College Drop-Off Day can be stressful for both parents and college students. If this is your first child going off to college, you may feel tense and worried that you will never have this day with your child ever again. It may feel as if their childhood is ending forever and, after 18 years, it can be hard for parents to let go. Here are some tips to make the most of college move-in day so you can handle the drop off with style and survive with your emotions (mostly) intact.
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I’ve gone through 3 college drop-offs now and each time I react differently. With my oldest son, I was so focused on unloading boxes and maneuvering my way through the dorm that I didn’t even really experience any sadness until I got home that night and saw his empty room. I expected that my second son’s move-in day would be easier and it was – until I turned around for one last photo and saw him standing alone in his new room. I had to bite my lip to keep from sobbing.
And my daughter. Oh, my daughter! My baby girl who I left alone in a big city 2,000 miles away from my own. It’s to my credit that I didn’t cry until I got back to the hotel room.
However, now that I’ve survived three college move-in days I’ve got some tips – and a few words of wisdom – to help you survive your own and (maybe, just maybe) even enjoy it.
Schedule any Special Goodbye Celebrations or Goodbye Gifts Before You Leave for College
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 takeaway 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.
Have the big conversations before you leave as well
It’s important to convey your expectations for the upcoming school year: how often will we talk? What is the penalty for bad grades? How will money be handled? But the time to have these conversations is before you leave for college. College Move-In time is too hectic and emotional to have a serious conversation.
Remember this is their college experience, not yours
I had to remind myself that this wasn’t my opportunity to finally have the college dorm room I always wanted or to be the involved parent I had always wished my mom was. Your kid may be overwhelmed and need you to step in and help coordinate, they may want you to leave right away and let them handle everything alone or they may want to assign you tasks throughout the day and spring for a final meal before you leave.
No matter what your child wants, your job (and this might be hard) is to perform the role they want from you.
Someone Needs to be Emotionally Stable. It should probably be you.
My daughter responds to stress and overwhelm by being irritable and easily offended. I’ve learned the hard way that responding in kind leads to a disastrous experience we both regret. If your child expresses their feelings about the day by being bossy, rude, or impatient remember that they are going through their own emotions right now and give them a little slack.
I still chuckle over this article in The Onion for its spot-on depiction of my emotions during college shopping and drop-off:
“We’re only making this trip once, so if you want to just get a bunch of cheap garbage that’s going to fall apart in six months, that’s up to you,” Vernon said in an effort to quell a hopelessness and despair she had never before experienced as she was struck by a deluge of memories.
But it’s important to remember that the article ends like this:
At press time, sources reported that Molly was channeling her overpowering fears about soon being on her own and without her mother’s unwavering support into petulantly sulking in the electronics section.
Give your own Molly a chance to express their emotions with a bit of sulking.
You can Cry a Little Bit
Yes, you need to be emotionally stable but it’s ok and expected for the parent to be a bit emotional. If you don’t tear up at least a little bit, it’s possible your child will wonder just how important they really were to you after all.
If your kid is also feeling nervous, too, now they have a chance to offload a bit of that emotion before you leave them alone. And they’ll be reminded that they are a valued member of the household who will definitely be missed.
But Don’t Cry Too Much
If your child is hesitant and worried, be the cheerleader they need. Let them know you have faith in their ability to handle any new challenges. And, if necessary, plan a visit that’s sooner than you might otherwise schedule. That way your child can look forward to a little spoiling from a parent when the world seems scary and overwhelming. You can look forward to the visit as well when you worry about how things are going. (And you will!)
Don’t Try for One Last Big Dinner Together.
If your child wants to grab something to eat, then, of course, go for it! But your kid will probably want 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!
Prepare to Parent Differently
Now that your kid is on their own at school, remember that this is the time for them to make their own decisions – and mistakes. If asked for advice, feel free to give it. (But don’t be offended if your advice is not heeded. I find that often my kids ask for my advice when what they really want is confirmation that they’ve made the right decision.) And try very hard – and it will be very hard To. Not. Offer. Unasked. For. Advice. (And yes, cynics, this is a situation where you should do as I say, not as I always did.)
Don’t forget to take some time and raise a glass to yourself. You took that baby you were scared you might drop and raised it to be an almost adult, heading out into the world. That’s a huge deal and you deserve to sit down and appreciate yourself for all you did.
Now the rest of the journey begins.