Before He Leaves for College...

Updated on March 18, 2015
P.M. asks from Mechanicsburg, PA
14 answers

We live in Pennsylvania. Our oldest is headed to TX in less than 3 months. He'll be attending college there in the fall...and for various reasons (already has a summer job in TX and wants to do a college summer session to get a jump on things among other reasons) is leaving within a week of his early June graduation. He will be attending his dream school and has the full support of his dad and me to follow his passion.

That said... we are a tight knit family of 4. Our other child is a daughter...who is 15. She is already in tears probably once a week or so because they are so close and she will miss him fiercely.

His intent is to be commissioned into the Air Force upon his college graduation. That said...we know the reality is that once he leaves...he'll most likely never be home again for any extended period of time.

We want to make the most of his last 3 months at home. I want to create as many memories as we can and just enjoy the time as a family. We have a trip planned to NYC to see Les Miz, a trip to the beach and a number of other family events on the calendar.

My question is - for those who have had kids go this far away to college...what advice can you give me for these next few months? What did you do with your child before he/she left that was great, or what do you wish you had done that you didn't do?

What do you know now that you wish you had known before he/she left?

How can I help my daughter? I know he'll stay in touch via skype...text etc...and we'll visit him when we can...but it won't be the same as having him here at dinner each night. Not only will he be gone...but his great crew of friends (who are often at our house) will be going their separate ways as well. It will leave a hole to be sure. I think it would be easier if he were going somewhere that he'd come home a few times a semester but that's not our reality. AND...the last thing I want to do is make him feel guilty for his choice. It's a great school...and I'm so happy for him and proud of him...just need to know the best way to navigate these next few months.


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answers from St. Louis on

We never considered this country that big. You can always visit, they will always visit home. I never did anything special and everyone was fine.

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answers from Boston on

I think it's lovely and understandable that you want to do all these things. I have to caution you, though, that this may not be the best idea.

There is a normal amount of distancing that goes on, and should go on, before a transition like this. The harder you make this by having a series of "one last" events because they will never, ever happen again and he will never, ever be home again, the worse you are likely to make it for everyone. Your daughter is already having a terrible time, and it sounds like you are too. Your son needs to be able to separate well and be excited, not be homesick over everything he will miss (you, his friends, his town) or feel guilty because his departure is making everyone miserable. There's a lot about college that is exciting, but it's also stressful, and accentuating all the things that are familiar and he'll never do again may be the worst this for him as well.

Do you remember when he went to preschool and kindergarten? Did you tell him how great it was going to be, or did you tell him how very sad it was that things will never be the same because he wouldn't be home with you anymore? I'm sure you encouraged him and also didn't make it seem like a huge life-changing event, because you knew it would stress him out. So, frankly, although he's older now, he's still not fully developed mentally and emotionally.

A lot of kids don't come home several times per semester, no matter where they go to college or how far away it is. It's just not feasible, even for those who live an hour or two away. They are making a life where they are, and they are absolutely inundated with work. No matter how good a student a kid is, he's in college with a whole bunch of similarly-skilled kids, and someone there needs to be at the bottom of the grade curve!

Hopefully you have factored air fare into your college budget, and you know he will be home at Thanksgiving and maybe for a fall break before that. Make your plane reservations as soon as you can. When he comes home, he's not going to want to do a bunch of activities either - he's going to want to sleep endlessly and probably see some high school friends.

I imagine these next few months will be filled with things "for the last time" as the seniors gear up for graduation parties and proms or whatever is on his schedule, and those are all "transitional" events for the kids. Be prepared that he may be distancing himself from you a bit for all of that too, running off with friends who will be going their separate ways.

I don't know how graduation parties work where you are - around here, the kids just set them up, usually 2 a weekend, all through June and into July. So ask your son what he wants, and be sure his party (if he wants one) gets scheduled early. If he'd rather have something else, like a family weekend or a trip to an amusement park, let him vote on that.

I think you can best help your daughter by saying that her brother is prepared for - and preparing for - his departure, and that these milestones are inevitable and great. Point out the things she has left behind as she moved forward into better things - less supervised time, going to the mall and movies with her friends (and no parental chaperones), her soon-to-be learner's permit, her turn for proms and yearbooks and dating and so on. Mama birds boot the babies from the nest, not because they don't want them, but because the babies aren't really babies anymore, and they need to soar.

