As you are hugging your son or daughter goodbye when they leave for college, there are a few things you should know in advance that might make the parting a little easier.
I cried when my oldest went to college but, even through my tears, I had to acknowledge that his high school years were challenging. Common wisdom asserts that, in order to ease the pain of separation, those sweet kids we loved in grade school turn into moody and hormonal creatures (admittedly some more than others) who test the boundaries and push all of your buttons.
Leave for College
A friend of mine started anticipating her twin girls leaving while they were only halfway through high school. She would say things like, “You don’t understand, I’m going to be losing two at once.”
I would nod my head, trying to be sympathetic, although I couldn’t completely relate. Her daughters were good girls but in the months before they left for their respective colleges, my friend’s relationship with them devolved. By the time they departed for school, she was actually happy to see them go. She told me if she heard them say “I’m 18, you know” one more time she was going to lose her mind. Rather than weeping, she barely slowed the car down when she dropped them and their belongings off at college.
First Time Back Home
When your child first returns from college, he or she, emboldened by their newfound independence, may be even more ill-tempered and difficult than when they left. When my son came home for breaks during his freshman year, I would turn to my husband in despair and say, “Will he ever get better?” And my husband, who was prescient (and also obviously understood the teenage male brain better than I) would respond, “Yes, it just takes time—be patient.” Patience has never been my strong suit, so I kept looking for signs that my son was changing. Miraculously, those signs gradually started to appear, slowly at first, but then with increasing consistency.
Finally, a Change
During one school break when we were all together, my middle son made a snarky comment to me about how cleaning wasn’t that hard and my oldest son jumped to my defense. Having had to clean the frat house (I don’t even want to think about that) he commented, “Cleaning isn’t all that easy or much fun.” “Wow,” I thought to myself.
I started noticing other things, like the fact that he was quieter when eating the leftovers in the middle of the night; for the first time he seemed to realize and care that there were other people in the house who were sleeping. He became willing to help with chores, like emptying the dishwasher and putting out the trash. He even went to the grocery store for me on occasion. In our discussions, he seemed less argumentative and more willing to consider alternative points of view. He seemed happier and even eager to spend time with us. Best of all, he became a more thoughtful, respectful and appreciative son and a better brother to his younger siblings.
By the time he graduated from college, the boy who had left four years earlier bore little resemblance to the focused and mature young man we watched accept his diploma. The transformation was remarkable. Friends attributed some of the changes in him to his lovely girlfriend. “She’s a good influence,” they said. There may have been some truth to that but, like the case of the chicken and the egg, I am not sure which came first. I think he found a great girlfriend because he had already started to mature, although perhaps she helped the process along.
My middle son is currently a sophomore in college and I already see a difference in him in the eighteen months since he left for college. When I find myself a bit annoyed or disappointed in his behavior, I remember that he is not quite twenty yet and still needs a little more time to mature. I am more patient and less anxious this time around because I know that he, too, is a terrific young man who will become an amazing adult. I have always loved my three sons, but I find myself liking them more and more as they get older.
So, when you say goodbye to your child this fall (or are even thinking about the day he or she will leave ) and the tears start to come, as they inevitably will, just remember your best days with them are ahead. I promise.
Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother of three sons, food shopper extraordinaire and blogger. In addition to Grown and Flown, her work has been featured in Kveller, Ten to Twenty Parenting, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Better After 50, Beyond Your Blog and Her View From Home.