Kids Leaving For College Is Emotional For Parents and Grandparents
It’s August, and your child or grandchild is leaving for college.  Yes, I know it brings up many feelings and they are often mixed.  One minute you’re laughing with them at Target and the next minute you’re dissolving into tears.  The thing about being a parent or grandparent is that when we finally master one stage of development with our kids or grandkids, they’ve already catapulted into the next.

Leaving for college is a huge transition for a family.  For many parents this separation feels like a small death.  In a way, it is the end of the original family and extended family construct.  Think about it, for years the focus was on the child’s grades, extracurricular activities, getting along with classmates, talking about what subjects to study, filling out applications, researching prospective colleges, visiting the schools, writing essays, and meeting deadlines.  Then the anxious wait for acceptances to arrive begins.  Everyone’s a complete wreck waiting for the daily mail delivery when future hopes and dreams are realized or crushed by a single letter. As a grandparent, I was as nervous with the waiting time for our grandson’s acceptance as I was with our own two children. Hopefully, your son or daughter or grandchild got to tear open a thick envelope announcing that he or she was accepted into college -and maybe even their first-choice. Grandparents take the leaving a little better - unless the grandchild is going far away – because they see the transition as growing up to enjoy their young adult life, the adventurous part of it.


Before the ink dries on the first fat tuition check the big day has come: the rental van is packed like a biblical camel trying to move through the eye of the needle.  Some reports say those camels got down on their knees to squeeze through the historical gate.  Not too unlike parents who feel this moment brought them to their emotional knees. Grandparents can help here by remembering their own children’s departures and being sensitive to this transition for the mom and dad.  These conscious sensitivities will help validate their now “all grown-up” adult children’s feelings.

When you arrive on campus the excitement is visceral.  Where did all these people come from?  Trucks, vans, SUV’s, a million backpacks and acres of kids in baseball caps are spread out as far as the eye can see. Is this a dream?  Where are we?   No one has ever seen anything like it.

On the outside the parents are genuinely thrilled for the kids.  A college education is a privilege that maybe we didn’t even have.  But inside, right below the exhilaration and gratefulness for providing it, parents feel an aching sadness, the result of a suppressed emotion of imminent separation, loss, and the unexpressed fears they are obsessing on: Will she be all right?  Will he remember to wash his clothes and call us once a week?  When the parents dig a little deeper they wonder, “Will I be all right? Here, let me make up your bed. Here, let me help arrange a few pieces of furniture. Here, I made you a cooler full of your favorite pasta.”

These eleventh hour ‘momness’ activities are understandable – raising your children took 18 years to master!  Parents fed, clothed, drove, enrolled, counseled and consoled these curious, intelligent, talented, creative, petulant geniuses that they and their grandparents have loved since they first saw these children.  And, dad?  He just wants his kids to stay away from the beer keg, stay out of trouble and stay permanently on the dean’s list.  He also realizes his son’s yelling over nothing last night was a face-saving technique that ‘the dad' didn’t take personally because he understands how acting mad keeps everyone from feeling that painful separation anxiety that the family feels anyway. And if he doesn’t, maybe grandpa can share what it was like when his own child left for college because maybe he did the same thing!

Parents, realize that you are not alone; millions of us look back wistfully on the days of Dr. Denton’s, little league games and Santa Claus. Grandparents, your grandkids leaving will remind you of your days of saying goodbye, too.  Nobody can believe the years have gone by so quickly!  But, realize now the new way your kids and grandkids need you.  Realize your present task is to assure your children and grandkids that they will be fine.  Tell them outright that you have confidence in their intellectual capabilities, that they have the personalities to make new friends that may last a lifetime, and not to forget you’re only a text or a cell phone call away. (Amen on smartphones to keep us close.) And parents, when you turn to get back into the van, pull out your calendar, put the first parent’s weekend on it and smile as you do.  Then, confidently tell your kids you love them and they’ll be all right and you will be, too.  Finally, hug them goodbye with another smile on your lips and a prayer in your heart and leave quickly and don’t look back as much for them as for yourselves.

Remember, you did a great job giving your kids wings, now delight in their first solo flight that every parent knows is a triumph and a terror for the student and the instructor. Oh, and don’t forget to text the grandparents and let them know how the day went because they can’t wait to hear.





Published in The Sandpaper, August 13, 2014
Published in Aronimink and Greene Country Living Magazine Aug. 2016
Published in The HuffPost Aug. 2017
Published in The Moderate Voice Aug. 2017