To Other Parents, Please Stop Asking me THIS Question

“Where are you going to school?”

“What will you major in?”

“Are you excited?”

My daughter fields these questions with ease. She’s been eagerly awaiting post-high school life since the age of 13 when she declared herself ready for college. While these last four years have flown for me, she’s been slogging through it and she’s ready to go.

Why do people ask ME what I’LL do once my daughter leaves home? (Shutterstock insta_photos)

My daughter answers questions about her future with ease

She’s asked many questions – polite and inquisitive conversation starters. As the graduate’s mother, I’m asked just one, delivered with a sympathetic smile or a patronizing pat on the shoulder. It’s a question that can easily lead me into an exaggerated eye roll or a total rage, the type of feelings that come in ALL CAPS. 

“And how about you, mom? What will you DO after she leaves?”

I try to respond with pleasantries while I silently seethe.

What will I DO after she leaves? As if there will suddenly be NOTHING TO DO once our youngest heads out? As if we haven’t prepared for this moment over the days, weeks, months and years leading up to it? As if I am not my own person with actual – I don’t know – THINGS TO DO?

Why do people always ask what I’ll do when my daughter goes to college?

Do they anticipate finding me months from now, curled in the fetal position on my daughter’s freshly laundered bed, an empty box of bon-bons beside me, tears and drool staining the pillows she left behind?

What shall I do with this NOTHINGNESS, these seconds and minutes and hours that need to be filled? What do they THINK I will do once she departs?

Yes, I will cry. A bit. Out of relief and joy and nostalgia, not sadness. And then I’ll do all the normal things one does like, say, take a shower and put on pants and show up for obligations and figure out what to make for dinner because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few decades, it’s that it’s not going to make itself.

Sure, I might bemoan the relative quietness of the house. I might miss her. I might also, be really, really busy. Why? Because there’s still so much to DO.

I have been juggling work and home

How about work, for one? I’m currently juggling a full-time role, two adjunct teaching positions, and a consultancy practice. Frankly, I could use a few extra hours in my day. For many of us, work will continue or will start up again. Earning a paycheck, making the most of our capabilities, and saving for retirement will be all the more important with two kids in college. 

How about that other role, the one that suddenly snuck up on us? Just as our kids insist they no longer need our parenting, we’re now called to parent the parents. We’re not just parents of sons and daughters, we too are daughters and sons as well as and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and neighbors. There’s a village we’re part of that we have benefitted from and that we will continue to contribute to.

Does the doing stop once your child leaves home?

There are pets to care for, errands to run, laundry to do (albeit a little less than before), and houses and lawns to tend to. Does the BUTLER FAIRY suddenly show up and take on these tasks? And what I’ve gained by launching the glass hoarder in my house (why are there 6 empty ones in your room and why can’t they find their way to the dishwasher?), I’ve lost my garbage taker-outer, my mail picker-upper, my occasional dog walker.

Does the DOING stop once the child departs? Haven’t we been waiting for the merry-go-round to slow a bit so we can get stuff DONE?

So, I apologize if I seem a little snippy when responding to your question, but what do you expect me to say? Does life cease to exist when our kids leave for college? It may feel like that, for a few days, and then life goes on. I suspect you feel the same. You take a moment to enter their room and sniff the air, hoping for the fading scent of them (yes, this is a little weird, but admit it, you’ve done it) and then you realize that while they have departed, YOU are still here.

You are still you. And you have things to do!

The words of Dr. Seuss shared with so many graduates apply to us too:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

What is your next chapter?

What’s in your next chapter? You get to craft this story page by page. And though staring at the blank spots may seem daunting, when there are fewer daily “should do’s,” there are many more “could do’s” to consider.

There are friends you’ve missed that you’ll want to see. What will you talk about? Your kids – yes, for sure – but also YOU. Who you are and what matters to you and why you put that on the back burner and how you’re going to pick it up again now, scorched plate and all, and revive it into a life that continues long after these last 18 years are complete.

Maybe you’ll pick up pottery or pickleball, start that side gig, or watch that Netflix series you’ve had on your list since 2016. Maybe you’ll meditate, moisturize, finally get that colonoscopy you’ve been putting off. Maybe you’ll take a moment to breathe and to BE, rather than to DO.  When was the last time you did that? 

Parenting doesn’t stop when kids leave home

There are dreams to be had and plans to be made and just when you get comfortable with that very idea of when you’ll get the text. Your college kid needs you. For the bursar bill or a care package or challenges with a roommate. So, you drop what you’re DOING so that you can DO for them, what you can from afar, no longer leading the band, but pulling up the rear when necessary. 

This parenting thing doesn’t stop when they leave home. You still DO it, just differently from before. And hopefully that leaves time to DO those other things you’ve left undone. This parenting thing doesn’t stop when they leave home. You’ll still make them a sandwich when they ask even though they’re capable of making one themselves. You’ll still DO all the things, just differently than before. And hopefully that leaves time to DO those other things you’ve left undone.

So please stop asking me what I’ll DO when my kid leaves for school. Stop looking at me with sympathy and sadness, as if I’ll fall apart any moment. I might, but I promise I’ll pull myself back together again.

Why? Because I’ve got things to do. And you do too. And, by the way, you’d better get on it. They’ll be home before you know it for break. 

More Great Reading:

Not Crying at College Drop Off? GOOD! Don’t Feel Any Guilt About it Either!

About Valerie Gordon

Valerie Gordon, a communications consultant, author, adjunct professor, founder of The Storytelling Strategist, and mom of two college-aged kids, is too busy to write a longer bio.

Read more posts by Valerie

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