Coping with your child going to college

Coping with your child going to college

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

As the flurry of school activities begins this fall, it can be bittersweet for some families. This time of year can bring a mixed bag of emotions for those who went through the joy of graduation this past spring, especially if your child has spread their wings and left home. As a mom who is currently going through this, it can be a tricky balancing act at times. Here are a few ways to help cope with your child going to college.

  1. Buckle in for the emotional rollercoaster. The tiny human you’ve raised is now a taller human who you know better than almost anyone. Your child is a piece of you that you are sending out into the world. If your child is heading back to a stateside college, the feeling of loss can be compounded as you return to your base overseas. When you mix the sense of grief with the sheer excitement you feel when you see them succeed on their own, it creates this weird jumble of emotion. It’s okay and completely normal. The bumpy ride will smooth itself out.
  2. Shift your focus to other relationships. When you’re missing your child, it can be hard to move your focus to anything else. The worry and anxiety can feel overwhelming, but they can also impact any remaining family members. By shifting your attention to these other relationships, you can help each other through and learn more about one another. While I miss my son, my husband and daughter are the ones I wake up to every morning. Refocusing on them has helped the three of us forge our new path forward.
  3. Keep in touch. During my son’s first week at college, I didn’t want to be that mom. You know, the one constantly texting their child or calling at all hours to make sure they’ve brushed their teeth or done their laundry. But I also knew he might be feeling a little homesick, so instead of being a harpy, I texted him a silly meme that made me think of him and left the ball in his court. He responded in kind, and we ended up in an epic GIF and meme battle. It’s okay to reach out and let them know you’re thinking about them.
  4. Give them space. “You can’t spell smother without mother” is a catchphrase I constantly have running through my head when I reach for my phone. Keeping in touch and smothering can be a fine line you don’t know you’ve crossed until you do. Give your student time and space. You’ve done the heavy lifting for almost two decades. It’s time to lighten the load and let them fly. It can be challenging, but you must. College is just as much about learning life lessons and skills as it is about academics. Know that you’ve given your child a solid foundation. They’re going to make mistakes and fail. It’s okay — they’re supposed to. By giving them space, they learn to work it out and foster their independence.
  5. Recognize you’re their safe space. As a parent, you’ve been your child’s safe space and fixer of hard things since they were little. Now that they’ve embarked on their journey, you're less of a fixer and more a guide and safe place. My son ranted about the bookstore not carrying some of the books he needed. Rather than rush on to Amazon and try to order them for him, I knew he just needed a place to vent and that he’d figure it out (which he did). However, if things are more serious and warrant intervention, don’t be afraid to ask and step in when needed.
  6. Plan visits. Living an ocean apart can create logistical and economic challenges when it comes to planning visits. Figure out when some long weekends of breaks are and if you can swing it, plan a trip to see your child. There’s a double bonus to planning early. It gives you something to look forward to, and ticket prices are usually less expensive. We recently purchased tickets for our son to come home for Christmas using saved points on one of our credit cards.

Adjusting to the new normal when your child heads off into the world takes time and patience. The emotions will hit at weird times (I cried in the commissary parking lot two days after drop-off day), and you may feel a bit lost. Give yourself grace and breathe. Know you have given them all the tools, and it’s now up to your child to use as needed. They, and you, are going to be okay.

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