Summer is winding down and the inevitable is showing up on the calendar – college move-in day is just around the corner. And while there are checklists galore out there for our college-bound kids, everything from dorm room must-haves to financial aid must-do’s, there is little, if none, for the mom who is watching her baby, pack and gleefully get ready for the next chapter of his or her life.
Though I remember this with each of my sons, I remember all too well the very first summer when my oldest was headed off to college, both out of state and an eight-hour drive away. I felt a mixture of extreme hope and pride combined with episodes of breaking down in tears in the towel aisle in the middle of Target during dorm room shopping.
It’s because of this experience that I wanted to create the ultimate list for moms to help you during this time.
1. Acknowledge your feelings. As a mom, it’s all too familiar to brush aside your feelings. I mean, who has time for it when there’s a long list of people to care for and things to do? I get it – been there and done that. The problem with not acknowledging our feelings, though, is not taking the time to care for ourselves. At the same time, we’re just minimizing our feelings to not being necessary. This can lead to a lifetime – yes, a lifetime! – of stress and (quite frankly) waking up one day and wondering how you got here and if this is all there is. Maybe that’s how you are feeling now?So right now, let’s begin by naming your feelings. Are you feeling sad, nervous, scared, guilty? Are you feeling regret for not appreciating the time when your kids were younger? (This was a biggie for me). Or maybe you’re excited, happy, and you can’t wait to pack this kid up and get him on his own? Maybe it’s a combination of so many feelings you aren’t even sure how you feel.
Whatever it is, know that it is okay. I’m giving you permission to feel, to know that one day may be overwhelming with one emotion only to have the next day feel completely different. Also, acknowledge that you may be experiencing some grieving. Grief for the past, for the time gone by too quickly, for change, for not only your growing children but also for your youth. It can be some heavy shit, not going to lie. Finally, recognize that this is an adjustment for everyone in the household. Siblings and even pets can go through their forms of grieving with the new normal.
However you are feeling, you deserve more than to sweep it under the carpet and ignore it. It’s time to begin honoring yourself in this process, in your “one, wild and precious life” as the poet Mary Oliver says.
2. Set expectations with your child. Before you get to college move-in day, where you’ll be setting up the dorm room and dealing with the many emotions of the actual day, spend some time talking with your college bound child. Remembering that they, too, are embarking on their adventure as a young adult, it’s okay to ask that you hear from them and in a reasonable amount of time. Discuss what feels right for you both.
I want to add a warning here – your student doesn’t know what to expect either about what’s to come. They have no idea how their schedule will play out or that time to the next class is hard to make when lunch is across campus in their dorm. There are a lot of unknowns for you both, so it’s important to be flexible – more flexible than you’ve ever been. Also realize that if your student doesn’t text when he says that he will, it’s not personal.
One thing I do if I haven’t heard from my college students or even my fully flown-the-nest son is text “SOL please” which translates to “Sign of Life, please.” Usually, that brings forth a phone call or a text apologizing, “There was a big project due and I lost the syllabus and had to meet with the TA and oh, did I tell you that I have a girlfriend?” There’s a lot of stuff happening in their world, and I’ve been able to walk the balance of giving them space while still calming my nerves and filling my heart.
Now (before move-in day) is also a good time as well to talk about spending, grades, etc. As a side note, be sure to set yourself up appropriately with the school to view grades if this is a priority. Since your child is over 18, the schools won’t allow you to access their records without their permission. Remember – this is a conversation and it’s important that you recognize and remember what you felt like at their age.
3. Make plans for yourself after move-in. The focus has been on either the overwhelming emotions you are trying to hide or how to set expectations with your child. Now it’s time to think about yourself and make plans for the future. Start small with something special for yourself – a special dinner out or girl’s trip away. Splurge on the mani-pedi or even set aside time to sip your favorite beverage while curled up with a good book or reenergize that neglected hobby of yours. Whatever gives you something to look forward to and recognizes the transition is an important first step for you and your child.
4. Begin (or continue) a self-care practice. Just like our emotions, our self-care routines often fall to the bottom of the list. This is a very good time to rethink this. Start small and build up to your list by asking what self-care means to you. Explore how you feel best and what your ideal day looks like. Start with just one daily practice and make it a goal to do it each day for two weeks. When this seems like second nature, add two more daily activities or weekly practices.Remember – self-care shouldn’t be overwhelming. These goals can be increasing your sleep quality, taking a walk, eating more fruits and veggies. But pay attention to your internal dialogue when you begin this. Often we can be caught saying we don’t have the time or that this is silly. Don’t let this conversation fool you. It’s time to begin realizing that you are worth the time and effort.
5. Surround yourself with like-minded women. When my oldest son went off to college, I had little support from the places you would normally expect to have it. My mom thought I was overreacting, my sister still had littles and couldn’t understand being sad that I would now have time to myself, and very few friends were at this place in parenting. Little info was out there on navigating new space in life. But since then, I’ve gone through this with my two other sons, and my sister and friends now have a better understanding – we can come together for each other to offer a sympathetic hug and a listening ear. Though my husband was very supportive, there’s just something about having other moms in your corner that is helpful!Don’t settle for going through this time alone. There is no need to do so when you can find comfort and feel less isolated when someone understands. Many groups can be found on Facebook that connects you with other women experiencing similar emotions (including my free group, the Schmidlife Sisterhood). Another option is to join the parent’s associations of your child’s school. These often have online groups as well as local meetups.
I know the end of summer can be a mix of emotions as you get ready to send your kid off to college. Hopefully, these five suggestions can help you recognize the need for caring for yourself during this time of significant transition.
Be sure to click here to head over and join the Schmidlife Sisterhood. You’ll be one of the first to receive helpful info, notifications of upcoming events that can help you redefine this time of life and tips on turning your “maybe somedays” into today.