College Drop Off: An emotional rollercoaster

The last week of August, I officially began the process of emptying the nest. Although I still have one still at home, dropping my son off at college ignited a rollercoaster ride of emotion. If I ever needed mindfulness to help me through something, this was it. As evolution would have it, a teenager ready for college is like a caterpillar emerging into a butterfly. This past year, my son has been breaking through the cocoon, one party at a time. The goal of senior year seems to be to piss off your parents and become independent, so that we are more than ready to push them out the door, and my case was no different. I barely saw my son, let alone talk to him for most of the summer leading up to his imminent departure. As a therapist, I know this is completely normal, but as a mother, it is one hard pill to swallow.
The weeks leading up to him leaving were exciting, but filled with spontaneous crying episodes (by me, not him), like the one I had in the Target toiletry aisle. It would just hit me that he was leaving and I instantly became a hot mess. Other times, I was counting down the days that I wouldn’t have to pick up his laundry off the floor and confront his dismissive attitude as he waltzed out the door for the night. Once the packing was done, which was a huge relief, I was ready for the hyperventilating that would ensue at drop off. I was picturing myself being hauled out of Delaware by my husband and breathing into a bag, like I did the first year of sleep away camp. Goodbyes have never been my thing.

To my surprise the drop off was anti-climactic and after two hours of setting up the dorm, he was off to meet his group (we did an early move-in program), and we were off to a parent reception. After a brief hug in the room, he said goodbye to me, and nodded his head to my husband as we drove away. Way to rip off the band-aid. I was surprisingly fine, as I truly believed that I prepared this boy well, did everything I could, and now it was his turn. It was a passing of the torch, a new beginning, filled with so many possibilities, and challenges. I have to trust that he will be resilient and handle the many joys and obstacles coming his way. Wow, could the drop off really be that easy? Not at all what I expected. Great, strong, and proud mom moment, way to go.

Now that I am back home without him, I am left to encounter my feelings of him being away but not gone. The house is very different now. I have to remind myself constantly that he is not here to account for. I am grieving in a way, because he is no longer in the house and honestly, I am sadder than I thought I would be. I am remembering to practice feeling my emotions and noticing them as they come and go without getting caught up in them, like I am trained to do. This will be process of ups and downs, sadness and joy, moments of pride and disappointments. I feel comfort knowing that it’s ok to feel a full range of emotions, not judging myself for it, but showing myself compassion during this transition. I will also be reminding myself that whatever happens, I will be able to handle it and deal with it in the moment, without worrying too much about the future. The ball is in his court now, and it’s time for me to let go. I just hope he texts me once in a while.

5 Replies to “College Drop Off: An emotional rollercoaster”

  1. I just love this article. It reminds me of when my daughter went off to college.
    Thanks for bringing back those memories. She turned out very well and I am so very proud of her. She’s one hell of a parent, wife and daughter.

  2. Sharon Shapiro says:

    You have done a great job being his mom. He will need you in different ways now. All of them just as important. I commend you on using the skills you have developed to assist you in this transition.
    Namaste, Sharon

  3. I can so relate to everything you are going through. I felt the same way when I dropped my son off at UD back in 2013. It does get easier every year, especially when he really looked forward to going back. We love that school and I’m actually missing all the things we used to do down there. Although, we are scheduled to go back for Homecoming and a few other events. I think this next stage is even tougher. He had a job lined up in the middle of his senior year and now he lives in a different state. That was much harder to deal with then being away at college. Now reality is setting in that chances of him ever living at home again is slim to none. But at least I know we did the best we could and I’m so proud of everything he has accomplished.

    1. Sounds like you did a great job with him! I guess the goal of parenting is to make them independent, so kudos! Even though it must be so hard…. Thanks for reaching out.

  4. Pretty much sums up exactly how things went this summer in our house, and the drop off too. I am very excited for my daughter…she seems to be doing great, having fun and is very happy. I am doing better than I thought, but miss her very much. Seems like it has already been much more than 11 days since move in day.

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