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Launching and Letting Go of Your College-Bound Student

Dear Parents,
Hopefully this summer has been full of good memory-making moments for your family. As you may have anticipated, your life is about ready to change. Sending a child off to college is a major transition that affects the entire family.
If this is your first offspring heading off to college, the launching and letting go phenomenon is all new and you may be understandably apprehensive about how it will affect the balance of the family mobile, as everything will begin to shift and change.
No doubt, lots of energy has gone into purchasing the laptop computer, extra-long sheets and shower caddy, but now it is hard to think of that childhood room being empty and a vacant chair at the next family meal
If you’re saying goodbye to an upperclassman, you pretty much know the back-to-college routine by now. Your student will probably be packing his or her own things this time, and you may be very ready to see them, with their emerging independence, head back to stay up all hours of the night somewhere else besides in your home.
You’ve loved having them, but you’re glad they feel so at home and happy at their college. It’s certainly easier to say goodbye the second or third time around, and you’ll look forward to seeing them at Thanksgiving.
As the college departure date looms ahead for freshmen, however, parents and collegians alike may be feeling a combination of apprehension, sadness and fearfulness, tinged with excitement. Hearts are full of hope and expectation as well.
It is normal for tension to develop in a family brimming with such a variety of emotions. If these remain unspoken, irritated eruptions between family members may result. If feelings can be honestly shared, the last days together in the family may be more productive and enjoyable.
Siblings shouldn’t be overlooked in the flurry of preparation. This parting experience with their older sister or brother, who by now may be a friend as well as a mentor, can be difficult and wrenching. They will definitely feel the loss, but on the upside, they haven’t yet experienced having the bathroom all to themselves.
One of the traditions of parting college students seems to be a never-ending round of goodbyes with old high school friends, up until the night before their departure. This is a necessary element of separation from the familiar life they have known. In a sense, this is one more step in saying goodbye to childhood.
Goodbye to the family is more difficult and is usually delayed until the very last moment, at the curb in front of the dorm. This is a poignant encounter. Everyone senses that someone is being taken off the “family mobile,” and it will take a while before the mobile will find its balance again.
Important to remember is that the family unit, although physically apart, is bound by shared moments and memories throughout the years. It is held together by family traditions celebrated a million times, and it is surrounded by the love of extended family members.
This “spirit of family” does not end with a child going away to college. It remains strong within the hearts of the collegian and her family. Yes, life will be different, but love bridges the gap.

1. Go over basic skills before leaving home: laundry, money matters, health issues, etc.
2. Before departure to college, schedule a fun event for siblings and your collegian to share.
3. Plan a parent-student dinner to discuss expectations, budget and social life and agree on a communication plan. Share stories of your own college days — the fun and foibles.
4. Think of ways to share family traditions with your college student, including these in care packages. Send one the second week of classes.
5. At the dorm curb, remember the best goodbyes are short and positive. This is not the time for more advice and admonitions. Convey your excitement and confidence that your child is capable of handling whatever comes along.
6. Keep this moment private, brief, sincere and loving. Give your student a big hug, tell her you love her and will be in touch soon. Then head to your car.
Letting go is a gradual process of allowing your college-age child to take more and more responsibility for their own life. In this process, children learn how capable they really are, and parents can see what a good job they’ve done raising them. None of this happens if a parent continues to manage and cling, not trusting the emerging capabilities of their child.

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