Countdown to College

Countdown to College: Is there a right way to say goodbye?

August 20, 2012 

Why is it that when teenagers head off to college it is most typically the parents who are the drama queens/kings?

Parents have been involved in their children’s lives for the better part of 18 years, and now they’re about to set them free. It’s a milestone; the family will never again be the way it was. Do I sound melodramatic?

I viewed it as the end of an era when my husband and I were accustomed to being front and center in their lives. Then it was time for us to move over, let our children take control and be accountable for their own lives. This is much easier said than done.

Advice for parents on drop-off day:

•  Follow your child’s lead. They are likely feeling anxious about all the newness in their lives. Don’t be surprised if they toughen up when it comes time to say goodbye. In part they’re preventing themselves from being embarrassed, part protecting you from feeling nervous about leaving them. And they probably don’t want to turn on your emotional faucets and then feel guilty with you driving away in tears.

•  Plan ahead. Don’t wait until move-in day to have the conversations about frequency of communication, financial responsibility, drinking or sex. Cover those topics at home when it can be more of a dialogue than a lecture.

•  Reserve judgment. Refrain from comments on the roommate(s) or the roommates’ parents or even the condition of the dorm or the campus. Don’t color your child’s perception; let them approach this new experience with a clean slate.

•  Be practical. Make two photocopies of the items in your child’s wallet (give them one and keep one at home) in case it gets lost or stolen. Make sure they have their cellphone contacts backed up on their computer, in case their phones go missing.

•  Know when it’s time to go. If there are things you’d like to share, do it in writing and leave a letter on the bed. Don’t call on the way home, either!

Many colleges orchestrate the goodbye scenes for the families: Students at the University of Chicago walk their parents to the university gate serenaded by bagpipes as they say their goodbyes en masse. The University of Minnesota invites the parents to a reception to ease the separation, and Drexel University hosts a goodbye reception that includes an unofficial “crying room,” complete with tissues and a counselor. It’s tough, but you’ll get through it.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

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