Here are the 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My Kids Left for College

Are your kids leaving for college soon? Here are 10 things we wish we’d known…

10 things to know about life after you drop your teen at college

1. For the first couple of months after “drop off” don’t do anything.

Don’t make a ton of plans, or big decisions, or commit to anything. The lead-up to helping your youngest move into their new digs is exhausting — physically and emotionally. I thought I’d want to jump into a million things to distract me from the emptiness of our home but I realized that I was just tired, spent, exhausted, wiped out.

I felt like I’d run a marathon and doing a whole lotta nothin’ was refreshing. You’ll know when you’re ready to get up and get moving but give yourself a much-needed break and just chill for as long as you need to.

2. Your emotions are all over the place.

The term “emotional rollercoaster” is spot on. One minute you’re thinking about how proud you are that your children are growing up then, while you’re innocently driving along, you hear a song that reminds you of your child, and the next thing you know you’re boohooing down the road trying to “pull yourself together!” Remember to give your pets some extra love — they miss your children, too.

3. You’ll find their spotless bedroom and perfectly made bed hard to look at in the beginning.

In fact, when you find a piece of their dirty laundry left behind, don’t be surprised when you pick it up and bury your face in it trying to “smell them” again. You’ll miss their shoes and backpacks strewn throughout the house. You’ll miss things about them you never thought you would — tell them — they’ll get a kick out of it.

Tracy Hargen and family at University of Miami
Tracy Hargen and her family at the University of Miami. (T. Hargen)

4. You will be both shocked and elated at how quiet your house is all of a sudden.

No one tromping through the house and no one waking you up when they came home super late but now you can hear every noise in this house. When my husband came home from work early one day — about the time my son would normally be pulling the driveway from school — my heart jumped because for a brief second I thought it was my son until my mind reminded me he was far away at school.

Your things stay right where you leave them — no one “borrows” your stuff anymore — I had mixed feelings about this one for a while. Sing at the top of your lungs or dance around the house just because you can.

5. You won’t know what to do with your newfound freedom — at first.

Getting home from work in the evening or waking up that first Saturday morning and not having any games, performances, etc. to sprint off to is a bit surprising. You’ve become accustomed to running ninety miles an hour so when that comes to a grinding halt, you can start thinking about how you want to spend your time. You can take those classes, do that volunteer work, and do whatever else you’ve been putting off!

6. You need to cut way back on your food purchases.

I realize this seems obvious at first glance but somehow one less person to cook for makes a huge difference. It only took throwing out rotten fruit and vegetables (and spoiled leftovers) a few times until we realized we couldn’t take home so much food from the store — but the added bonus is that your grocery bill is greatly reduced (especially if you’ve been raising boys who never seem to get enough).

7. You may surprise yourself at how much you enjoy the empty nest.

A client told me, “You’ll love having an empty nest.” A friend said, “It’s the best-kept secret in America.” But I was still skeptical because all I could envision was an empty house with a giant void. I thought we’d be walking around like zombies staring at each other trying to figure out how to fill the gap.

But they were right — my husband and I have really enjoyed being able to go out at the last minute, drop off our pup at my Mom’s and head out of town or choose to do nothing and go nowhere. It’s like the early days of your life before you were raising a family — the days where you are carefree. You can do spur-of-the-moment things now — spontaneity is fantastic!

8. Plan your first visit to see them…soon after you drop them off.

Having this trip to look forward to eases the feeling that this empty nest state is permanent (even if it probably is) — plus you get to see them in their new habitat and see how they’re acclimating. I felt 100% better after that first visit — he was having fun, had new friends, showed us all around and when we got home I felt like I could finally relax.

9. Find ways to stay connected — we texted pictures of us going out.

“See, we’re doing fine and having fun!” Just don’t expect too many photos in return — but Facetime on occasion is wonderful — especially if they are far from home! Send food, a little extra money, the things they left behind — care packages are the best — who doesn’t love getting something from home?! We always tried to send enough food for them to share — my son called one day just to say, “Can you send more of your chocolate chip cookies? Everybody is asking for them.”

Side note: We did find out that getting letters/cards can be a hassle because their mailroom may not be in their dorm, and they won’t know they’ve received something if it’s not a package. I think the first letter I sent to my son sat in his mail slot for a month until I finally remembered to ask if he’d gotten it. He hadn’t. He had to go find his mail slot across campus and figure out how to get into it — note to self, packages are better!

10. You’re not through being an ATM just yet.

Food delivery — you may have signed up for the unlimited meal plan but it’s still “food for the masses” — it may be slightly better than when we were in school but they’ll be sick of it in no time – no matter what the university told you during the campus tour! Yes, even when they have actual restaurants to choose from, the selections get pretty limited very quickly.

Ridesharing — you’ll be glad they are choosing a safe option for getting around but those Uber charges can add up quickly. I remember asking my son one month — “Are these all your charges or was your card number stolen?” They were all his. Somehow even though “room and board” and all meals are included, they still need more money — you will long for the day when they are “financially independent!”

So, enjoy this time — you’ve earned it and you deserve it! Connect with old friends, do things you’ve always wanted to do, or do nothing at all! Look forward to your children’s visits — stock up on their favorite foods and hang up a “Welcome Home” sign (and if you get them for a few summers, lucky you) but this nest is yours now so live it up! You’re probably not planning on having them moving back in with you but you never know what life may bring so enjoy this time that you have — in this empty nest that’s all your own!

PS – Visit Grown and Flown often — there’s something about hearing from other empty nesters that is comforting. You are part of a new community — one that welcomes you with open arms!

You Might Also Enjoy:

College Care Packages From Home: 50 Great Ideas 

We Absolutely Made The Choice To Be Friends With Our Kids






About Tracy Hargen

Through her writing and work as a mental health advocate, Tracy Hargen shows people the importance of talking openly about difficult issues and getting help. Her family’s very personal journey with depression can be found on CBS This Morning. Look for her work on Grown and Flown and in the book Grown and Flown: How To Support Your Teen, Stay Close As A Family and Raise Independent Adults.

Read more posts by Tracy

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