Life Transitions – Are You Ready to Send Your Child?

Life Transitions,  Carol Gonzalez will focus on the natural and not-so natural stages of our lives.  Each issue I’ll spotlight a particular transition.  From graduating from college, getting married, having a baby, or helping your child get ready to leave the nest, I’ll provide Identity readers with practical advice, tips and resources that I’ve learned over the years.  With over 20 years in corporate America, 21+ years of marriage and three children ranging from 7-18, I’ve transitioned a lot!  I’ll also look to Identity readers to share how you navigated those transitions too. 

Are you ready for your child to go to College?

College bound students and their parents are gearing up for the start of the academic year.  Parents are so busy with getting organized for the big day that they may not have thought about the moment they drop off their child at campus.

In last month’s article I interviewed several young women about their college experience and transition to the real world.  This month the focus is on mothers.  I spoke with several who shared with me their thoughts, experience and advice on how it felt to see their children leave the nest and head to college.   What was the process like? How did it feel when you dropped off your child and drove away for the first time? Was it any easier the second time around? 

The transition of having a child leave home to start their life as an adult is a unique experience for each family.  But what I learned from talking to these mothers was that despite the differences, each story had common themes. 

“First Timer” Chris

Chris home schooled her children.  Since Nate was young he had been involved in theatre, film and dance, so deciding to study drama was easy.  Figuring out which college to attend was the hard part. Nate asked his drama teacher for advice on schools (East coast vs. West coast) and decided on Pace University.  He flew out alone to New York City and after a successful audition he was accepted to Pace University. 

Chris’ first visit to Pace University was for Orientation.  I asked her if she was worried if this was the right choice for her son and if he could adjust to living 3,000 miles away from his family?  Did she have any financial concerns?  Her worries subsided after visiting Pace and seeing Nate’s excitement.  Nate also received a scholarship, which eased financial concerns.  He’s now working on a farm and making some extra money for school.  On their way home from New York after orientation, Nate was already thinking ahead and planning to set up an Improv Club when he returned to school in August. Like most parents, Chris knows that she will miss her son when he leaves for school.  But knowing that he will adjust well to his new life eases her worries.  Chris’ advice to parents is start teaching responsibility to your children when they are young.  Knowing that your child has become a responsible young adult lessens the anxieties when they leave home. 

"Experienced Mom" Maureen

Maureen has two daughters, Liz and Jackie, and she's very close with both of them. Liz successfully completed her first year of college and is getting ready for her sophomore year. Before the transition, to prepare herself, Maureen talked to other parents about their experiences. But, until you're in the car driving away after dropping off your child, you don't know what it's going to be like. Maureen recalled that "there was an eerie quietness in the car. "Don't look back," she told herself, holding back the tears. "Pulling away was the most difficult part (of the process)."

One month after Liz left for school, Maureen was still feeling her absence.  She described feeling lost.  Liz was the louder, more vocal daughter.  The house was much quieter with her away at school.  Jackie, the shy one, was also having a tough time adjusting to her sister’s absence while also attending a new high school.  She talked to her older sister every day.  Maureen realized she had to assert herself and focus on helping Jackie adjust to high school.

    •    Understand each child is different and support their uniqueness
    •    Instill responsibility in your children at a young age
    •    Take advantage of school resources 
    •    Share strategies with other parents
    •    Encourage financial responsibility, monitor their spending
    •    Don’t get a credit card
    •    Have a check list when packing
    •    Take only summer clothes, bring winter clothes at Homecoming or pack/ship

"Empty Nester Mom" Linda

Linda jokes that it took about ten minutes to adjust when she and her husband dropped off their second child at the airport to start her freshman year at Harvey Mudd College.  “Finally, I could count on there being milk in the refrigerator when I got up in the morning! “

Both of her children were in accelerated programs.  Her son applied to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and was wait-listed.  He had the grades and test scores, was an Eagle Scout, but never played a sport.  He applied to a “safety school,” the University of Washington, and enrolled in the fall in the Navy ROTC.  By February he got the call and was accepted into the Naval Academy.  

Because of the limited contact with Midshipmen during Plebe Summer at the Academy, Linda was grateful for her involvement with the Academy’s Parents Club.  Parents of Midshipmen can talk with other experienced parents and learn about what their children are going through.  At times Linda felt a bit paralyzed with fear wondering how her son was doing.  Many students never make it through Plebe Summer.  By August Linda was dying to see her son.  She did get to visit at the end of the summer.  During her visit, upper-class Midshipmen sang Christmas carols; the joke being that the next time Parents get to see their kids would be during the Holidays.

“Annapolis is nothing like a real college.  The kids are carefully chaperoned.  They don’t even have to do their own laundry,” says Linda.  While Linda knew her son was receiving a great education, she was still concerned about was his safety. Annapolis is a military institution after all.  It was pretty common for Midshipmen to come down hard on the Plebes.  Sometimes Linda would hear through the Parents Club or even the news that a training flight went down and you wonder if your child or someone you knew was involved. 

Linda’s daughter was a National Merit Scholar.  She was deluged with offers and scholarships.  It was an overwhelming experience for the parent of a high school senior.  Schools will often fly you out to come and visit their campuses.  One west coast University offered Linda’s daughter a lucrative scholarship.  But after her daughter came back from visiting the campus, Linda asked her how it was, but her response was lukewarm.  Her daughter had her heart set on Harvey Mudd, and ultimately she decided to go there.

Having been through this before, Linda was “ready” for her daughter to leave.  She was a little concerned about how she would get around school without a driver’s license, but was confident she would figure it out.  She kept in touch with her daughter through Facebook and email. 

    •    Get your child to friend you on Facebook
    •    Sign up for Parent Clubs or parent communications to keep abreast of activities
    •    Set a time to call
    •    Try to go to parent’s weekend

Each of these stories had unique set of circumstances that defined them.  But each story has common threads from which we can learn from:  worrying about your children is natural; teach your children to be responsible from childhood;  don’t forget to focus on younger siblings who also may be in transition themselves and always keep the lines of communications open. 

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