Goodbye Parents, Hello College – Part 1

“You say goodbye and I say hello,” from the 1967 hit song,
Hello, Goodbye, by the Beatles 

According to Wikipedia, speaking about his popular song Paul McCartney “gave an explanation of its meaning in an interview with Disc: ‘The answer to everything is simple. It’s a song about everything and nothing. If you have black you have to have white. That’s the amazing thing about life.’”

One of those amazing life things will occur this week as millions of newly-minted college freshmen and their parents head to campuses all over the globe; students will be saying goodbye to their parents and hello to college life.

This process is sometimes tearful and usually filled with some trepidation. It’s at once an exciting and anxious passage for both students and parents, and a turning point in everyone’s life.

For parents, they’re facing the loss of a child living at home where they’ve been able to protect, shelter, instruct, comfort and guide.

For students, it’s leaving home where they’ve been cared for and supported and had daily contact with the most important people in their lives. But students are also looking forward to a very exciting transition. Going away to college is far different from sleep-away camp or summer educational programs. This time it’s going to be for a longer period and will lead to a new stage in life as legal adults. For the first time, students will be responsible to make their own decisions, for the short and long term.

Parents, on the other hand, are facing a transition of their own. And, if they’re dropping off their only or last child there’s a possibility that they’ll be facing empty nest syndrome to some degree.

To help make saying good-bye less disquieting and more enjoyable, following are some tips for parents from etiquette and empathic perspectives as well as from the standpoint of being a parent who has learned much from my daughter, Lyn, on the subject! (Next week I’ll provide tips for the new freshmen.)

Tips for Parents

  1. Discuss major issues before arriving on campus. The trip to campus should be light-hearted, upbeat and positive. All the heavy stuff should be out of the way, such as discussion on course selection for the first semester/year; whether you’ll be allowed access to your daughter’s or son’s records; who’s paying for what (tuition, books, meals, transportation, fees & dues, recreation, incidentals and other expenses); health and safety issues and concerns; behavior on campus; frequency of her checking in and communicating with you; what your new adult child can expect from you in the way of emotional and financial support during the school term; whether he will be coming home during breaks; whether you’ll be attending parents’ weekend; etc. Tours of the college and campus and your questions should have been accomplished on previous visits, so put them all aside on this day.
  2. Focus on your offspring’s settling in rather than your separation anxiety. Give her as much help as she wants and no more. If possible, help her with her luggage and boxes, but be prepared for her assurance that she can take it from there. Offer to help her set up any technology, unpack, etc., but accept her answer readily if she prefers to do everything herself or with the help of others. Resist the urge to organize her room, line and arrange her drawers, hang up her clothes neatly or decorate her room with her pictures and posters unless she welcomes your help. You are in her space and you need to respect that.
  3. Stay in the background. Let him run the show. He’s the star and you’re the supporting cast. Allow for his “opening night” nervousness and respect how he wishes to appear to others. His first impression to other students is enormously important to him, so stay in the background as he takes those first important steps. If he’s quiet and non-communicative, be patient and understanding.  Don’t place him in an embarrassing or awkward situation. Keep him happy and make him proud of you.
  4. Keep the drop-off and parting brief. You will see her again. And with today’s technology you’ll be able to stay in touch more effectively than your parents were able to do with you when you were away from home. If you’ve planned to have lunch before your departure, do so and, again, keep the conversation light and let your new freshman take the lead in the conversation. Once everything is in her room, you have lunched and any other errands or details that involve you have been completed, make your goodbyes quick and heartfelt. Try not to cry until you’re out of sight and on the way home. It’s unlikely, but if she cries or looks sad or uncertain, resist the urge to move in with her or bundle her back in the car. Reassure her that you can talk that night and as often as she wishes. She will recover and be fine; she is an adult, albeit a new one.
  5. Tuck a card somewhere where it will be found soon after your departure. Write a message that he will appreciate. If possible, tuck in a token gift that he’s been wanting or will find fun or useful. It will be a nice surprise when he finds it, and will make saying goodbye a little easier.
  6. Give your child some space. Avoid texting, emailing or calling too frequently; let your child contact you. One of those discussions to have before the campus drop off is how often you expect to hear from her. Once every two weeks should be sufficient. An important aspect of the college experience is to learn to manage one’s life. That’s hard to do if there is continual contact with one’s parents. Let your child make the transition to adulthood without your hovering. Be there for her, but not too much.
  7. Before you leave campus, ensure that you have these necessary contact numbers (having your child’s cell phone number clearly is not enough): Resident Advisor (RA), Residence Life, Campus Security, and possibly roommate and/or parents of roommate. Just remember to use these numbers sparingly and only in urgent or emergency situations.

Join me next week for some tips for the new freshmen on campus!

Until next time,


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