It's that time of year when parents all over the world are preparing to send a child off to institutions of higher learning. You can hardly wait to let him go and you can hardly stand to let him go. It's called "miserable joy." You've prepared your child for this moment. She's now an adult and, ready or not, is about to face the world without you. She's probably more ready to leave you than you are to let her leave. There are some things you can do to survive this milestone in your life.
Keep in mind that you have taught her well for the past 18 or so years. You may have made some mistakes, but you did your best to prepare her. Focus on her strengths now, not her weaknesses. Remember when she worked hard to learn math when it came so easy for others. It was hard, but she did it. And she did it with a child's mind. Now she sees things more clearly. She's facing the fact that she's now an adult, and everything depends on her. That will make a difference.
2. Ask questions and listen
His mind is likely full of questions regarding what he might be facing. Or he may be too naive to even think of questions to ask. Think back to what troubled you when you went away from home that first time. Ask him things like, "What concerns you most about leaving home?" If he says, "Nothing. I'm rarin' to go," say "That's great. I remember when I was leaving home one of the things that worried me most was, will I be able to find good friends?" Or "Will I run out of money?" Or some other thing that bothered you. Be open with him and let him express his concerns without getting a sermon from you. A few suggestions from you are OK, just give him the chance to think about it before you pour out your wisdom. Then keep your wisdom brief.
3. Be frank about giving a few last-minute warnings
Don't go overboard on this, but do face the reality that bad things can happen to college kids who behave foolishly. Don't be the parent who says, "Oh, I wish I'd warned him about that." And when you give the warnings, don't be surprised if he acts disinterested. He is listening. Those words of warning will be in place when needed. For example, be completely up front about what happens to people who binge drink. Talk about a case that led to a student's death. He will remember, and your very words may be what save him. He needs to know the downside of consuming alcohol.
Tell her the importance of not walking alone at night. She needs to be reminded of the dangers. She needs to have a plan to protect herself. Get her thinking about what could happen if she is careless about this.
4. Discuss a plan to keep in touch regularly
Children going away to school need to know that part of the deal is that they call you and let you know what's going on. It doesn't have to be every day. Decide how often the calls need to happen. Be reasonable. You don't need to hover over her. You just need to know she's OK, and that she's doing what is expected of her as a responsible student. She needs to feel like she can confide in you when problems arise. Not that you will solve them, but talking with you about them will give her a chance to consider options that may help.
5. Keep in mind that he will have times of struggle
He might fail an important test. Don't go ballistic when this happens. Failing is part of learning how to deal with life. Isn't that why you're sending him off to college—to learn how to live the best life possible? All these experiences will help that happen. Keep that in mind when he's struggling, and don't run to his rescue. He can figure it out if you give him that chance and express confidence in him. If he needs extra help, remember every campus has counselors ready to help your child. Encourage him to go for that help.
6. It's OK for you to be a little sad
When you feel those tears welling up inside as she packs her bags, know that you are normal. One of the most tender accounts of a parent acknowledging what it's like to have a child go off to college is the story of actor Rob Lowe and his son. The night before his son left, he said, "I know that this is his finest hour. But looking at the suitcases on his bed and at his dog watching him pack sends me out of the room to a hidden corner where I can't stop crying" (Reader's Digest, September 2015, pg. 78).
Praying with your child before he walks out the door for this monumental journey of life is crucial. Let him hear you thanking God for such a wonderful child. Let him hear you asking a loving Father in Heaven to watch over him. These prayers can be comforting to both you and your child. Have faith that God will be with him. You have likely taught your child to pray as she was growing up. Remind her to say her prayers every day, and to ask God to guide and protect her. This is empowering to young adult children, to know that they are not alone, that God is always watching over them. And that they can ask Him for help along this new journey.