When Your Child Goes to College: What to Expect

A mother’s advice for sending kids to college


July 22, 2016

When the time comes to send the kids to college, make sure the parents are ready, too.


It was this time of year five years ago when my older son was excitedly anticipating leaving home and beginning his freshman year at college. We made it through high school senior year, celebrated graduation and enjoyed our summer. We attended college orientation and felt reassured and confident in our decision.

Life was good. Our son was so ready for this next step in his life. We were overwhelmingly proud and excited for him. Then, August came – like a freight train. Reality set in. And unexpectedly, my heart felt like it was ripped in a million pieces.

Move-in day was only a few weeks away. Our evenings were filled with shopping trips, a scavenger hunt of the “things to bring to college” list. Our dining room was overtaken with extra-long twin sheets, a mini fridge, electronics, cleaning supplies (questionable whether they were ever used), and other college necessities. Our son’s free time was spent with childhood friends who soon would be scattered among universities throughout the country. Our family time became more limited – more meaningful, more cherished.

It became vividly apparent that our lives were changing – in a big way. Yes, logically, I knew my son was an intelligent and capable 18-year old but somehow, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks from the first day of kindergarten.

Is he ready? Will he be able to balance it all? I hope he doesn’t jog alone at night. Will he pick the right career? Does he know that the friends he chooses will likely become life-long friendships? I hope he chooses wisely. And the list went on and on.

A few years later, our family had another transition year. My older son started his final year in college and my younger son embarked on his college journey. Though it wasn’t our first rodeo and he chose to stay in town, which made the transition a little easier, I still had all the feels.

It makes me realize that my kids were ready, but mom wasn’t.

And it’s not as much about them leaving home. Face it, how much are our teens home anyway? It’s more about the other stuff.

Ending this chapter in our lives and preparing for a new one to begin.

Letting go, trusting our children, and embracing their independence.
Becoming sentimental over the memories of when our children were young and depended on us.
Grieving that perfectly tight little family unit, under one roof with daily shared activities.
Grappling with “How in the world am I old enough to have a child in college?” And where did all the years go?

As I faced with these emotions the first time around and again a few years later, I also reflected on lessons I had learned from my own experience and the advice of dear friends who helped guide us through this phase of our life.

Life moves on.

I’m not going to lie. The ride home without the college kid in the back seat is rough. And the first week is not much better. It’s also tough on the younger sibling who is left behind. But with time, you adjust and life moves on – with the anticipation of parent football weekends, comforting phone calls, weekend visits and holiday homecomings.

It’s not about you.

I became keenly aware that whatever was going on with me was not allowed to rob my child from one of the most exciting and joyful times of his life. Share in your child’s excitement and anticipation. This is about their time, their life – not ours. Channel your stoic self.

They’ve got this.

If you have a child who sleeps through the alarm and loses his car keys three times a day, I know this is hard to believe. But really, they’ve got this. Step back. They really do find their way and step up to the plate.

They still need you.

There’s that fine line of letting your child soar and being connected enough to know that things are OK. We all know that there are pressures in college. Expect that there will be some set-backs and challenges – and know when your child needs you. Occasionally, they do still do need us. Yes!

Sandi Studans is a working mom of two college age sons. A resident of Franklin, Tenn., she enjoys the beach, gardening, reading and most of all, spending time with her family, preferably at the beach.