For most of us, August is one of our favorite months. Memorable vacations, campfires, trips to the pool, Little League playoffs—all packed in with a sense of urgency, for school is just around the corner.
But, for others, August is a time of dread. Take, for example, parents wondering how they will hold it together as they bid farewell to their incoming freshman at his/her new campus home. Their imaginary “practice sessions” didn’t usually end well, so they fear a looming disaster. Sound familiar?
I’ll never forget our first college goodbye experience. Our family set foot on the beautiful campus of Pepperdine University for a 2+ day orientation. The goodbyes wouldn’t come until day three. My wife and I were composed through day two, which was cause for optimism. But, then came Showtime.
We all met in the gym—imagine a jam-packed facility filled with families dreading their final moments! The administrators gave great talks (especially the “don’t helicopter” ones). All was well until, with no warning, the speaker said, ”Parents, now it’s time for you to leave.” It wasn’t just the abruptness that caught us off guard, but imagine a gymnasium filled with a thousand goodbyes! Are you kidding me? Don’t they know that tears are as contagious as yawns?!? I could feel my composure slipping away, and by the time it was my turn, all I could get out was, “Thanks.” (Postscript: a few days later I penned a letter to Michael saying everything I planned on. And, I did much better the second time around with Lauren!)
Now, from the benefit of experience and as an author of books for parents and teens, I look at this time as an incredible blessing and opportunity. It IS a huge milestone for parents, so there WILL be emotions. That’s okay. After all, this once newborn is now a young adult primed to fulfill his/her dreams and purpose! And their parents played a huge role in shaping this once child for a promising adulthood.
With that, here are some tips to make the most of your goodbye (from both your perspective and that of your teen):
- Share the honor and privilege it has been to be their parent
- Let them know you are proud of the person they have become
- Affirm your belief in them—the person they are, the choices they will make, and the future that lies ahead
- Acknowledge (and abide by!) your new role as chief coach and encourager. Remember, you’re releasing an eagle to soar, not a kite to control.
(Note that these don’t have to wait until the final goodbye, but they are important messages to share at some point.)
But, now, for a little tough love. There are far too many stories of parents who are holding on for dear life rather than letting go, and it’s not helpful. Here’s a sampler:
- A mother showing up with her 24-year old son at his final job interview. She cost him the job.
- Employers who are conducting workshops for managers to deal with parent interference
- Parents incessantly texting to check in
- Parents who complain to professors about their student’s grades
- Parents who feel it’s their duty to intervene when their student faces challenges or the risk of failure
- Parents whose identity is so consumed by their role as mother and father that they choose to remain in the driver seat rather than move to the passenger seat.
These are real and they are becoming increasingly common. They are self confidence destroyers and entitlement mentality boosters. We can do better—especially for them, but also for us.
Few milestones are as emotional and meaningful as our goodbyes when our kids leave home—to colleges or otherwise. Sure, we will miss them, but we can also look forward to a new adult-to-adult relationship, too. So, let’s strive to fill our goodbyes with gratitude, belief, confidence, and love.
Have you experienced a college goodbye? How did it go? What other ideas can you share to encourage others in the “letting go” process? We’d love to hear from you.
P.S., We invite you to check out our book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Here’s a link to learn more.