Accepting change is rarely easy and always inevitable. On a good day, one can be extremely rational and philosophical about how major transitions in life affect the family status quo; but one cannot avoid the emotional effects. When change occurs, thoughts and feelings run the gamut and this is clearly the case in our family as our oldest daughter leaves home and moves off to college, and we, as parents, struggle with the mixed emotions of letting go.
The pressure and stress of your child leaving home is jarring to the entire family. As it is true for most things in our society today pertaining to our children, going off to college is a major ordeal. In fact, getting into college has become a big time business where ACT/SAT preparation classes, private guidance counselors, and multiple college visits and tours are the norm. College entry is more competitive and intense than it has ever been! It is no wonder the students feel the incredible pressure to do the right thing and succeed, while at the same time, it is not surprising that parents feel an overbearing attachment to the process and to their child’s success. This becomes even a more alarming set of expectations when you consider the fact that less than half of the students who begin a four year college graduate. All these factors, as well as many other socio-political nuances, are directly impacting the family psyche and has evolved into a standard where the process of going off to college is clearly different than even a generation ago!
I do believe, however, the feelings related to kids leaving home and parents letting go are relatively the same and similar from one generation to the next. I recently asked my oldest daughter to help me write this newsletter by sharing her thoughts and feelings about going off to college. She writes:
Dear Mom and Dad, Well, what can I say? Today’s the 15th, and I’m off for college in exactly three days. Crazy, huh? I sure think so. Truthfully, I’m kind of scared. Well, actually, that’s an understatement—I’m really scared. For the past three years of high school I hated it, and all I could think about was how I needed to get away and as far away from high school as soon as possible. But now that I only have three days left here, I realize that I am in no rush to leave home. It’s hard because I have lived for this moment to go off to college for so long, so now I just feel like I have missed out on so much. I mean, the whole time I sat around and prayed for my own freedom, I was 100% reliant on you as well. I mean, I just learned how to do laundry; I still can hardly cook; when the computer breaks I come to you; I ask for money all the time; and when I’m sick I act like a helpless child. And trust me, I know it isn’t wrong that I have been dependent on you for the last 18 years, but it’s the most peculiar feeling to know that in four days those luxuries—which have been the norm—are hundreds of miles away. I just don’t know if I’m ready? It just seems like I am way too dependent to make the leap to total freedom 24 hours a day; and that scares me. So I just feel like all these bad things are going to happen to me once I leave, and if you ask me what these things are, I have no idea! Everything ahead of me just seems to be a big blur, like a huge drop at the end of a cliff. And I know once I’m off the end of the cliff, I’ll be fine, but it’s the initial jump that I am terrified of. Now don’t think I am a frantic mess or anything, because I said that I know I’ll be fine, and I do actually know that. You have modeled confidence, patience, and wisdom that once I am on my own, I will know how to truly embrace. And I’m thinking that it is those qualities that matter, not whether I can do laundry or not. So, thank you. Thank you for being my role models. I love you dearly…and REMEMBER: I am ONLY 6 ½ hours away! Love, Your Daughter
My daughter’s letter, eerily, reminds me of the feelings I had when I went off to college. I was scared! I remember being alone for the first time in my dorm room, with tears unexpectedly dripping down my cheeks, and feeling the most alone I have ever in my life. I didn’t know what to think or what to do. At that moment, all I can remember is feeling totally numb. Was I on that same “cliff” my daughter wrote about in her letter? As a parent you learn that you need to let your children climb their own mountains and face their own cliffs.
The child’s “leaving home” and the parent’s “letting go” is an intimate battle of emotions which doesn’t have a preset outcome. The battle is not new and it will forever speak to the common heart of the parent-child relationship.
Life comes a day at a time, A drop at a time, a meal at a time, a card off the deck, Always one at a time. A breath at a time, a smile at a time, a click off the clock, Always one at a time. Parents then children, One generation at a time.