It’s Summertime, and that means school is out, and graduations and summer internships or jobs are in. For those of you with graduating high schoolers that means a lot of change is coming --for them and you. You are both likely experiencing the full range of emotions. Our daughter had just turned 18 and was excited, scared, anxious, panicked, and stressed. And that was before she got Strep Throat a week before school started!
She was not the only one with a bevy of conflicted feelings. With her leaving we would become empty nesters which felt utterly wrong somehow, or not wrong maybe but foreign. I was excited for her to enter this new phase in her life. I’m pretty sure I was not alone in these feelings, and I know many moms are facing the same type of summer now. So here are a few things I learned along the way that may help you to know ahead of time.
Embrace your emotions
If you’re feeling excited for her, that’s great. If you’re feeling excited about being an empty nester, that’s also great. And if you feel like crying, go ahead and cry, just not in front of your daughter. But I wouldn’t just suppress your emotions altogether because if you do, they will come pouring out another time--like when you drop her off at college. And nobody wants that!
It’s not about you
After graduating, your teen may make herself scarce. She may lock herself in her room to sleep or listen to music or play video games. She may continuously be out. Let her do that. Senior year is so intense she may need some time. She’s probably feeling worried and a little sad both about college and about leaving her high school friends. Give her this time with them even though it means less time with you. It’s all part of the separation process.
Breathe before you speak
That separation process I just mentioned? That also comes with stress, frustration, eye rolling, and pushback. Take a breath before you speak; leave the room if you have to. I found it helpful in those moments to believe that her attitudes and crankiness would make it easier to say goodbye later!
Go shopping together
Your college-bound teen needs clothes, bedding, dorm furnishings, and a whole host of other things. Luckily many websites list the dorm essentials and where to buy them. We found Amazon and Bed, Bath, and Beyond super helpful. They have a college section with checklists, suggestions, and even what is and is not allowed by the college. For instance, some colleges allow toaster ovens, and some don’t. Try to make a day of it with lunch, maybe an ice cream break--something to ease the pressure that underlies the situation.
Make sure she’s ready
There are some basic things she needs to know how to do for herself—and if she doesn’t, now is the time to teach her. Some of the easy ones are laundry, cook a meal or two, keep to a budget and travel alone. But there are also topics that are a little more serious. Can she self-advocate clearly and calmly with people in authority? Does she know how to keep herself safe physically, sexually and emotionally? And make sure she have ways of remaining true to herself and resisting peer pressure. These conversations can be uncomfortable but you need to have them.
Don’t worry too much
It’s a little scary to think about your kids being far away, and in a new environment with people you don’t know. You may feel anxious, but don’t let them see that. Our teens read the news and are worried enough for themselves. We want and need them to feel safe and secure at school. We have to show them that we have complete faith in them and that we trust the school to keep them safe physically and emotionally.
Savor the moments
This time before college is exciting for both you and your teen. Try to embrace it and be present in the moments. Try and find a little family time to play games or go bowling or out to dinner. Perhaps you can even work in a family vacation. Besides enjoying time together, when your college student feels a bout of homesickness--which they will --they can remember these moments and feel comforted.
Get ready for drop-off day
Here’s the deal: drop off day should be quick. It is going to be a stressful and emotional day for all. Remember, they will take their cues from you. Read about what a good drop off looks like and make a list of things you’ll need. Help clean the room, move in all the gear, make up the bed, and then leave them to it. Don’t have a long, tearful goodbye if you can help it. Like leaving your child at pre-school for the first time, the only way to disengage is to hand them over and take off fast without looking back. So hug them and run.
Of course, it’s sad to let them go, but you’ve done your job. You raised your children well,
you’ve shared your values and your wisdom. They are ready for their own adventures. I find that although of course I miss my kids when they’re away, I also know they are where they are supposed to be--on an amazing new path, learning, growing, and happy.