How A Child Going Off To College Affects Long Island Parents

LED signage, red letters of Live On Campus, on black background
Image credit: photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash.

It might be your first child or your baby, but no matter which child it is in the birth order, the sadness and sense of grief that accompany this life transition can be overwhelming. Sometimes it seems like a small death, as if we can’t function normally. We become anxious, upset, and emotional.

Like grief, it may seem as if we can’t see past this huge loss in our lives. Maybe a little part of us knows that we will have a little more freedom for ourselves now, and we might even feel some guilt over that, but the larger part of us feels as if our heart is breaking.

Big Transition Ahead

Because this is a really big deal. It signals a transition into our next stage of life, perhaps makes us question our mortality, our own choices, our regrets and our “what might have been’s”.

Seeing a child leave to start their own lives reminds us all too much of how we were at their age: bright, hopeful, expectant of the future. We may be feeling – without even knowing it-–that our own lives have been put on hold until this point as we raised our families.

And now, when faced with the suddenly overwhelming blank page – we find ourselves struggling to put ink on the page. Struggling to figure out the next chapter in our own lives. What will we do with ourselves without someone there to nurture, to protect, to feed and to hold?

As mothers, we put so much of our identity into the children in our care that we sometimes forget our own identities. And when the kids leave home, it really is as if a part of us is leaving, too. We will be forced to confront our own choices and decide what’s really important in our lives. There will be no more hiding behind soccer practice and car pool; we will have to make choices that benefit ourselves, and nobody else.

It can be very daunting. But it needn’t be.

Feelings Of Loss Are Normal

Know that these feelings are very normal. The sadness that you feel is shared by mothers and fathers everywhere. The sense of searching and yearning is also very typical.

Sometimes, though, there is such an anxious preoccupation with the future loss that it interferes with the time that we have currently with our children. But we can’t let it. There is so much fun and excitement in preparing, packing, prepping, and just enjoying one another before your child leaves.

As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love - even the most simple action.

Suggests Eckhart Tolle, in his seminal work, The Power of Now.

Enjoy The Now

What he’s saying is that it’s important not to allow fears and anxiety and sense of future loss to stand in the way of enjoying “the now”. There will be plenty of time when they’re gone to feel loss and fear and anger, if that is what is coming up for you at that juncture.

But for this moment, we can let go of that. Anything that must be handled in the future can be handled by our future self – any problem or worry that arises can be handled at that moment. Right now, though, we have no problems, no worries.

Noticing Emotions

This does not mean to cover up our emotions. We can simply notice them and let them go so that they don’t get in the way. One way to do this is called “thought-stopping”.

We tell ourselves that: this thought is hurting me, it’s not helping me. And then find an additional phrase that resonates with you. Perhaps something like “My daughter/son is here right now. Let me enjoy this time.”

And, for your child’s sake, it’s important that they see that you don’t resent them for leaving or allow them to feel as if they are causing your sadness. It is unfair to cloud their happiness and excitement of going to college with our own fears.

While anger and resentment are perfectly natural response to a child leaving for college, we don’t want to share that with them. It might be good to let them know that you’ll miss them and feel sad about that, however you are still excited for them. 

Talking It Out

Working with a trained and licensed psychotherapist can help us to understand our thoughts and help us to temper any uncomfortable emotions.

We can learn – not how to battle sadness–but to recognize sadness and release it, and then transmute it into something more pleasant.

Nassau Guidance’s therapists have worked with many moms and dads in this transitional period, and have a thorough understanding of the emotion that comes with this exciting life transition. If you are struggling or overwhelmed, know that there is loving and compassionate help available.

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