Plan on Parents' Weekend or some other time when she can go and see him there, and encourage her to start (just start) thinking about her own future. Your son sounds extremely focused, and please let your daughter know that 95% of teens are NOT that determined re Air Force or other jobs. She does NOT need to know her dream school (she might find several that are great), she does not need to know her major or her ultimate job choice. She just needs to look ahead at college as a chance to figure out the next phase in her life, which is living independently at school and making friends. That's all. Not a major, just what courses to take for one semester. Not a life plan, just a fun few friends and activities. Do what you need to do NOW so she starts to develop herself outside of her family. Please trust that the closeness you have will always be there - your family sounds awesome and caring and warm and loving. You won't lose that - you will only build on it. Do celebrate what you have accomplished, which is raising a strong and determined son who is ready to leave the nest.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My kids were ready to get the heck out. The months before they left they weren't particularly dying to spend time with mom and dad; they were all into their own social scenes. So we didn't do anything special that I can recall.

The lack of my kids and their friends in the house did leave a hole, for sure, because we had once been a very busy household.

What do I know now that I wish I had known before they left? How much getting the heck out of the house would improve them. My kids matured greatly after moving out, so it's all been good. My son just popped in last weekend, and now that he's been off to college for a year, he's such a joy to be around and talk to.

Oh, and the other thing I learned after they left is that they actually end up coming home quite a bit, with all the holidays. Time flies, and then they're back for a visit.

There's no way to help your daughter that I can think of -- she's just going to have to get used to his absence and skype and text him as much as they both want to.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

My husband is the one that was most upset and concerned when our daughter was getting ready to leave for college. I made sure that she was given the opportunity to visit with her friends as much as possible while still in town. I also set up visits with extended family. We went to meals with them, invited them over for occasions as much as possible.

I allowed our daughter to request meals, and activities.. Movies, festivals, the fun things we do here in Austin.

I also encouraged her to ask us any questions about anything.

Make sure your son has all of his insurance information. A bank account in the town he will be living in.. Keep in mind the cell phone carrier you have right now, may not be the best for the city he will be living in. We switched over that freshman fall semester because her coverage was not very good up in the area of her college.

But also keep things as normal as possible. He does not need to feel stressed or concerned about the family right now.

You continue to tell him you are excited for him. That you know he will be fine. That he is free to contact you at any time.

You tell your daughter she will finally be an only child! That she will be able to text her brother any time and if course call him.

Consider if there will ever be a time sister could go for a visit. I recall my sister visiting me for a weekend my spring semester of my freshman year. She loved it.
It is a change, but as long as you realize he is getting to have his dream college experience, it makes it a bit more bearable.

Congratulations to you son. He sounds quite remarkable.. You will survive.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Ok, slow down. I realize that he's moving far away and is currently planning a career that will probably not bring him back home, but ...

Sometimes these kinds of plans work out. Sometimes plans change. Just about everyone I know who thought they knew what they wanted to do with their life at 18 changed their minds at least 1 time if not 3 or 4. You never know what might change. If there was one place on this earth I never thought I would be raising my kids, that would be my home town, Springfield, IL ... and I now live about 5 miles north of there ;-)

I encourage you to stop thinking about everything you'll miss and just enjoy what you have. Yes the dynamics will change, but your daughter will get more of your attention. She might even explore new options and gain some independence without her brother around.

I'm just concerned that by making a big deal about everything, you are actually making this a bigger deal in your mind.

Relax, your son is not going away forever.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

The best way I've found to deal with change is to accept that change happens and you learn to adjust to a new normal each time. Your son is setting off on an exciting adventure as he become more independent and turns from your son into a man making his way in the world. Rejoicing in his journey makes for less time to worry about how things won't be the same. Who knows he may hate the school and end up transferring somewhere else next semester.

Your daughter will do fine without her brother in the house. Most kids communicate via text all the time so really he's just a text or phone call away. Whatever you do don't put 100% of your time into your daughter to fill the void left by your son. That's a whole lotta pressure she doesn't need. Instead use this as an opportunity to gain a new skill or take on a new hobby of your own.

Lastly I'll tell you that things will be different but it'll be ok. I've watched 4 kids go from diapers to adults living on their own. We have always been close and not a day goes by when they aren't calling or texting me or each other. We are all still close because love doesn't care about location.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

It's the first real change in your life where your children are growing up and leaving the nest.

You want to do everything right away. Your son is thinking about what he is going to do and how he is going to to do it and leave the nest.

