How To Say Goodbye
It will be here before you know it. In fact, many of you have already suffered the long-anticipated goodbye to your newly minted college student. I imagine it was a scene you replayed in your head many times before it actually occurred, like I had before my daughters left the nest. And I imagine it didn’t exactly roll out as you had envisioned. What I thought would happen was a long and teary embrace, initiated by my girls, who were equally moved by this milestone. What actually happened was a quick hug and a brief goodbye as they headed out with their roommate or another new friend they had met down the hall.
It’s a good thing that it often happens this way, despite how anti-climactic it may feel. As a parent, this send-off carries with it our lifetime of devotion and sacrifice: a culmination of our parenting years. In a flash we see all the skinned knees, music recitals, school plays, sports events and driving lessons before our eyes. Our children see the doorway to a life they have been anticipating for quite some time. And they want to usher us right out that door!
Let’s be honest here. If we left them crying and clinging, we would be in far worse shape saying goodbye. We need to feel that they will be OK on their own and that they have the coping skills to manage this transition. No doubt, they are facing their own worries and fears.
Who wouldn’t be? Our kids are tasked with making new friends, finding a new routine, balancing their work and social lives and managing on their own. Even if they are living at home while going to college, they are becoming independent in brand new ways. It’s exhilarating and likely a bit terrifying at the same time.
So here are a few thoughts on having a goodbye that will leave our kids feeling empowered; a goodbye that communicates “you got this” and also “we got this” because even if they don’t show it, kids want to know that their parents will be OK too.
Focus on the Positive: It’s possible you may have some misgivings during move-in. The dorm room may be far smaller than you realized and many things don’t fit; the new roommate is excited to have parties in the room and you know your child is a bit introverted; the dorm is situated at the bottom of a hill that resembles Mount Everest, which your child will have to climb each day to get to class. Don’t let your face give away a single thing—take your cues from your children.
If they express their own concerns, you can help them see their options. “Here, I have 30 Commando hooks” Or, “You might make some new friends with such an outgoing roommate” and, ”Wow, your calf muscles will look amazing by Thanksgiving!” All kidding aside, there may be issues that you need to address while there. But if it’s a choice between looking at the glass half full or half empty, choose the former because your child is still looking at you closely for signals. Make the days leading up to the goodbye as positive as you can. Remember, your concerns will linger and magnify in your child’s mind long after you have driven away.
Don’t Take Their Behavior Too Seriously: Your son or daughter might be more short or rude than usual during move-in. They may be get angry that the shoe rack sticks out from their closet or that the pop up hamper is black, not navy blue. As the parent, you know what you are seeing here—a bad case of the jitters. Don’t take the bait and don’t make it worse.
Your job is to comfort, soothe and make exchanges and returns. Even if your child is ornery, don’t make it personal. It definitely isn’t and arguing about the small stuff during move-in will make your goodbye that much more difficult for you and for them.
It’s Their Day Not Yours: At move-in you are likely to meet a lot of moms and dads who are in the same boat as you. That’s really nice but it definitely isn’t the time for you to forge those relationships. The parents you bond with may turn out to have a daughter or son that your child simply doesn’t jive with. The last thing your child will want to hear is that you are becoming fast friends with parents of students that don’t end up in their social circle.
Keep the focus on your child and the move itself. Be friendly towards everyone and wrap it up. By parent’s weekend, you will get to know your child’s friends and then can make your own connections with other parents.
Don’t Fall Apart: Yes, my friend, an existential crisis may be just around the corner. But you need to make it to the car, and out of your child’s view, before you come undone. The absolute worst thing you can do is make this day about you. Your children are doing the best they can to manage all of their own emotions. They don’t have the capacity to take yours on as well. I’m not saying that a few tears won’t fall, but don’t let them see you crumbling to pieces. That would be unfair!
Write the Mushy Stuff Down: There’s so much you want to tell them. Believe me, I know. Write your child a letter and tuck it under their pillow. Fill it with your pride in all of their accomplishments. Remind them of how much you love them. Tell them how capable you know they are. Assure them that their concerns are all valid but in time they will master their new routines. There won’t be any time for this as you hang up curtains or roll out rugs, but seeing a letter from home that they can refer to again and again will be a great comfort to them once you are gone.
Keep it Brief: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) sets in fast when you are new to the college campus. Your kids simply do not have time to linger for a long goodbye. There’s an orientation with the RA, a meet-up in the student union, a band playing in the quad for new freshmen.
For most students, they want to attend these activities and they probably don’t want you to go with them. College is their new home now and they need to get accustomed to it. Stay with them as long as they want you to, but be sensitive to their signals when they want you to leave.
Hug and Hop: That last embrace is a powerful one. Let it communicate how genuinely happy and excited you are for their new adventure. Model for them that you can detach in a healthy way. Leave them with “See you soon” rather than “Goodbye my baby forever”. Take the drama out of this for their sake and yours. And then have a hefty pack of tissues in your bag. You’ll need them.
Written by: Donna Korren of Empty Quester
Follow Donna on Instagram: @EmptyQuester