Leaving Your Kid at College

I have something to say about being the mom of a college student and it’s mostly because it’s that time of year. Parents are dropping off their children in droves at the dorm rooms and they are, of course, kind of a mess of emotions.

When my oldest daughter went to college it was at a small, private university in Missouri that was about 90 miles from our home. For her, that was just far enough away that I couldn’t just pop in to check on her and not so far that she couldn’t catch a ride home from someone on the weekends. Mallory didn’t come home all that often because I love visiting St. Louis dearly so I took lots of opportunities to say that I was shopping or going to the museums or parks or baseball games just so I could stop in and see if my girl wanted to have a lunch date with her mom.

The day we visited her university we were pretty much dragged down there by invitation of the university because she had applied to other colleges and got accepted, but this school was waiting on her to make a decision. What was holding her back was the fact that they required her to complete an artistic portfolio and senioritis had set way into her little bones and she flat out didn’t want to do it.


dorm door

Since I wrote the $25 admissions check to the university just to take a look at her application I was the one who insisted that she would do the portfolio. Oh, yes you will, young lady! I hadn’t bought all those art supplies for nothing. My daughter was going to use them if I had to tape the paintbrushes in her hand! Luckily, this wasn’t necessary and instead she did some wonderful photography work for her application and she was later admitted to the college.

The day our family dropped her off she was nervously avoiding any talk about how we were going to say goodbye and, as it turns out, moving day for any university ends up being very busy and full of activity. For this, I’d like to thank college as I was in desperate need of a distraction. We were met at the dorm by upperclassmen who took her belongings upstairs and then we rushed off for activities that ranged from seminars on how to let our children be adults to how our children will spend their time while on campus. We talked financial aid, learning styles, and letting our children “go” and “be adults”. Cryptically, they told us that they would help with this at the end of our day.

And help they did.

When students are admitted to college they often have no idea what they will major in and many students will change majors once they start taking classes that appeal to them and attract them to different colleges within the university. The admissions office holds all the applications on that first day and ceremoniously and symbolically set up the gymnasium so that all new freshmen would sit in rows of chairs on the main floor and the parents were asked to sit in the bleachers. I took my seat in the stands not quite knowing what to expect as I saw Mallory and a few new acquaintances sit together. It felt very much like a graduation ceremony as the registrar from the admissions office and the various deans of the colleges  sat on the stage. The College of Education, the College of Health Professions, and the College of Arts & Sciences were all represented. The speakers included a senior student and class officers as well. We listened to a speech about how our children would be getting all that they need in order to graduate a full and completely rounded member of society.

After a few short speeches, the registrar took an envelope full of names of these new college students and handed them over to the appropriate college. I listened carefully even though they didn’t call my daughter by name, but I knew that her name was in the envelope being handed over to the College of Arts & Sciences. In an act of symbolism, the registrar explained that we handed our children to her to admit to the university and that, now that they were admitted, she was handing them over to the college with which they would be intimately familiar over the course of four years. It was a Beginning for both the students and the parents. Once all of the internal colleges had their young charges, they closed with a prayer and promised to care for the children we were entrusting to them.

Then, they told us it was time to go.

That was a bit of a shock. It was around 4:00 in the early evening after a day was spent getting everything into place with the exception of helping our sons and daughters set up their dorm room. All we got to do was help move the furniture around in the room and meet her roommate and her parents. Mallory had always been quite the designer and was going to major in interior design anyway so this was a relief to her, I’m sure, that she could decorate however she wished. What I didn’t know I needed, however, was this push to just go home. If I were being honest, I would admit to wanting to stay until it was too late to drive home and spending the night on her dorm couch. If they didn’t help me leave, I would have lingered far too long. The university knew this about some of us parents and I required assistance in getting out of her hair and going home.

Leave your kids at college, parents. Even if they don’t help you with this process at least learn from what could have been a mistake for me to hang on and be one of those helicopter parents who hovers around trying to control everything.

When I left Mallory at college I truly left her. It severed something for me that I was going to struggle with because Mallory and I were and still are very close. As those four years passed I remembered that day and the symbolic gesture of handing her over so that her adult years could begin to take shape. She still called on occasion for help with her checking account and for financial aid and for help with writing papers. When I didn’t know it was time to go, they told me. For that, both Mallory and I are grateful as she wouldn’t be the incredibly independent adult that she is today. The time had come and I knew it was approaching, but I needed someone or something to step in to loosen my gripping fingers around her wrist.

It’s time to go, parents of college students. It’s time to let go.

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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