Preparing for Your Teen's College Freshman Year
Judy Grimner has spent the summer shopping, packing and getting ready to take David, the youngesof her three sons, to Villanova University where he is entering the freshman class. "As much as you're prepared for it, you go through a kind of grieving process," she says. "I'm absolutely fine and then I'm crying. David said, 'Mom, I feel this is it. There are so few days left.' I told him, 'You'll do fine.' Then I burst into tears when he left."
Judy's story could be yours or mine. Even though her two older sons, Brian and Michael, left home for college three years ago, the sense of loss is no less than it was the first time. "When Brian went to college in California, I went through the torture of getting him ready," says Grimner. "I flew to the West Coast with him and got him settled into his dorm. When I came home from L.A., I had to get Mike out the door. It felt like I was giving my family away."
The Emotional Roller Coaster
This September, more than three and a half million students will start college, according to the American Council on Higher Education. (There are no statistics on how many of these students are leaving home but a conservative estimate of 50 percent would indicate that more than one million American families are about to go through this rite of passage.)
It's an emotional roller coaster for most parents. "My husband had a much harder time letting go than me," says Marcelle Fischler, a mother of three. "He always hated when the kids went to sleep-away camp, and he didn't like our sons being away for an extended period. He also worried about the tuition payments."
And lest you think that process gets easier when the second child leaves home, Marcelle and Judy find that, in fact, it gets harder to say goodbye as the younger ones depart. "When my second son left last year it was actually a lot harder," says Fischler. "The nest was getting emptier. That meant only one child left in the house without a sibling. I didn't know the dynamics of a family with an only child. It also made me feel a lot older to have two sons in college. My husband also had a harder time with one child left. It was almost like we didn't know what our purpose was anymore so we coddled the youngest. While we had worried about him being an only child, he loved every minute and thrived on it."
The Price of Separation
As a single parent whose daughter leaves for college in two weeks, I, too, am becoming familiar with the rocky roller coaster ride of getting my child ready for college. On good days, we bicker about the price of linens and towels. Does she really need Egyptian cotton sheets? I don't think so. (Mom, what do you know?) Well, you get the idea. She procrastinates on calling the credit card company and making her final doctor's appointment, preferring to spend as much time as possible at her boyfriend's house. (Mom, what do you know?) Well, you get the point.
I've come to see the benefit of all this, although I can't say I like it. Mothering has been a way of life for 19 years. Maybe it's a good thing that she hasn't been home most nights. After all, you have to get used to coming home to an empty house sooner or later. As for the bickering, maybe that's her way of separating so that she doesn't feel guilty about leaving me. If she provokes an argument here or there, she can use my anger as an excuse for distancing emotionally. At least, that's what I tell myself. When I'm not crying.
Judy Grimner says, "There are two things we're supposed to give our children: a wonderful home and wings to fly."