College Talk Family & Relationships Reflections

The Parent’s Guide to Handling the College Drop-Off

July 25, 2016
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I’m already starting to plan my daughter’s college drop-off in the fall. I just booked a hotel and we’re checking out flights. It’s always a little startling to realize that my flight will be round trip as usual, but her flight will be a one-way ticket; I’ll be leaving her behind until Thanksgiving.

That’s hard for me as a mom, but I found out last year that it can also be hard on the child you’re leaving behind. Here are a few tips I learned last year that can help you and your child to gracefully handle the whole the college drop-off.

Schedule any Special Goodbye Celebrations or Goodbye Gifts for Before the Trip

You might be anticipating a special moment with your child where you can have one last special dinner or give him or her a meaningful gift once you hit campus. I certainly was. I had secretly bought a copy of E.B. White’s Here is New York to present to my daughter at some special moment during our trip. But we were distracted with the business of moving and that special moment never came. I returned home with the book still in my suitcase. I’ve heard of other parents who end up thrusting a keepsake watch or special card into their kid’s hands during the rushed final goodbyes. The take-away here: this trip is about the practical matters of getting settled and those practical matters will need your full attention. Make sure you make time for any special moments before you leave.

Expect Emotions – from You and Possibly Your Child

I spent the entire summer before my daughter left for college steeling myself for the moment I would have to let my baby go. I never once considered how starting a new life in a college one thousand miles away from home might impact my daughter until we had to postpone our college shopping to hole up in our hotel room and watch old episodes of Thirty Rock while she absorbed the fact that her dream of going to college in New York was about to become a very real situation. In retrospect, I should have made sure she was ready for the adjustment instead of assuming she would sail into her new life just as smoothly as she’d handled other transitions. I was so concerned about her adjustment to college during her move-in weekend that I couldn’t even think about my own feelings. Until I found myself crying in a hotel bar, scared to death that I was handling everything wrong. So prepare for emotions and don’t worry if they come. You can both handle them.

During move in, your role is to be an active participant. Or maybe a passive one. Your child will let you know.

Once we actually got to the dorm and started the move-in process, my importance quickly diminished. My daughter was caught up in the happiness of reconnecting with her roommate, organizing her things, and starting her new life. I was sent to the drugstore to get extension cords. And yet, I saw other mother and child teams unpacking and decorating rooms together. Your role during the move in as “helper”, in whatever form your child wants that to take.

Don’t Try for a Last Big Dinner Together

Your kid needs to spend time in his dorm, getting to know the people who will be his school family for the next few months. He needs to get pizza and find out who they are – and who he will be now that he’s in school. And you’ll probably need your own slice of pizza – and possibly pair it with a really nice bottle of wine – as you process this new role in your life and the adventure ahead for both of you!