Eighteen years prior, I walked into a hospital as a wife and walked out as a mom. Those crazy nurses let me leave with that baby in my arms as if I had a clue what I was doing. Then, in the blink of an eye, I found myself riding shotgun next to that grown-ish boy as we drove toward the momentous college drop-off.
We chatted casually, and I tried to stay engaged and not stare at this man-child whom I had raised. The emotions swirled while my mind raced from his birth to this day and to whatever might come next. I forced myself to remember all those days led to this one and to trust the ways that we had feathered our nest prepared him to fly on his own. I prayed prayers of surrender and took deep breaths and chose gratitude that my little boy had become a young man who was pressing toward the next chapter.
I wanted to do this well.
I wanted to enjoy this big day and to smile and embrace the milestone. Most of all, I wanted to give my son a good and memorable day. So, I created a checklist for the day, and am sharing a copy of it — which you can find by clicking on the thumbnail below (or just click HERE).
Having a plan and strategy helps to give a sense of control on this eventful day of releasing control. Fall back on some good communication with your college-bound child, the other children, your husband, and anyone else going for the day.
The key to the plan is considering what your child needs or wants for the day, including who goes for the drop-off and how the day is handled. Letting your child take the lead conveys trust in and honor of your child. Of course, you may not be able to accommodate all requests completely, depending on financial restraints or other circumstances. But within reason, let your child imagine this day, and then craft a plan.
Along these lines, I will offer this lesson learned: This is a highly emotional and stressful day. It will require flexibility and a quick default to extend and show grace to each other.
As you think through how the college drop-off happens, you may have an assigned move-in time. Touch base with your child’s roommate to stagger your unloading times. Having both people unpacking boxes in a tiny dorm room at the same time is difficult.
This unpacking time was the most stressful time of the day as the emotions were hitting, it was crowded, and opinions were flying. We quickly figured out extra people needed to step out into the hall because this was a two-person job. I needed to let my son take the lead, so I deferred to him to give instructions at his own pace. As soon as the room was set up, we took the obligatory photos — with his roommate and of the room — and then we headed to a relaxed family lunch. Before we left, I slipped a letter under my son’s pillow and set his first care package on his bed, as my own way to “tuck” him in on his first night.
During lunch, we kept the conversation light and upbeat, with the goal of sparking courage and confidence in him. I remembered how scared I felt on my own college drop-off day, so we reminded our son how much we believe in him. We had advised our other children to keep their brother’s emotional needs in mind and to cheer him on. We would save our tears for later.
For us, we had the luxury of the university’s plan when it came time for the actual goodbye. There was a street party with food trucks so we could enjoy some family fun and also have a public place for a quick goodbye. Then, the freshmen are whisked off to their small group gathering for the first part of their welcome week activities. We could leave knowing he wasn’t sitting alone in his dorm room.
If your child’s college doesn’t have planned activities, then consider how to leave your child with a plan to do something with his or her roommate or someone else. If nothing else, have a quick and public goodbye rather than a long or drawn-out process. You do not want to leave your child with the vision of you sobbing hysterically or hanging on for dear life. You want to equip him or her with the confidence needed to begin this new chapter.
Then, run to your car, don’t look back, and have tissues handy. Let yourselves cry and feel the feelings, while remembering that you are leading the other children through this process of transition. They, too, are experiencing the changes, and they’ll eventually forge their own way. If you are feeling doubtful about your child’s ability to succeed or to manage college, it might be best to have that conversation in private, where the other children do not overhear, lest their own fears be fueled.
During our drive home, we all expressed how weird it felt, and yes, there were some tears. But we were also quick to talk about the next time we would see our son, and how excited we were for his opportunities.
And we are. We are excited. We are humbled with gratitude that our son is able to attend his dream school. We are awed by all the ways we’ve seen God’s faithfulness in the life of our family and our son. We know we are blessed beyond measure to have a healthy son who is chasing his own dreams. These are the things that I tell myself again and again as I keep the door open to his empty room. Because, as I heard someone else say, our college drop-off goodbye is their hello to a whole new world.