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7 Ways to Survive Sending Your Child Off to College

7 Ways to Survive Sending Your Child Off to College

If you hang around church long enough, you’ll hear people say children are a blessing from the Lord. 

The Lord agrees. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth” (Psalm 127:3-4 NIV).

While I don’t disagree, the term blessing doesn’t quite cover the emotional wreckage that comes with being a parent. Raising children might be the most difficult, heart-wrenching, joyful, and rewarding journey I’ll ever take.    

When my kids were small and needy, I fantasized about sleeping past sunrise and taking long showers. As they got a little older, I wished for quiet, messy-free meals. Fast forward another few years and my daydreams veered more toward visions of not constantly tripping over scattered clutter and shoes.  

Then my oldest graduated from high school and moved four hours away for college. Suddenly I longed to be shaken awake early. I missed those two-second showers. I craved our loud, crazy dinners. I’d even take the multiple stubbed toes if I could hit rewind and bring him back.   

I couldn’t, and he wasn’t supposed to. But that didn’t make letting go any less hard.     

As parents, letting go is something we do a lot of over the years. 

Letting go is scriptural. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV). God doesn’t tell us to chain our children to their rooms and under our rules forever. He tells us to train them to go out and live their own lives.

Letting go is part of parenting. It’s the end goal of our big-picture job description—to prepare our kids to navigate the world on their own. We’re not supposed to keep them close and protect them forever. 

But just because letting go is normal and good and comes alongside many exciting milestone moments doesn’t mean it feels good. Some of my monumental letting go moments felt like this:

First step—heart stretching. 

First day of kindergarten—heart flip-flopping.

First night away—heart clenching.  

First solo drive—heart revving.

First date—heart kicking. 

First day away at college—heart breaking.

While we don’t pack our kids up and launch them full-speed ahead down the highway of life at 18, our relationship with them begins to change and transition between parent and child to parent and advisor and finally to parent and friend. But often not without potholes and speedbumps. Especially the more sheltering we’ve been.  

Two months before my oldest headed to school, something odd happened. We morphed into different people almost overnight. He kicked off a jailbreak campaign when his freedom had never been threatened. And I jumped into the role of jailor—or helicopter parent—when I’d never played one before. 

The more he pushed me away, the tighter I struggled to hold on. Where there’d never been issues between us, our days melded into one confrontation after another. We’d argue. He’d rebel. I’d cry. 

And I couldn’t figure out why. 

After he left, hindsight—being the double-edged sword it is—showed up to label that summer for what it was. The growing pains of transition in our relationship. The beginning of that letting go process. 

How that plays out in your family will vary because our personalities and our relationships vary. Not just from family to family, but even from kid to kid. Some kids rebel. Others shut down. Sometimes the process is loud and jolting. Sometimes it’s quiet and disturbing. And even if your child is sticking around and going to community college, the dynamics between you will change. You no longer have a kid living in your house, you have an adult. Who still sometimes still acts like a child. Who sometimes still needs you, but doesn’t want to. 

So as parents who have to let go, how can we deal?  

Here are seven ways I survived sending my son off to college. win a scholarship in biblical studies from Crosswalk University

1. Breathe. 

Seriously. Inhale and exhale. Take a moment. Grab some quiet time. Saying goodbye for the first time is a life-changing, epic moment, but the world isn’t ending. No one is dying. Even though your heart might be telling you otherwise. 

College doesn’t mark the end of your relationship, it signals the beginning of something new and exciting for both of you. Give yourself permission to accept and believe it. In the meantime, just breathe. 

2. Accept what you can’t control.

It’s been your job to protect and nurture and create a safe, loving environment for your kids. Sending them out in the world can be terrifying if you’re a control freak like me. But don’t dwell on the what if’s. They’ll drive you crazy. 

You’ve had 18 years to model positive behaviors and good choices for your kids. You’ve also had 18 years to teach them about redemption when your behavior hasn’t been so stellar, and you’ve had to apologize for your mistakes. Once your child leaves your house, there will be tons of situations you can’t control. And that’s okay. Accept what you can’t control and move on. 

3. Concentrate on what you did right.

My first inclination as I was packing my son to move into the dorm was to agonize over all the things I’d done wrong. Stupid stuff, like had I taught him to change his sheets or to not put anything in the dryer that was 100 percent cotton? And serious stuff. Did I raise him to be kind, forgiving, non-judgmental? Did I ingrain in him to stay pure, make good decisions, and put the Lord first? Did he realize that sometimes what seemed like small choices came with huge consequences? 

Over the years, you’ve done more right than wrong. Make a list of your strengths as a parent and trust that your words and actions have made a positive impact—even if you don’t see the results quite yet. Instead of wrestling with what you did wrong, concentrate on what you did right.    

4. Open lines of communication.

If you’ve never felt comfortable being open and honest with your child, now’s the time to start. It isn’t too late to begin a dialogue, even if your only in-depth discussions thus far have been about your fantasy football draft. Make yourself available. Don’t waste your chance to deepen your relationship. From here on out, your relationship will supersede any rules you’ve laid down.  

Go first. Be vulnerable. Talk about your own experience leaving home. Share mistakes and consequences as well as exciting events. If you get real with them, they’ll feel safe enough to get real with you.  

5. Have a plan.

When my kids were young, we didn’t have cell phones, so when we went to a theme park or the zoo or even the grocery store, we made a plan if they got lost. Meet here, and I’ll find you. The time to make that plan was before they got lost. It wouldn’t have done much good after. 

There are a lot of places—metaphorically speaking—to get lost in college. A lot of new experiences and opportunities and choices. Some good. Some bad. Brainstorm possible scenarios, and ask how your child how he’ll handle this pressure or that temptation and put a plan in place before the theoretical becomes reality.    

6. Be a safe place.

We all need shelter from the storms of life. Somewhere to vent. Somewhere to turn in a moment of confusion or panic or crisis. Somewhere to feel loved and safe. Especially when we’re out on our own for the first time. And the cool thing is, regardless of the miles between you and your child, you’re a phone call away.  

Depending on the choices your child makes, he may have to live with his actions. But he doesn’t have to live with them alone. You can’t take consequences away, and you shouldn’t, but you can walk alongside him. When your kids mess up—and they will—be their safe place. 

7. Make a prayer list.

Because it’s sometimes hard to breathe, accept what you can’t control, concentrate on what you did right, open the door for communication, make a plan, and be your kid’s safe place, take it to God. When you feel lost or worried or afraid or out of control, God doesn’t. 

There will never be at time when you’re completely helpless as a parent. Because you can always pray. In the end, it’s God who watches over our kids. God who changes their hearts. God who leads them forward into a lasting relationship with Him. And knowing that how my kids’ lives turn out it isn’t all up to me is the most solid comfort I can find. So when you feel like you can’t do anything, make a prayer list. And then pray.

Publication date: August 15, 2016