The following are five tips that I feel helped us cope with all of the emotions around taking our boys to college and separating from them.
- Before You Go: Let your child be in control of the details. They will soon be in control of their schedule, need to communicate with their professors, plan their social activities and in general, navigate through a whole new environment without daily help from you. I believe, as parents, we need to let them practice before they get to campus. Keaton scheduled his TB test at the doctors office, asked for his medical records and then confirmed that the university health center received the information they requested. He let us know the schedule for move-in and orientation. He was our navigator on the trip from leaving the house all the way to finding his dorm. We relied on him for all the important details which gave us reassurance that he will be able to manage everything without daily reminders from us on what needs to be done. Maybe this is all obvious, but I think it’s hard as a parent to remember that our college kids are legally adults.
- Getting There: Road trip there or take a family vacation before going. Not everyone can drive their child to college, especially if they are heading to a different coastline. We were fortunate to be able to road trip with our boys. Three years ago we packed the SUV to the brim and started a five day family adventure to Beloit, Wisconsin. We didn’t realize what a blessing this time in the car would be. Up until the morning of our departure our son, Rikley, had a full social calendar of saying goodbye to his friends and girlfriend. The road trip let us have uninterrupted family time. We visited Mount Rushmore and the Badlands on our way, listened to the same music and talked. When we arrived on campus we had one day to move into the dorm, get his ID, find his mailbox, open a checking account and attend several scheduled orientation events. At 5:00 the college had an outside ice-cream social, and at 6:00 announced that it was time for parents to leave. The whole day had been a whirlwind of activity and the goodbye came too quickly. We were thankful that we had so much time together the previous five days. So, this year when it was time to take Keaton to Bozeman we knew we would drive. It was a shorter trip and only the three of us, but we had him to ourselves for two days. If driving your child to college isn’t an option consider taking a family vacation as close to departure as you can.
- Moving in: Give them space but stay close. Last Wednesday, after moving Keaton into the dorm and a final trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, we left the campus in the late afternoon. We didn’t have to say goodbye, just “Have a good night and we’ll check in with you tomorrow.” The next morning Rob and I drove about 30 minutes out of town and went on a couple of hikes. Rob did some fishing and I took pictures. We texted with Keaton a couple of times but didn’t actually see him. He was busy with orientation meetings, and we wanted to give him space to make personal connections and start building friendships. On Friday we spent half the day fishing and taking pictures before we met Keaton at his dorm. I wanted to get a few pictures with him around campus and see how he had settled into his room. We spent less than two hours with him, but it assured us that he was finding his way, making connections and settling in.
Saturday morning came and we picked him up for breakfast. We imparted our final words of wisdom on him over eggs and coffee and talked about his plans for the weekend. Then it was time for us to say goodbye, get out of his way, and leave town. We didn’t get to have that kind of time with Rikley and I felt more comfort leaving Keaton because of it.
- Saying Goodbye: Trust them with making good choices. As parents, we have to believe that we have raised our children to be responsible, keep themselves safe, and be true to themselves. Now is the time for them to show us what they’ve learned over 18 years, and we have to trust them. I was fine through breakfast and it wasn’t until we pulled up in front of Keaton’s dorm that I started to choke up and tears filled my eyes. It was an immediate reaction to the dread of hugging him one last time and letting go. Of course we will still worry about how he is adjusting. Is he making friends? Does he like his roommate? Is he eating well? Is he getting enough sleep? Does he like his classes? Is he happy? I know he will do well, and I have the peace of mind knowing that he is intelligent and capable of taking care of himself.
- Coming Home: Take a detour on the way home. Rob and I are both planners. With our hectic work, school and sports schedules over the past decade plus, great planning helped us make it all happen. So, with a day of extra time on our hands, we did the unexpected and did not drive straight home to the big, empty house. Instead, we asked ourselves what could we do that was for us? While some of you may think of a spa, seeing friends or family, or exploring a new city, we drove along a winding road that followed a beautiful river and the route of Lewis and Clark. Our destination was the Wallowa mountains. We’ve backpacked there a few times and love the area with its clear creeks, mountain lakes and granite peaks.
We picked an 8 plus mile hike along Hurricane Creek for Sunday. It was strenuous, very scenic, and served its purpose of distracting us from the inevitable empty nest. If we could have we would have spent more time there. Three years ago, Keaton, Rob and I had a 5 day journey back to Portland. We picked a different route and traveled through Colorado and Utah. We lingered a bit at Colorado National Monument and in Arches National Park. If you can, I highly recommend a detour on the way back to your empty nest.
Dropping your child off at college is tough. I hope you can take something from these simple tips that makes it more memorable in the right ways.
If you’ve taken a child to college what kind of tips would you give to others? I’d love to know what made the experience easier for you. Please leave a comment below.