On Sending a Child to College…and Letting Go
For my friends and readers who are in the process of dropping off (or trying to recover from dropping off) their first-borns (or the baby…it doesn’t get easier, really) at college. I have been there. I know it hurts far more than you ever would have imagined when you were battling that ornery teen just last year.
When you give birth, they tell you that you will forget the pain. They don’t tell you that you forget it because it is only the beginning of the birthing process. As parents, we give birth every day, over and over again. Once your child no longer needs your body to give them everything that they need, it is a slow process of them needing less from us as we teach them to be self-sufficient and do our best to let go a little more each day, each accomplishment.
They are born and need us to hold their delicate heads and feed them, sometimes milk from our body or from a bottle. Either way, they can’t do it on their own. Their necks grow stronger. Their interest in sippy cups and Cheerios replaces a milk-only diet. We prop them up with pillows to teach them to sit. Then they have the audacity to want to stand!!! We grasp their tiny fingers as they learn to walk, one wobbly foot in front of the other. And then we allow them to let go and attempt a step on their own….cheering them on for their effort as our hearts break just a little bit.
They go from the ride-on cars to tricycles to training wheel two-wheelers to the day the training wheels come off, and we are running next to the bike with our hearts in our throats and finally let go…again so proud and holding back tears of letting go. There is the first day of nursery school, kindergarten, sports, theater, first grade, middle school, high school, heartbreaks, proms, making the team and not making the team. Good grades and lesser grades. Building their moral compass. Sharing our hearts and our stories. Loving them more fiercely than you could have ever imagined as you pushed so long ago.
Every storybook that you read them built that relationship. Every trip to the park. Every time you were there, cheering them on as they pulled further away from us, establishing their individuality and independence, circling back to make sure we were still there, and then taking another step away. College prep. Study! Did you write the essay? Did you meet with your counselor? Are you studying? Did you ask the teachers for the recommendation? Did the mail come? Did you get in? You did!!! Oh, so proud of you!!! I knew you could do it!!!!! And yet, our hearts break again. You’re going? Will you remember everything I taught you? Make nice friends? Wash your sheets (at least once??)? It is change. It is not easy. The birthing process never is. When Mark, my oldest, left for school, I had to keep his door closed for weeks because I couldn’t bear to look at the empty room.
Here is what I have learned, and it is all good. All those lessons that you taught them? Yeah, they were paying attention. They even set a good example for their peers. That relationship that you built with them? It is still there. I recommend establishing communication guidelines…you won’t call constantly but they will answer your texts within a certain number of hours so you know they are not dead. Don’t just ask questions….text to say hi or to tell them something funny about your day. This lets them know you are not stalking them…just missing them.
The umbilical cord that you thought the doctor cut so many years ago? Nope…it is just attached from your heart to that grown up child, keeping you connected and sending them love every moment of every day. And if there is really an emergency? That same cord will pull your heart out of your body and send it to them to keep them safe and loved until you arrive. I promise. Just keep blasting the love. Let them know that you love them no matter what, regardless of grades, mistakes, or any other tangible measurement. It is bigger than all that. They’ll know.
And you? You are going to be alright. Do you miss them like crazy? Yes, of course. But we have been preparing for this moment from their first breath…the moment when they can walk away and truly start pursing their dreams and hopes. Do they still need you? For food, laundry, and constant supervision…no. For a sounding board, a safe place to land, a source of advice (when asked!!), and the most beautiful unconditional love? Yes. Forever. You will always be that and you cannot be replaced. College is not the end. It is the beginning of an even better relationship. And now they are almost your age. Hang in there!!! Breathe. All will be well.