How to be mentally prepared for your student leaving home for the first time for College

Please tell me I am not the only parent who feels this way. Anyone else feel as if they just dropped their child off at kindergarten?  And in one split second you blinked and your now young adult is about to start college? Welcome to the club new families! That was me, twice, and last year for my daughter’s first year at UMass Amherst. Yes, I am the proud mother of a student from the infamous high school class of 2020; and if I could do it, you can do it, too.  

Mentally, how does one prepare for your young adult leaving the nest? I am not an expert, and your mileage may vary, but I wanted to let you in on a little secret right up front. You will be fine and your child – now young adult – will thrive. But if you have any doubts, may I suggest the following 5 step program? 

Step 1: Breath! When in doubt, always remember and repeat Step 1 as often as necessary.  

Step 2: Let them take the lead! If they go shopping with their roommate-to-be and buy matching EVERYTHING, let them. If they feel they don’t need a coordinating color scheme, that’s fine, too. After all, they want to make their room their home for the academic year. So, go with it. For the record, my daughter and her roommate went with option 1 (everything, and I mean everything was coordinated!).  

Step 3: Remember how excited and possibly nervous they were when starting kindergarten? Realize they are likely feeling the same now and more than likely they don’t know how to express these feelings in a manner that you appreciate. Listen to them and don’t (or try not to) offer unsolicited advice. This step is very tough, and in my situation, I found myself referring back to Step 1 several times a day.  

Step 4: Resist the urge to go into their bedroom the night before they leave and hug them like they were a toddler in a deep sleep. Or cry in front of them when you drop them off at Move-in. However, feel free to stand outside their childhood bedroom door and cry, a little or a lot, your choice. I have no guidance on this particular step except to do right by your student.    

Step 5: Remind them how proud you are of them; how much you love them; and that you are here for as much or as little of their college life as they are willing to share. Then tell them that over and over and over again.  

You have raised a young adult who is ready to take on everything in their path, of course, in their own way and on their own timeline. They will make mistakes, period.  They may ‘fess up and ask for advice, or they may not.  Either way, we as parents and guardians need to remember what this journey meant to us “back in the day” and how much it means to them “right now”. And expect the unexpected – the unexpected texts, calls, memes, pictures or radio silence.  No matter how their journey goes, pat yourself on the back and be proud not only of them and their accomplishments thus far, but of yourself as well. Remember your young adult is ready to spread their wings and test the waters of adulthood. You each played a huge part in that process.  

Nevertheless, when in doubt, just breathe!

Gina is the parent of a UMass Amherst sophomore student and a member of the Parent Advisory Council.