This is not what I had planned to write about today. Today I was going to write about Virgos, those born under the sixth astrological sign. Being that August is our birth month, I was going to pen a little shout out to all my Virgo earth sign peeps and wish them a wonderful day. I was going to give all the Virgos permission to take a day long break from all the planning, the list making, the fact checking and the other various quirks that make Virgos the fabulous organizers of the world. So, what changed my mind? I looked out the window.
This morning when I rolled out of bed, and pulled back the curtains, and peered down and across my driveway, I spotted neighbor John busily loading the car for his daughter’s maiden voyage off to college. I had completely forgotten that today was the day that she would be leaving the nest. My heart skipped just a bit as I sent out a mental cheer to my neighbor: “It’s going to be OK.”
It is indeed that time of year when all over the country thousands of parents are packing up their offspring and beginning the transition from the parent of a high school graduate to the parent of a college freshman. In fact, dear friend Liz is sending her daughter (GOOD LUCK CAROLINE) off to college just this week. I will not lie to you: this may be one of the most difficult things you will ever do. The act of physically separating yourself from your children, the souls that you have been working to protect and support and love for the past eighteen years, seems to be the most unnatural and cruelest of all of life’s challenges. You know, intellectually at least, that this is the best possible thing for your child. However, if you’re being healthy about it, you should also be acknowledging that this is emotionally difficult.
I am no expert. I am not a psychologist, there is no Ph D. behind my name; I in no way profess to be anything other than a parent who has lived through what you are experiencing. But, I can tell you this: It’s going to be OK. Here are just a few additional things I wish someone had told me before my son Jimmy went off to college three years ago:
· Practice this mantra: they are away, they are not gone. They are away, the same way they were away at camp or visiting relatives last summer. You will see them at Thanksgiving or parents weekend.
· Do stay in touch, but don’t “hover.” Texting is your best friend. A random daily text lets you know they are OK, they are alive and up and out of the dorm. We are very lucky to be parents in the technology age.
· Everything, in all probability, is not going to be perfect. The roommate may not be the best fit. Your straight-A high school student may struggle a bit academically. That tennis team they thought they were a shoe-in to be selected for: it might not happen. If you also went to college, try to think back to that first year – it is unpredictable and a little overwhelming. As much as you are going to hate it, you’ve got to let your kid figure it out. I’m not saying abandon them – just the opposite. When they need your help, be there for them 100% – but it’s a fine line you are going to be walking the first year.
· Your child will probably get homesick – this is NORMAL. The key is to discern homesickness from depression – I acknowledge, it can be a difficult call.
· It’s OK for you to be sad, it’s normal for you to be sad, but please don’t let that spill over to where your child feels guilty or worries unnecessarily about you. I’m not sure I was always the best at this. My son told me just this week that there were times when he worried about how I was doing.
· For additional advice regarding surviving and thriving in your new empty nest you can check out: http://parentingteens.about.com/cs/emptynest/a/tipsempty.htm I also like 7 Tips for Parents to Manage Empty Nest Syndrome by Huffington Post blogger John Tsilimparis.
If all goes well, and it most likely will, your child is going to have a blast. My son, in my opinion, has never been happier as he moves forward this week to start his senior year. He’s found his way, made great friends, and has turned into the man I always dreamed he would become. I love and cherish the time that I now get to spend with him between semesters, but he’s begun to have his own life and priorities and it’s great! I don’t even cry anymore when he leaves after a visit – this did not happen overnight; but you will get there, I promise.
One last time, just for good measure – deep breath – it’s going to be OK.
Do you have advice for the parents who this week are sending their children off to college? We would love to hear about your experiences and suggestions – please leave a comment below.
PS – and of course HAPPY BIRTHDAY to all the Virgos out there. We should plan to meet up soon…
Donna saysAugust 31, 2012 at 9:21 am
I don't really think my parents were sad when I left for college. I'm the youngest so they had been through it before (my sisters moving out as I'm the only one that lived at college). I didn't get home sick either.
My parents dropped me off at college and I remember thinking when will they leave so I can go exploring.
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 31, 2012 at 9:28 am
Thx for stopping by Donna and showing us the student perspective here. It IS a big fun adventure for our children!! Thx for reminding us of how fun the exploration can be.
Amanda saysAugust 30, 2012 at 1:07 pm
I have no advice, but my oldest is only 10. I try not to think about these things. He also has special needs, so it's likely that he won't be going off to college at 18. I suspect that will just make it harder if he does manage to move out at some point. In the meantime, I'll just ignore stuff like this and pretend my kids will never leave. 😉
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm
Amanda, how about we let you off the hook for now, and you check back in, say, in about eight years? 😉
Jeannette saysAugust 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm
This made me tear up. My oldest is just entering 6th grade. Yes we are entering the dreaded middle school years. I could barely let her out of the car the first day knowing what evil creatures 6th grade girls can be. I taught them for 2 yrs. so I have experience. I pray she doesn't turn into some unrecognizable monster as well. I can't imagine sending her off to college!! Of course maybe that's why God made teenagers so difficult; so it would be just a little easier to let them go.
