As of last weekend, I have now had the privilege and heartache of dropping off 3 daughters at college. I would love to say the feelings after drop off got easier with each one but it didn’t. I have observed other parents over the years who seem to do it with such ease. I have often wondered what’s wrong with me because I literally feel like someone died as I drive away. Each time, the grief has been there for me. Upon arrival back home, I can barely look in their room. I can barely look at my dog laying in their room because I can tell the dog feels it too.
I’m sharing this because if you feel the same way, I don’t want you to feel alone– and I also have experience to let you know we will be just fine. If you’ve never dropped off a kid at college, you may want to read this to help prepare yourself. These emotions can take us by surprise. I’m a strong and independent person. I’m not someone who feels I need kids to take care of in order to feel a real sense of purpose– but I have loved being a parent. I have especially loved being a mom. This will be my favorite title until the day I die. Not because of purpose but because of the enormous love being a mom has brought to my life.
I have been all in. I loved baking cookies and carving pumpkins. I loved helping them name their Barbies and snuggling up for their favorite shows. I loved getting roped in to be the field trip chaperone, run the school auction and drive the homecoming float. From girl scout leader to dance & sports team “momager”, I volunteered for anything they needed to support their interests and development. Yes, it was exhausting. It was especially exhausting to stay up way too late quizzing them with notecards that could have and should have been done during normal hours. At times, it felt like sleep torture to make sure they got home safely after their many nights out with friends. But I have loved every magical, loving, exhausting moment of being a mom.
Will I ever know the lyrics to latest songs again? Will singing in my car ever be as much fun as it was with a bunch of teenage girls? Will I stay committed to keep learning the latest technology without them? Will my kitchen and backyard ever be the sacred psychologist couch or fun dance floor again?
Having been through this a few times, here’s what I’ve learned. If we do it right. If we were in it with them, they remember it. They are as bonded with us as we are with them. Yes many of us will grieve. It makes sense. A very important part of our life will never be the same, so of course we’re going to feel like something or someone died. The feeling of grief is real and earned.
However, I think it’s important to our joy to understand exactly what we’re grieving. This is where I hope I can help. If our kids made it to college, they are thriving and well! Having our kids thriving and well is always our goal as parents, right? They are embarking on a very important and exciting adventure, so we don’t need to grieve “them”. They are the epitome of life right now! We are just grieving the chapters we lived and loved so much with them. But let’s not stay stuck, we have many wonderful chapters with them waiting for us!
Since two of my daughters are now through college, I can happily report that we still get to have them! Part of being a good parent, is being someone they can count on. Who in this crazy world doesn’t need a person in their life that they can truly count on. Who doesn’t need someone who has their best interest at heart and will give honest, solid advice? We still get to be that person and they need us more than ever. While our lives and schedules are simplifying a bit with their independence, their pressures and responsibilities are growing. They need mature best friends who they can go to for advice and comfort. That’s us!!
College is fun but it’s also exhausting and hard. They will need to call you and have you assure them they can handle it. They will call you (and show you where your parenting holes are) when they aren’t sure how to do something. They don’t have money, so no worries, you’re going to hear from them!
They grow to appreciate the comforts of home and come back often so they can feel them as needed. Even when they get their first job out of college, it takes several pay checks to be able to afford rent/a house down payment, outfitting a home and all the costs that go with independence. They may just need to move back in for a bit to develop a little nest egg so they don’t have to start out in debt.
Trust me when I tell you (and remind myself too), your grief will soon be replaced with enormous pride and many fun new chapters. Sure they look different than the previous ones, but they are just as sweet and in many ways even better!
Try not to burden your kids with your feelings of grief because they have many feelings of their own during this time. Talk it through with your friends who are in the same place and feeling the same things. I promise this all passes. Use this time to get back to building you. Build your Mind, Body, Soul, Interests, Retirement Fund, Second Act, etc. We’ve earned it, we deserve it. The stronger we are, a stronger example and friend we will always be for them.
(Sharon Caldwell Peddie is the author of “Grow Yourself Beautiful”. For more information on her book, visit http://www.sharoncaldwellpeddie.com, amazon.com or follow: sharonpeddieblog.com)