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College Move-In: The Aftermath

My shoulders ached, despite the Advils I’d been taking all day. I had just finished move-in for my son’s sophomore year at Emory. I finished my Diet Coke, so fitting at “Coca Cola U.” It was thankfully unseasonably cool for Atlanta in August, with a refreshing breeze and dappled sunlight smiling through the shade of young peach trees around the stately, columned fraternity house. It felt like September, another new beginning.

We’d done all the things you’re not allowed to do in a freshman dorm. We lofted the bed and purchased a futon for underneath. I arranged my son’s books, desk supplies, xBox games, lamps, and memorabilia on his desk and shelves, and hung up or folded his clothes. We hooked up the electronics. His room looked better than it would look for the rest of the year! We took a Blackberry photo to email to everyone. My son laughed, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll de-mom-ify it after you leave.”

I smiled at my son. I was so proud of him. He had changed so much during his first year in college. A year ago, he was a reluctant freshman, trying to grasp the lay of the land of a scary new world, wondering whether he would succeed on this new  proving ground. Now, with an impressive GPA, a major, fraternity bros, and a summer internship under his belt, my son had emerged as a confident young adult. What a difference a year makes!

Parents who are launching their first freshman may be reassured by my post. You will survive this first separation. You will survive the empty nest if this is your only child. And each year, it will get easier, because your student will be one year closer to honorable, responsible adulthood.

When you leave your child and begin that drive or flight home, there is a feeling of vacancy, a pang that makes your eyes well up. You miss your son or daughter terribly. Freshman year is definitely the toughest. You will probably experience a complex mix of excitement, grief, and anxiety about the unknown of your relationship with your child, your child’s ability to  thrive at college, and your ability to build a new life without a dependent child at the center.

It may be a good idea to not go straight home after dropping your child off at college. Perhaps you and your spouse could go away on a long-deserved getaway, especially if this is the beginning of your empty nest chapter. Definitely create projects and adventures to which you can look forward. My “letting go” and “what’s next?” posts give some suggestions and resources.

Check in every few days at first, then once a week, or whatever feels comfortable in your relationship. Your child will probably touch base with you only when it is most convenient—a few words or text messages on the way to class. Conversations may be abruptly aborted upon arrival at the dining hall, or when another student meets up with yours on the Quad. Take what you can get. Be there when your child needs you. Listen more than you advise.

You are the mother ship, remember! Your young adult is exploring independence in a bigger way than ever before, but it is essential that he or she can touch base with the mother ship whenever necessary.

Send care packages (such as Popcorn Factory, SendaSmile). Plan to visit for family weekend. Be a sounding board, especially if your child needs to discuss pros and cons about dropping a class early on, an escalating roommate problem, homesickness, or what has come to be called “friendsickness”. You’ll get into a rhythym. Different than before, but it will become more natural as time goes on. This is the beginning of your adult relationship.

Related posts: Letting Go (Back by Popular Demand),  Adjusting to College Life: Friendsickness, College Dorm Laundry Service? When Big Brother or Sister Goes to College, Accepting the Empty Nest, and College Freshmen Home for Thanksgiving.