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm
I have a story in my book called "Free Lunch" which describes my being bullied in middle school by a horrible mean girl. But, it doesn't always have to be that way and it sounds like you're a very involved Mom. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed for you and your daughter. Hugs to you.
alchemyofscrawl saysAugust 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm
Ugh! Not there yet and I don't like sending my kid off to school much less collage. She's informed me she's living with us until she's 21 anyway. hehe
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm
LOL only until she's 21?!
Kai saysAugust 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm
I never thought I'd need this till my kids were much older, but my youngest has been placed in a specialist school – she's boarding Monday night through Friday afternoon.
I'm dreading it – but I'm going to keep a print out of this to read with the rest of her stuff.
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm
Good luck Kai – I know that must be difficult. Check in any time you need a virtual hug!
Jean saysAugust 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm
Wonderful advice Kim! . I remember the day we took my son and baby to college. I was so excited because he was and held up great until we pulled out of the parking lot, then when he was out of sight the sobs came.
You are right, we are blessed to be in an age where technologically it is very easy to touch bases with our kids, I love sending and receiving texts from him. I also realized very quickly that he had is own life there and I couldn't expect him to answer everytime I called or that he would have an abundance of time to chit chat. Now, when I call him I make the call very short, letting him know I love him and miss him. Sometimes that's the entire conversation, but I belive because I have learned to keep my calls to him short, he's more likely to answer when he doesn't have a lot of time to talk. When he wants to talk, he calls me, and I drop just about everything when he does.
I think the biggest thing I wanted him to know was there I valued his time and independance and that I was here for him when ever he wanted or needed to talk, no matter what time day or night!
Praying for all the parents who are sending their kids off to school, like Kim said, its hard, but you will get through it and they'll be home, dirty laundry in tow, before you know it!
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 26, 2012 at 9:42 am
LOL Jean, yeah the dirty laundry is still a tradition even in our son's senior college year – that stops eventually, right?
Liz saysAugust 25, 2012 at 3:11 pm
My husband and I will be making the 7-hour trip north to take our daughter to college on Thursday. Everyone's advice is much appreciated and thanks to Kimba for initiating this line of conversation!
Last night a neighbor spontaneously organized a casual get- together for the women on the block, in recognition that several kids on our street started kindergarten in the past week-quite a milestone for parents and children alike. About ten of us gathered outside on a front porch and enjoyed some wine and chocolate on a beautiful August night. Most of all we enjoyed each others' company and support. Of course it seems like just yesterday my daughter was starting kindergarten. I hope that next weekend, when my husband and I head home (without our daughter in the car…), our overarching emotion will be feeling thankful that our hopes and dreams about our daughter's education- that started with the first day of kindergarten- have been realized. What a gift to know she is starting (what I am sure will be) an amazing college experience.
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 26, 2012 at 9:41 am
Hi Lizzie and good luck next week with the drop-off. Love that you have a gal pal support network organized. It is a little bit like the first day of kindergarten. Hugs to you and David.
Grace saysAugust 25, 2012 at 11:30 am
Singing along to an old song in the car. Loudly. Whatever you do, avoid Joni Mitchell's 'Circle Game'.
Monna Ellithorpe saysAugust 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm
Boy this post takes me back. My daughter has flown the nest a while ago but I remember the terrible feeling of loss.
Thanks for sharing the ways for new "empty-nesters" to get through it.
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm
Thx for stopping by Monna. It is challenging, in any day or age. Best thing for me was to have a few close gal pals who were SO supportive. Everyone needs gal pals, don't you think?
Suzanne saysAugust 24, 2012 at 10:12 am
Oh Kim, I think the most challenging and rewarding job on the planet is to be a parent. I do not have kids myself, but I have witnessed all of my sisters and friends having to let go in some form or another. My heart goes out to you and I love the mantra: "It's going to be OK". We can all learn say this mantra with everything in our lives. Thank You!
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 11:53 am
Hi Suzanne. The best part of my story is that my son, who is now entering his senior year at college, remains one of my closest friends – only now more as an adult. It's really fun to watch them find their way.
Shelly Allen saysAugust 24, 2012 at 9:21 am
I've have a few years left before my oldest is ready to spread his wings and leave my nest.
Thank you for posting this… and thank you for explaining why I have such great organizational skills… lol… I'm a VIRGO!
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 11:51 am
Good morning Shelly (sister Virgo) – lots of good advice here for you as you approach the college departure in a few years. In the meantime, I know you will enjoy your time with your child. Thanks for stopping by.
Lori Halpern saysAugust 24, 2012 at 9:20 am
HI Kim! Great posts…
I was told a few years ago during a college visit to get the book, "Letting Go A Parent's Guide to the College Years". It is really a great book to read during their 11th grade year but was a very useful book especially for parents "letting go" to their first child. I highly recommend getting this.
