the same fears. For me, I needed to work on controlling my emotions and show her how confident I was in her, rather than showing her all my fears. It is hard work! But the work you do now will set the stage for an amazing adult relationship with your child.” Cathie Cellucci Brugnoli

“As a single mother sending my only child states away in nine short weeks the heartbreak outweighs everything!!!! I cannot deal with the fact that our life together is complete and we will not share our daily life together. In honesty I also feel slightly jealous that she has such wonderful opportunities ahead, wishing I could also have the same not left to deal with the pain. No one prepares you for this phase of letting go.
But, there is fear.” Heidi Allen 

“The fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. You have to trust in your parenting and know that you’ve been preparing them for this their whole lives. I had to consciously make myself not solve every single issue that she had that first year and we watched her grow and mature into a very capable young woman.” Becky Thomas Tucker 

“My youngest is heading out and I truly have the same fears. Each child who has headed to college has pushed fears to the surface. Each with something different to worry about because each has their own drive to succeed as well as different personalities! I got a call in the middle of the night several times from my daughter her first semester. Each were tears saying she wanted to come home. I had to remind her that she agreed to tough it out till Christmas and if then she wants to transfer home then she could. That was the hardest tough love I have had to do. Christmas came and went and she couldn’t get on that plane fast enough.” Laura Darling Andrews

Hard won advice from some wonderful parents

“The best advice a friend (who is a college professor, and mother of three successful adults) gave to me, when my youngest went across the country to college was, ‘Don’t get caught up in her emotions. They will be all over the place, especially freshman year.’ Talking on the phone is important, but when you hear “that tone,” whatever it means, they need you to stay steady and unemotional. They need you to believe that they are capable of handling this big change, because there are many big ups and downs coming their way. Your confidence, not worrying about your emotions is what will get them through.” Cheryl De Primio

“Find them a local doctor and dentist just in case. My daughter came down with mono and was one sick kid. Student health services did not fit what she needed and the mono attacked her inner ear causing her balance to be impacted. We were 1600 miles away. Thankfully, friends stepped in and got her to the ER until we could get her home early for spring break. My advice is find a local doctor just in case. We now have one for her.” Denne Jones 

“Here’s what it comes down to……I do NOT miss the daily grind of parenting. You all know what I’m talking about. What I miss is knowing what’s going on in her life. I miss her physical presence. I miss daily communication and being involved in some fashion. I felt completely shut out and like a foreign being……until Parent’s Weekend. Then I saw her room, spent time with her roommate and friends, marched on the football field with her and the marching band, ate in the dining hall, etc. Suddenly I could picture her world and I felt more at ease…..but my heart will never be the same” Crista Cornwell McCormick

Thoughts from some experts

“I would suggest you keep as much history in mind as you can. How has he dealt with the unknown before?. Does he get quiet or animated? Does he have confidence in his ability to navigate? Past behavior is a big predictor I’ve found.” Susan Cook Bonifant 

“I have a background in college/university admin and teach First Year Success courses at multiple colleges. I make no guarantees, of course, but the research tells us that beyond your education level, your teen’s high school GPA, and other ‘hard’ statistics that predict college completion, social and emotional variables have a high correlation with first-year progress (retention is the fancy word.)

Those factors include your teen’s emotional health going into the first year, his confidence, and the VERY trendy word, ‘grit:’ his ability to push through even in the face of difficulty. So the best way for you to prepare yourself and him is to make sure he’s enrolled in a first year success course or program. These are treated like joke classes by students, but they contribute directly to first-year adjustment.

Secondly, honestly assess your son’s social and emotional health as he is right now. Current concerns should flag future concerns, so if you have them, set up problem-solving strategies NOW. Contact the counseling center before his arrival if there are meds or issues in need of monitoring. Find academic support and get tutoring schedules. Whatever you anticipate being an issue, educate yourself and HIM in advance. Once your child arrives there, federal law prevents college staff from talking to you about your son’s grades, medical care, etc. Yes, the frequency and amount of alcohol consumption in college surely does correlate with all of your fears (no surprise there), so have open, honest conversations with him about this.” Lynn Harrelson Palazzo

And finally, this is what it was all about…

“Sending our boys away to school was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I try to remind myself that this is what we’ve been preparing them for all along and we’ve done a good job! Yes, I miss them like crazy, but do I really want them to be 30 and still living at home? Absolutely not!” Christen Helmkamp Friedrich

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.

Read more posts by Grown and Flown

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