One day you knew this day would come. You just never envisioned it to come "so quickly" as it did only 18 years later. Perhaps you could cut out one of the planned trips to spend quiet time at home.

When we moved back to the states, our son had just graduated high school and was trying to find himself as he now was not the big brother as such to protect sister in school he felt lost. Daughter was trying to make new friends in school that were her own friends at the school in the neighborhood. We were trying to find a home to settle down in with household goods coming in from Europe and Las Vegas, NV. We did a
"16 Candles" to our son but it was 18 candles. He has forgiven us a long time ago.

My point is we all have changes in our life. We all embrace them and move on. Your son leaving the nest is a big deal and thrill as he is becoming a man. Once he has grown into a man, you will enjoy him as an adult. It will be different but he will still be your son in a bigger more mature size. My son thanked me for all that I had done for him on the day that he got married. Talk about a surprise - I didn't see that one coming. He was happy and gave me a huge hug at the end of the mother/son dance.

Time for you to find a hobby to fill in the void. Time for sister to find a few new things to do with her friends as well.

Before you know it, the four years will have come and gone and he will be an officer in the Air Force and on his way to a bright future.

Change is the only constant in life. It is how we accept the change that helps us grew into better human beings.

the other S.

PS I still go out and look at airplanes on the base near us and enjoy them. So once connected to the military kind of always connected to the military. Hubby retired at 23 years.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

A lot of people have spoken about how to handle your son. I'm going to offer a bit of advice on your daughter. I was a firstborn, so I was never in her shoes. As I understand it though, sometimes the second born has a bit of culture shock, when in their teen years, the older one goes off to college, and all of a sudden they are an "only child."

Try not to fuss over her more than you would have otherwise because the nest is emptying. It can be tough.

F. B.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

awwwwww. {{{{{{}}}}}
what a wonderful and incredibly sad time! i hear ya. i too tried to slow time during my kids' last few months at home with us. how we love them. how we miss them. but how proud we are of them doing what they're supposed to do, getting out there in the world and leaving the enchanted castle behind.
the only thing i can suggest is probably the hardest- try not to glom onto every golden moment thinking 'it's one of the last! i've got to glom onto it!'
it's counter-intuitive, but that's the best way to sabotage it. try to relax, let go, laugh and enjoy. THOSE are the best memories, the spontaneous joyful ones. and those are the ones that will draw him back home to visit often.
hang in there, mama! you've done a GREAT job, and you'll be okay!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

I'd be trying to keep activities to an absolute minimum so we could spend TIME together without trying to travel and plan stuff and meet deadlines within deadlines...I'd want to spend time home with my child helping them shop for whatever, accompanying them on errands, family meals, as much down time as possible to savor.

Once I left home I visited parents very rarely. But not all people are like that! If you guys are a tight-knit family, you WILL see him on lots of breaks. I'm in Pennsylvania and I'm AMAZED at how the families are all in tact around here. Even the people who left for college and military service seem to have come back here to settle down! My neighbor was freaking out about her daughter leaving home for college, and her daughter was posting all this "I can't believe I'm leaving" stuff on FB....only to find out her college is 40 minutes away. She's home every break. And she's going to seek employment locally when she's done with school. Not the same as your son, but just saying, it's hard for EVERYONE.

My husband is tight with his family in another state and sees them several times per year for long visits and he's 46!

So try not to think that he's gone forever! Also, with technology, you'll be in daily contact until people comfortably transition to less than daily contact--but then back to daily contact whenever they want....Shoot when I left home for a big city, I called my parents from a pay phone like once per month and my apartment didn't have a phone! They literally could not reach me and if they weren't home when I called, I couldn't reach them! How times have changed.

When I left home, I didn't notice my parents "doing" anything special, but they were there for me while I prepared to leave, and I appreciated it. My mom took me shopping for some things and we had a fancy lunch which was a rare splurge. I left on a train for art school in Paris from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany (well Kaiserslautern was the train station) and I'll never forget the tearful good byes SNIFFLE!!!!

This is such a natural adjustment. Pretty much every family goes through it. It's OK for it to be hard for your daughter and your family. Just show understanding and allow the feelings she has. It will be OK. Really. She'll get sick of texting him and talking to him once she realizes he's in Texas, not on Mars, and his voice is only a couple digits away.

