Parents Say Goodbye: The Last Summer Before College

By Carleton Kendrick

Dancing in the Streets

"Both kids in college now, Carleton? Just you and your wife at home? You must be dancing in the streets!" Such was the jist of almost all the comments directed my way upon my second (and last) child's departure to college. But I wasn't dancing. I wasn't even whistling. Family life without my kids around would be bittersweet -- a word I couldn't help using over and over during the summers before they left.

Birds Gotta Fly . . .

I knew this was supposed to happen. Kids leave the nest. Forge healthy adult identities unencumbered by their parents. Get that college education we've all been conditioned to believe is crucial to their success and happiness.

My Mind Questions . . .

So, if they were experiencing this major developmental milestone in relatively good shape, why was I a mess inside? Why was my happiness for them coupled with a sadness for myself? Why was my pride and joy for my kids tainted by my anxieties and regrets?

My Heart Answers

My answers came, with some hesitation, from that voice in my heart that always tells the truth. "You love them deeply. You like living with them, as a family. You'll miss them terribly. You wonder if you've been a good enough father, if you've prepared them well for their 'launch.' It has been 22 years since you and your wife have lived together without children. As a couple, will you weather this transition? You're not needed as an everyday parent anymore." My heart's voice is truthful, but not always kind.

We made it through those summers. I still miss them dearly. They're growing up, as they should. And we all move on with our new lives, always a family.

Tips for Parents

As a recent veteran of two bittersweet departures for college, I offer you some guidelines on making the best of this highly emotional time:

  1. Acknowledge your mixed emotions to yourself and to your departing child. Realize that if you act emotionally disabled, your kids worry more about leaving you.
  2. Share your feelings about this new stage of your life with those who are supportive and with those who have been through this transition.
  3. Think about and plan how you'll use all that emotional energy and time you've formerly devoted to parenting.
  4. Allow yourself to trust in your child's ability to make sound judgments on her own. It helps when she can feel your trust.
  5. When your child expresses fears and uncertainties about leaving and "making it" in college, let him know that everyone has these misgivings. Tell him you are confident in his abilities to both "make it" and enjoy it. Make references to some of his past challenges and successes.
  6. Make sure you consider the feelings (most often intense and confused) of your other kids. They need their own sibling good-byes and reassurances.
  7. Don't feel ignored or hurt because your child wants to spend every waking moment with her friends. Desperate attempts to spend an endless summer with friends is a natural response to leaving them.
  8. You and your college child may unconsciously create considerably more tension and disagreements than usual in an effort to make leaving more desirable.