We dropped our daughter off at college for the first time yesterday. There have been surprisingly no tears yet from my husband & I. We both had a mix of feelings that were hard to place. After a good night sleep, the best way I can describe it is like child birth. I enjoyed the closeness of having my daughter in my womb - to me it felt like a person in there and I would talk to her and feel her kick and got to know her personality before she was born. But there came a time when I was ready to meet her on the outside – there was time that I wanted her out of my womb. Then she was born, and our relationship changed. It became much more real, more two-way. That’s how I see her transition to college. As a mom, I’ve been responsible for her for 19 years (including womb time). 19 years is a LONG time for me to be so focused on the care and responsibility of her mind, body, and soul. I feel like it is time for my daughter to be born into the next phase of her life.
I think, too, with face book and texts and email, it doesn’t really feel like she’s that far away. Maybe in 3 weeks or so it will hit me that she’s not here physically (that’s what the college said happens to the kids, at least. After 3 weeks they realize it’s not summer camp, but school away from home). My husband and I have talked about how I’m a youngest child, our son is a youngest child, my husband is a middle child, so our daughter was the only first born/oldest child in our home. I don’t like conflict, so I wasn’t comfortable going head-to-head with her like a mother who was a first born might feel comfortable doing. So my daughter pretty much had the run of the home. Especially this summer when we were letting her try out her adult-in-training wings, she reverted back to her 4 year old demanding self for the most part (although to the outside world she pretty much was still a hard working angel). So having her out of the house now is very much the breather for us.
She LOVES her college! My husband and I were very impressed with it, and feel that she is in safe guiding hands. She picked the right college for her next step. Even the little things she appreciates – she loves that there are 8 toilets and showers, and 6 sinks – she told me “This morning I didn’t have to wait to use the toilet or the shower!” Coming from a one bathroom home, she feels like she’s in the lap of luxury at college. She got up at 6:30am so she could take a shower and then go for a walk before breakfast. This is the girl that in our home slept until 2pm this summer. The professors/speakers told us that college is a time where kids try out their adult muscles, and that when they come home for Thanksgiving they may have changed quite a bit. I know that my daughter has the tools to really fly now – she just needs to use them around her family (us) as well as the rest of the world. It is a new place for us parents to be, to let our daughter pass to her next phase in life. To be born into adulthood, where parents are the supporters from the side, instead of the helicopter moms (that was brought up at one parent seminar, with quite a few nervous chuckles at the mention).
Now my husband and I can focus on our sons growth. We’ve told him about his sisters adventures so far and the fun she’s having, and now he is getting more excited for his own adventures at high school this year. His adventures include concentrating on his studies, being on the Cross Country team (his first sports team ever), and when he is 16 he wants to get a part time job. So he’ll be spending some of his free periods in the college and career center researching both colleges and careers, as well as internships and jobs.
I think having the weight of our daughters success OFF our shoulders and on her own has been a huge relief for my husband and I. I think sometimes when you’ve got a sensitive child, there’s extra stress on the parents because we don’t want our kids to be hurt. Our daughter is strong in many areas of her life, but she’s vulnerable and immature in other areas. She’s also expanding in so many areas we just don’t have the expertise to be all the things she needs anymore. So college has come at totally the right time.
I’m hoping that when she comes home for Thanksgiving, she will be a more contributing part of the family. I think having her stay in the newly created ‘guest room’ (her brothers old room) will help her understand that she’s no longer the princess in her attic castle. That she is now an equal and a participating adult in this family. Our son is excited about having the whole attic to himself. I’ve been putty-ing nail holes and painting. Before she left, my daughter and I went through all of her stuff and she took down each photograph, went through each article of clothing or memory, and either put it in a box to keep, recycled or threw it away. It was clearing the slate for her (and me). Her last night her walls were bare and her stuff for college was packed and waiting in the living room. Then when we took her up to her blank college room yesterday, we helped her make up the bed, get out her familiar clothes and things, and watched as she put up her decorations and posters. It was like a re-birth ritual, a welcoming to the new home ritual. It was something that she needed because she needs help to transition. This is the kind of mental gymnastics and behind the scenes planning I’ve had to do for her to keep her from throwing fits of fear her whole life. And to be quite honest, I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m done with that phase of her life. I could have spent years arguing with her, fighting her – but I knew deep down it was fear of transition that was behind much of her outbreaks and tantrums, and how do you punish someone for being afraid? I just couldn’t do that. I ended up having to work twice as hard, using strategies, etc. to make her (and our family life) look effortless. I’m exhausted. I’m ready for a break. Of course in public and with friends she was fine, and in fact quite exceptional in her skills. But if she was stressed she’d come home and take it out on the family – mainly me (probably many of you can relate).
My son and I have talked about this, and he agrees. We love her and we’ve worked with her, but as my husband says upon reflection ”She’s high maintenance”. I think now that she’s on her own and surrounded by so many loving hands, she’ll be able to turn the corner and turn her fear and high sensitivity into energy for positive change. At least that’s what I’m hoping will happen. And I’m going to do my best to create our home so that she’ll need to fit in with us as a helpful adult, not us catering to her. At least that’s what I’m hoping will happen.