There is a lot in there we take for granted that they know…i. e. How to do laundry, write checks, etc. However, some kids have done more than others and to a lot of what they will do when they leave for school is a first for them too. This book and info. on a college visit suggests to have them responsible to do their own laundry their senior year if they aren't already doing so. They also recommend to spend that year going over financing with them so they can do things on their own. This helped me a lot with my daughter Erica. She is now at Indiana University and loves it.
You are so right about texting! Erica did such a great job that we ended up speaking almost daily. I didn't feel that she was so far away even though she really was! I will often just send a text to say "hello…hope you are having a good day" or take a picture and text it to her when her dog is sleeping in the clean laundry basket, or I got something new I thought she would like etc. You will most likely find like me that when you send that text…shortly you hear from them with a call! Worked like magic. I even did it sometimes in the evenings on a weekend to say, "Hope you are having a fun time tonight". Again, I would usually get a text saying she was having a great time out at a Frat party with her friends and would call me in the morning. Method to my madness!
Her first year came and gone and I tried to remember what I had read about how our kids- these college students- are so torn when they come home for a visit. They want to see the family but this is also their chance to see all their friends who are at different schools than them so it is a balance and a struggle. Throw into the equation if they have to split time between divorced parents etc. I just never thought about how this is all difficult on them too during these visits. And- while our daughter only has one home to visit, I see how hard it is for her to feel like she is seeing everyone but being respectful of the little time we have with her too. Therefore, I would recommend one family dinner or meal/get together to make life easier when it comes to the family so they don't have to go all over the place to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. We also encouraged our daughter to invite friends over to the pool for hang out time. When she can see 4 or 5 people here or meet up with them at the local yogurt store it makes it easier to see the friends she wants to see that way.
Send packages…when it makes sense and just because cards. They love this and makes you feel better too. Erica LOVED when I would send a gift card in the mail to her for Outback, Longhorn, Applebees, Red Lobster, etc. and told her to enjoy dinner out. "What a treat" she would say and I would almost always get a text picture of the yummy steak or salmon she was about to gobble up!
Finally, you don't realize how much your kids will miss home cooked meals. So, during her visits we would usually go to at least one of her favorite restaurants and I always cooked her favorites. Once during parents weekend, we surprised her and brought up a cooler of food, got the other stuff we needed and cooked a home cooked meal at her dorm kitchen for her and a bunch of her friends. Embarrassing at first but ENJOYED and appreciated by all!
All the best to those going thru this. Soon I will do it a second time and honestly, while empty nesterhood is a bit sad, I also look forward to that new stage in my life with my husband as well. So, during these years work on your marriage…date…talk….do those special things so the romance and friendship will only strengthen and not fall apart when the nest is empty!
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 11:42 am
Hi Lori! I've been thinking a lot about our time together back at FSU. I remember not being in touch with my Mom for weeks at a time. There were no cell phones, no laptops, no Facebook …. it must have been terrible for our parents. I especially LOVE your advice about care packages and home cooked meals. I'm going to check out "Letting Go A Parent's Guide to the College Years" – might be a good present this coming holiday season for friends who will be sending off their children next year. Thx for stopping by and hugs to Kirk.
Carol Dodsley - The How2Girl saysAugust 24, 2012 at 9:17 am
My children have already flown the next and I always remembered that my responsibility as a parent was not to keep hold of them or lean on them for my own emotional needs, or to live my life through my children.
For me it was all about giving my children wings and letting them fly, whilst keeping a safe nest for them to come and rest awhile if they felt the need 🙂
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 11:31 am
Hi Carol. I so agree about "keeping a safe nest." When my son does come home for visits it's fun and comfortable and then he returns to" his world." You jsut have to get used to the new normal. Thx for sharing.
Elizabeth saysAugust 24, 2012 at 9:03 am
For parents like myself time really flies! I saw a cartoon the other day on Facebook – a tree, son and mum. When mum took the son to Kindergarten he held himself tight to the tree not wanting to go. Few years later mum was holding her son with her legs tied to the tree not wanting to let go of him. Strange how life is a circle.
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 11:29 am
Elizabeth, that cartoon sounds spot on! I'm going to go look for it and forward to by friend Liz today – thx.
Nathalie Villeneuve saysAugust 24, 2012 at 8:46 am
Oh! Kimba! I can't believe it will be that time for us next year! I am acting all brave and all that…but inside I can already feel my heart swelling…I Love you post and I will read the ones you suggested! Great tips and a lovely way to help as many mom's out there…I'll share now <3
Kim Dalferes saysAugust 24, 2012 at 11:27 am
Hi Nathalie. This next year is going to fly by for you – one last bit of advice: enjoy ALL of it. I know you've got a great support system ready to kick in the beginning of next Fall.