College Parents Weekend—Important Lessons Learned

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On My Way to Parents Weekend:

It’s time. I actually get to peek inside her new world. Her new world that she has created in the 6 weeks that she has been away at college. I get to meet her friends and their parents, see her sorority, attend a football game, eat a few meals with her, and most likely take her to Target for necessities for which she would rather not use her allowance. But I know it will be a whirlwind, a frenetic two days, trying to squeeze it all in, trying to get a snap shot, a sampling of her new college life. Yeah, that one, the in which she taught me how to say goodbye (and yet I cried for a month); the one that she spent so much energy and time working toward; the one that kept me up some nights with worry that it would work out for her, that she would have college options she would be happy about, and ultimately, that she would be happy with the college she chose.

My biggest fear, which took me a while to realize, was that in my daughter’s absence, I would lose the one thing that I had worked tirelessly on for the last 18 years, the thing that I desperately wanted/needed to maintain, and that I prayed she would want—our connection. I did not want to smother her or unhealthily hang on to her, but I wanted to feel close to her and truly did not know how that would happen with her away.

And it took us a while. It was awkward sometimes. I held back and didn’t call or text because I was told to give her space. And that was hard and actually pained me. But I did it. Until I told her what I was doing. And she responded very simply, “Mom, you can text me all you want but I may not always text you back right away and please don’t ask me a lot of questions.”  O.k., I can deal with that. Slowly, we found our rhythm and ease in our communication, which is not every day, and sometimes just a few times a week. But it works. One very wise woman recently explained to me when I detailed my struggle around this issue, “You need to understand that you are with your daughter even though she is away. And she is with you. The 18 years that you have spent mothering her are always with her. She knows you are there for her because you have always been there.  She may not need to talk to you a lot because you are already with her.”

Yep, I am going with that!

On My Way Home From Parents Weekend:

I am not sad this time. I am full and happy with the knowledge and the feeling that she is indeed happy. She is creating a wonderful life for herself in a place that is nurturing, engaging, joyful and challenging for her.. (And I am also full and happy because we ate our way through her college town!). She seems older. She seems more confident. She seems more passionate, which I didn’t realize was even possible, given how passionate she was when she left in August. She was sincerely happy to see us, to spend time with us and to share her new world with us…until it was that time…the time when we needed to let her be…to retreat into her life that she continues to develop every single day; her life that does not involve us; her life that she works hard to make good for herself and for those around her.

We had moments with her…moments of pure joy and moments of pure tension. Moments when we met her friends and their parents and could not be happier with the wonderful choices she is making and the people with whom she surrounds herself. And moments of tension when we wanted/needed to assert our parental voices, to deliver messages that she did not like to hear, while trying to respect her need, necessity and right to establish her autonomy.

The blurred lines—so blurry and confusing sometimes. But it helps to be a united front. It helps that my husband and I can turn to each other for help and guidance on how to parent a college student. This is brand new, it’s unknown, and it is complicated. I am truly grateful to have a co-captain to help navigate these unchartered territories.

Heading home, I feel good. Time did what it was supposed to do. It healed. It helped put things in perspective and make sense of things that didn’t make sense to me right away. It forced me to deal with and accept the here and now. And most importantly, it forced me to let go and to come to terms with the sheer terror I felt in letting my daughter go. I realized that in sending my daughter to college, I was much more afraid for myself than for my daughter. I was afraid that I would lose her, that I wouldn’t feel complete without her in my house.

And neither of those fears became a reality. She went to college. She’s happy. We are connected. And my house is a bit quieter. And it’s nice to have a little extra time to focus on the rest of my family and my writing. I am good with that.

“Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we needed to know.”-Pema Chodron

Comments

  1. We have our daughter’s Parent’s Weekend this weekend. I can’t wait to see her in her environment. Saying “goodbye” is always so hard.

  2. You captured the Parents’ Weekend experience perfectly. Excitement, apprehension, joy, and that bit of sadness when we have to say goodbye. Nice post.

  3. It’s so helpful to see “previews” from other moms. How easy it can be to wish away the time, the time my kids spend terrorizing the house as toddlers and the sheer exhaustion I can feel of them. Thank you for sharing and helping me tackle my future a little bit at a time. Maybe it will lessen the blow.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jen. I remember those days so clearly! The saying, “the days are long but the years are short really holds true” and I admit to wishing many of those early days away too!Perspective is always good but know that the stage you are in truly is exhausting on so many different levels. Yes, I pinch myself as I now have a daughter in college, but at your stage…I was pinching myself to stay awake! Try to enjoy the time with your little ones but keep the perspective that they do grow up and just when they get really interesting and fun to be around they LEAVE :). Crazy thing, this motherhood gig is!

  4. I love this! Even though my daughter left for college ten years ago, I can still remember the emotions and the concern that, as you said, we would lose our connection. I went through the same thing again last year when she married. I’m trying to be mindful that she and her husband (whom I adore) are a new family unit and while I will hopefully always have a special place in her life, he is and should be the most important person in her life. Change is hard. Being a mom of a daughter who has left the nest is also hard!

    • Thanks Mo for your insight! Wow, mother of the bride! That scares me already! We just watched Father of the Bride and I love Steve Martin’s line when he says, “You worry about your daughter dating the wrong guys and then you worry about her dating the right one.” Watching our daughters grow up is joyful but the letting go part is painful for sure!

  5. Aww, so glad it was a good weekend, and that you left feeling full (both by food as well as by feeling). I think it’s wonderful you came to that realization that you were more afraid for yourself than for your daughter. I have a feeling many parents never come to that point. I also think that because we are living in such a technologically advanced age, it’s hard to know how much to communicate and when it’s “too much.” When we went to college, there was only letter-writing or land lines for phone calls, so there wasn’t much choice. I think I called home twice a week because how often were you in your dorm room and available to have a phone conversation with your parents, right? Anyway, great post and Go Blue! 🙂

    • Thanks, Emily. Yes, very different today than it was for us! The technology today is a blessing and a curse at the same time. And yes, that realization about my fear being more about me than her was a very tough one for me but I actually felt so much better once I allowed myself to be honest about it. Thanks again for reading and commenting and glad you are home with your Little Dude!!

  6. So glad it went well!

  7. I can relate. My girl stayed at home. She is just finishing up her student teaching so she can be certified, otherwise she would have graduated in May. My boy goes to DePaul. a whole 40 minutes or so away. I cry every. single. time. I drop him off. He just started his Junior year. (and I have never been to a parents weekend… :/ )

    Have you seen that commercial? “on the day I became yours, you became mine” (spoken from the child’s view) Oh man. I just need to remind myself that they love me too. Now why am I crying??
    It is very hard to let go. VERY HARD.

  8. Julie, I’m so glad you are finding peace with this transition. I LOVE the advice you received about how you and your daughter are always together, you are in her and she is in you. xoxo

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