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How to "Let" Your College Student Go to College

A girl walks outside on a University campus next to a lawn and a large building.

Dropping your kid off at college, whether it is the first time or not, can be an emotional, scary, and exciting experience. But how do you process those feelings? In today's blog, Marriage and Family Therapist Willa Williams gives four insights on how to deal with your child leaving for college and moving forward with your own adventure.

Well, it is that time of year, when school starts up again. But this year has a special excitement and significance to it! After much anticipation, students are able to be back in person, together again. For college freshmen and sophomores in some parts of the country, this is their inaugural college experience – finally!! It is something that they have been dreaming of and waiting for with great anticipation.

It is a new experience for some of their parents as well. While it may be exhilarating to see their child be able to go away to school and begin their college adventure, it also can be a difficult, painful time. Children leaving home can be oh so bittersweet!  

If you are finding yourself in that bittersweet season, take heart! You are not alone! Here are some helpful thoughts for consideration to assist you as a parent in your next new adventure as well.

First, be honest. It is okay to feel what you are feeling. Pretending, ignoring, or covering up the fact that you are feeling sadness does not actually make it go away. It just goes underground to fester and leak out in other areas of your life. Being honest is the first step in being able to cope and process the sadness.  

Second, recognize that you are grieving. You are going through a grieving process. You are closing the door on a chapter in your life and in the relationship with your child. Yes, you are embarking on a new one, but this one has been so great and fun. It is okay, and healthy, to grieve that it is over. In fact, being able to grieve that this door is closing will actually make it easier to make your way to the next doorway. As I heard one parent describe it, “My child had to leave, and I had to grieve.” 

How do you treat one of your friends who is grieving? Do you expect them to get over it? Do you expect them to just be okay? My guess is that you are patient and kind with them and that you take the time to let them talk about their pain. Please extend that same kindness to yourself and to your spouse.

Third, remember that this is the way it is supposed to be. Our children are not meant to live with us as children forever. Just like apples ripen on the tree and then drop off to start a new life cycle, so it is with our children. They are ready to go and start their own lives as adults. And you have prepared them to do just that. You have taught, guided, assisted, and coached them. Now it is time to let them take what you have given them and put it into practice. Now is when you can experience the joy of seeing the fruits of your loving labor.  

As your child goes off to school, you move from having the role of “coach” to having the role of “consultant.” If you would like to read more on these different progressive parenting roles, please read my blog on parenting.

Lastly, remember that your children aren’t really all yours. They were entrusted to you by the Lord for just a time, just a season. They are His, and He has great plans for them. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us, “'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” As much as you love them, God loves them infinitely more. You can entrust them to Him.  He will take great care of them. He will lead, guide, protect, and provide for them, and will do it immeasurably better than you ever could. And you will get a front-row seat to the great things that He will bring into their lives and do with their lives!

This season is so hard and bittersweet – I really know! And I think it is okay to share your feelings with your child. Let them know that you love them so incredibly much and that it is going to be so hard to not share daily life with them anymore. But also share with them that you are so incredibly proud of them, so grateful that you get to be their parent, and that you are so thrilled that they are ready to go on to their next adventure. You are so excited for what God has for them, and you want them to experience all of it without worrying about you.  

Leaving your child at school doesn’t mean that your relationship with them is over. It just means that it is changing and moving into the next, normal phase, which can also be so good. You get to experience a relationship with them as a delightful adult.  

Remember, you are not going through this difficult season alone. The Lord is with you, and He is compassionate. He had to let go of His Son for a season, too. As the psalmist says, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me” (Psalm 16:8). He will be with you as you close one door and move through the next doorway. He will never leave nor forsake you and will stay with you as you move through all of your seasons and stages. He will always be with you...