Here we are again, with the big empty duffel bags out, waiting to be filled. It feels like we were just hauling our son’s stuff (and our son) back home, and yet it also feels like it’s been forever. Thankfully, we have an extra month with our daughter, so that goodbye is less imminent.
In the beginning, as it usually is with beginnings, it felt like we had unlimited time stretching out ahead of us. Truthfully, my son adapted so easily to finishing his freshman year of college online. And my gratitude for having my two college kids at home, our family together when we had not expected to be—my gratitude is expansive. But as I start to help make lists with my son and help organize belongings, I find myself wishing for more time. Somehow the extra time with my kids is making it even harder to say goodbye.
On top of this, we face a very different school year, or at least semester, ahead. It seems that uncertainty is the only certainty.
Will our kids have classes in-person? Or will classes be taught online? Maybe it will be a mix of the two . . . and maybe some classes will be hybrid—in-person one day and online another. There are just so many different ways this is coming together, and things seem to be changing almost daily. We have been watching plans unfold for over a month now, and some schools are already scrapping plans and going all online.
For those of us parents who have been through the college drop-off before, all this uncertainty is slightly easier to manage. Because we face fewer unknowns, and unknowns can be the root of worry and discomfort. But how about those who are facing this for the first time?
I’ll share something you first-timers might not know—college is a big adjustment for parents, too!
Sure, there are some parents who ease on into this transition and this new season of parenting. But for the vast majority, we can feel anywhere from a little out of sorts to completely thrown for a loop. A few of our friends are somewhere in the middle of this spectrum as they approach, or have just finished, college drop-off.
Sadness, missing kids, unease about this next season without the daily presence of kids at home. Sometimes there’s an identity crisis, especially for moms, with the question of who am I now that I’m not actively mothering? Dads often feel a version of this, too, with no more games or meets or performances to attend every week.
So what can parents do to make this adjustment a little easier?
Reinvest in each other.
Chances are, even if you were good at maintaining your couple relationship, there was probably a concentrated focus on the family unit and kids. So fill in the void—and strengthen your marriage—by making each other a priority. Spend more time together, both spontaneously and with planned dates or little getaways. Find out how you can be a better spouse for your partner and help your spouse to do the same. My husband and I have taken this opportunity to work on us. We’ve been intentional about communicating better (this includes both how we express ourselves and how we listen). We’re carving out time to spend together, whether it’s to do some errands together, enjoy dinner on the patio, or plan a mini-vacation for just the two of us.
With the kids at college, but not permanently out of the house yet, now is the perfect time to self-reflect. Maybe you’ve always wanted to create a garden, take up yoga, or learn to paint. Maybe, like me, you slowly discover a new career and interest to pursue. When my kids were still in middle and high school I started subbing in local preschools. By the time my oldest started college, I had a regular sub job and felt like I was doing something that not only mattered, but that I love so much. Leading up to my son starting college last year, I reignited my passion for writing and started blogging. I am now devoted to both working in the preschool and blogging and writing—I feel energized and have a new sense of purpose.
Learn new ways to stay connected with your kids.
There’s no denying that it’s an adjustment to not see your kids every day and to not have their presence in your home. No more of their belongings strewn about, no more “Mom, when’s dinner?” or “Can you help me with this?” No longer (for now) are they sleeping under the same roof as us or filling our homes with their unique and precious energy.
BUT. This doesn’t mean we can’t stay connected with them. We just have to be creative. Make use of texting, Snapchat, and FaceTime—allowing our kids to set the rhythm for this. Just this morning, my son and I shared coffee and conversation over FaceTime, and for a few minutes, I forgot we weren’t in the same room.
Send care packages with things they need or treats we know they will love (and that just might remind them of home).
And keep in mind that staying connected is easier when we have cherished shared experiences and memories. Bigger experiences, like vacations, are wonderful. But little moments are just as meaningful.
For example, my daughter and I love to relax with coffee at our favorite coffee shop and chat about whatever comes to mind or nothing at all. My son and I have a series we’ve been watching since before he left for college, and we catch up with it whenever he is home for a weekend or break. Adventures don’t have to be big. My daughter and I love to go on “Target Adventures,” which is any spontaneous let’s go to Target even though we don’t need to buy anything outing. Usually at night, and usually in our pajamas. It’s been a while, but my son and I would go to Superdawg (burger and hot dog drive-in) and eat hot dogs and fries in the car. Adventures like these are just plain fun, and the memories of them keep us connected when we’re apart.
Let yourself feel what you feel.
No matter how much effort we make and even when we’re in a good place, it’s normal to feel sad or down sometimes. Instead of trying to talk ourselves out of this, we should acknowledge how we’re feeling and ride that wave. Maybe even talk about it with our spouse or a friend. This approach really helps us face and get through rough spots.
Yes, college is a time of growth and adjustment—for everyone. If we embrace this as an opportunity, we just might find that this season of parenting holds its own special treasures.