Don't get me wrong, when my kids leave I'll be a total wreck. But I'll have to survive. Lots of simplified, quality, down-home, local time is what I'd be after in the months prior. Good luck, sounds like you have such awesome kids!!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I loved reading your post, as we are also a very close family, and my two boys are extremely close even though they are pretty far apart in age (6 years). My son will be a senior next year, so he's a year behind your son. I imagine I will feel much like you.

After reading the responses, I found Laurie's to have lots of practical, helpful information that I will need to tuck away for next year, but Diane B.'s really helped me think about things from a different perspective. I think she's right. It will probably be most helpful for everyone to try and keep things as normal as possible. It is a stressful time, and the normal routine will help everyone deal with the stress. I liked what she said about kindergarten, too. It's really a thought-provoking response.

At any rate, hugs to you. I'm right behind you!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

My children have not yet left the house, but I was that child not to too long ago. I left for Basic training 2 weeks after my high school graduation. I was one of the first people in my extended family to leave Idaho and set out on my own. Most of them thought I was crazy, some thought I was brave. I just wanted to live a more exciting life.

We didn't do anything special during the time leading up to my leaving, we just spent time together, and that was what was important. We had dinner at the table each night as a family, and spend time watching movies together or going for a walk just to talk. Those are the memories I took with me for when the separation got hard.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

The other part of it is to set up communication. I would not expect him to email daily or call daily, but when my SS did a semester abroad, we sometimes set up Skype to have dinner together. We've Skyped with my SD as well (her college is 5 hours away). Take pictures for everyone to have and wish him a bon voyage. It will be OK. Your DD will adjust to the new normal.

We did a last big family vacation to the UK before SS went to college. And we let SD have a party at the house the summer before she left.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I'll tell you what we did with my older son. We gave dinner parties for him and his friends at our house. I helped him design his graduation announcement, helped him write his first thank you note, helped him pick out clothes for all the festivities.

This really meant a lot to him. I felt that it was important that we acknowledge this rite of passage. I'm glad I did.

We let him go on a choir trip overseas right after graduation. He had been to this particular country before, and he ended up being his group's "tour guide", sharing all his knowledge with them. They loved it, he loved it. We didn't go because it was so expensive, but we knew he would have a great time.

After graduation was done, we started figuring out the residence hall stuff together. His dad talked to him, and I talked to him about what to expect. Then we started doing the shopping together, deciding on banking stuff, discussing car insurance, etc.

I drove my son 16 hours to his college. I helped him move into his dorm room. He saw how much stuff cost - Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target were godsends because I needed to buy some stuff locally. We found a place to get his hair cut and I "taught" him what to say to the hairstylist since I wouldn't be there to do any of the talking. (Funny how boys don't know how to do this...)

The other thing I did for my son was to make a scrapbook/photo album for him. It had pictures of him from when he was little, his theatre and musical performances, his friends at our house, his graduation cards along with pictures of him WITH the people who sent him the cards/gifts, his college acceptance letters, his honors and accolades, etc, etc. The book is 4 inches thick! He loved it and and still does.

What all this boils down to is that I took him on a journey, P.. Finishing out high school, loving the memories, documenting the memories, and then looking ahead to prepare for school in very concrete ways. We went down for Family Weekend two months later, and it was my son who got his friends and their families to come to the same restaurant for dinner as us - 20 of us were at tables together, talking together about our kids new lives and sitting there enjoying watching them enjoy each other.

My son is going to graduate in two months - how time has flown! We hope with fingers and toes crossed that he will be gainfully employed soon after graduation.

Like you, our son didn't go to college close by. We flew him home for Christmas, sometimes for Thanksgiving, and after his summer jobs ended. We don't see him very much. It is the way things are. We never worried about the "guilt" issue - he was going to school where he felt he needed to be, got a terrific scholarship too, and we were thrilled for him. What we did was let him know how proud we were of his choices and let him see our support by helping him navigate the waters. He is very independent now, which we appreciate and admire, yet he will call and ask for guidance when he realizes he needs it.

My younger son started college this past fall. Though far from us, he is within driving distance to family and it's nice that he can see them from time to time. He is still learning independence - he made me laugh a week and a half after taking him to school when he called me and said "Mom! Where are my PE clothes?" So funny! We're trying to help him learn how to interview now in hopes of him getting a summer job.

I'm sure you will do fine and your son will too. Just remember that college is a halfway house to life. They need space, but also need to know that you are just a phone call away to give advise and support.

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