You’ve just dropped a son or daughter off at college for the first time—or you’ll be doing so soon, Part of you knows you should be getting a lifetime achievement award for making it this far, but instead, dropping a kid at college may feel like a train wreck in your own front yard.
Blunt and raw, here are my own feelings about dropping a kid at college.
My own oldest son headed off to college just days ago, and here’s what I said to my dear mom friends who are on the same railroad tracks as I am:
“It’s like riding a speeding freight train 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 19 straight years. The train speeds up every year and goes faster and faster and faster AND FASTER until it becomes your life and your identity and your reality—and then SUDDENLY BAM! The train screeches to a halt and everyone you love flies off and runs away happy, and you’re left concussed and dazed and shell shocked and bruised by your seat belt—with only fragmentary memories of the journey.”
My friends laughed—and then they cried. They understood.
I love these words by Beverly Beckham on the subject of dropping a kid at college:
Beverly writes on Boston.com:
“I wasn’t wrong about their leaving. My husband kept telling me I was. That it wasn’t the end of the world when first one child, then another, and then the last packed their bags and left for college. But it was the end of something. “Can you pick me up, Mom?” “What’s for dinner?” “What do you think?”
I was the sun and they were the planets. And there was life on those planets, whirling, non-stop plans and parties and friends coming and going, and ideas and dreams and the phone ringing and doors slamming.
And I got to beam down on them. To watch. To glow.
And then they were gone, one after the other.
“They’ll be back,” my husband said. And he was right. They came back. But he was wrong, too, because they came back for intervals—not for always, not planets anymore, making their predictable orbits, but unpredictable, like shooting stars.
Always is what you miss. Always knowing where they are. At school. At play practice. At a ballgame. At a friend’s. Always looking at the clock mid-day and anticipating the door opening, the sigh, the smile, the laugh, the shrug. “How was school?” answered for years in too much detail. “And then he said . . . and then I said to him. . . .” Then hardly answered at all.
Always knowing his friends.
Her favorite show.
What he had for breakfast.
What she wore to school.
What he thinks.
How she feels.
My friend Beth’s twin girls left for Roger Williams yesterday. They are her fourth and fifth children. She’s been down this road three times before. You’d think it would get easier. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without them,” she has said every day for months.
“A chapter ends. Another chapter begins. One door closes, and another door opens.” “The best thing a parent can give their child is wings.” I read all these things when my children left home and thought then what I think now: What do these words mean?
Eighteen years isn’t a chapter in anyone’s life. It’s a whole book, and that book is ending and what comes next is connected to, but different from, everything that has gone before.
Before was an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager. Before was feeding and changing and teaching and comforting and guiding and disciplining. Everything hands-on. Now? Now the kids are young adults and on their own and the parents are on the periphery. It’s not just a chapter change. It’s a sea change.
As for a door closing? Would that you could close a door and forget for even a minute your children, and your love for them, and your fear for them too. And would that they occupied just a single room in your head. But they’re in every room in your head and in your heart.
As for the wings analogy? It’s sweet. But children are not birds. Parents don’t let them go and build another nest and have all new offspring next year.
Saying goodbye to your children and their childhood is much harder than all the pithy sayings make it seem. Because that’s what going to college is. It’s goodbye.
It’s not a death. And it’s not a tragedy. But it’s not nothing, either.
To grow a child, a body changes. It needs more sleep. It rejects food it used to like. It expands and it adapts. To let go of a child, a body changes, too. It sighs and it cries and it feels weightless and heavy at the same time.
The drive home alone without them is the worst. And the first few days. But then it gets better. The kids call, come home, bring their friends, fill the house with their energy again.
Life does go on.
“Can you give me a ride to the mall?” “Mom, make him stop!” I don’t miss this part of parenting, playing chauffeur and referee. But I miss them, still, all these years later, the children they were, at the dinner table, talking on the phone, sleeping in their rooms, safe, home, mine.”
If you’ll be dropping off a child with any kind of a physical, mental, or emotional disability, do this now.
Read the article I’ve written on why you should connect with the college’s Disabilities Services Office long before your child leaves for college.
To give kids the greatest possible jumpstart on life success in their twenties, do this now.
Read the article I’ve written on why The Defining Decade by Meg Jay is a must-read book for every student ages 17–29.
If you’ve found comfort in this article, please help me by tweeting it out to the people who follow you.
For specific help on what to remember to do directly before dropping a kid at college, see pages 321–326 of my book:
You can “Look Inside” the book on Amazon for free by going to:
(Tell your friends.)
You can see why financial planners and wealth managers love LAUNCH, here.
You can see the top 9 questions parents are asking me about LAUNCH, here.
Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1–3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.
And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it—especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.
Do you have friends who are parenting kids ages 17–26?
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Who is Jeannie Burlowski?
Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, author, speaker, and podcast host. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report.