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Learning to let go is the hardest thing I’ve ever done

After seeing multiple mixed-emotion Facebook posts from parents moving their children to college, and going through the process of leaving them behind, I remembered the following words I penned a few years back when I was going through that emotional moment. They helped me then, and for those of you in need, I hope they help you now.

My two children are, and have been since the day they were born, two very bright spots in my life. Raising children is one long, joyous and sometimes agonizing adventure and I am now experiencing the absolutely hardest part of parenting, at least for me – the act of letting go. 

The feelings of fear, anxiety and panic sometimes consume me, so I researched the issue to see if I could find some magic words of wisdom to help me put things in a brighter perspective. I learned that parents dealing with separation anxiety as their children go off to college need to let go in phases and stages, advises Levester Johnson, vice president of student affairs at Butler University. With that in mind, I suggested some online and at home courses, at least for another three months, to get started, but that was not received very well.

A generation ago, people used to advise parents to cut the cord and let the students figure things out for themselves. But over the years, that advice has been moderated and Johnson suggests the following methods to help parents cope:

• Keep the lines of communication open. It’s easy to stay in touch. Just don’t do it in an overly intrusive way. “We’ve all heard about helicopter parents – those parents who hover over their child’s every move,” he said. “I’ve actually heard of a student who would call her mother at dinner time every day and say, ‘These are the options in the cafeteria. What should I eat?’ Part of college is developing the independence it will take to survive in the world.” 

• An actual separation is as important as the physical separation. You want to hear how things are going, but you don’t necessarily want to hear everything. Let there be some independence and some privacy, but let your student know they can count on you.

• Maintain the same kind of communication you’ve had. If you talk by e-mail or Facebook or text message, keep it up. You won’t have as much face time, of course, but it’s good to check in.

• If your child has a problem at school, let him or her try to work it out. If there’s a roommate issue, for example, let your child deal with the people on campus who are there to help. Point them in the right direction but don’t make the call. Guide your student and let them experience the satisfaction of problem solving.

Johnson advises parents to avoid visiting campus regularly or encouraging their student to come home frequently. 

“They need to be part of campus life and to learn basic life skills – like how to do their own laundry and establish a new group of friends,” he said.

Johnson’s comments will certainly help me once they are physically out of my house, but in the days leading up to that dreaded departure date, I am not doing very well in handling the situation. I want them to go and grow, but at the same time, I don’t want them to go and do it without me. 

My children were mature enough to begin this journey in their lives; I just hope and pray that I continue to be mature enough to accept that fact.

Holding on, guiding, and providing support for my children is a great labor of love; but when the time comes, the greater loving is to let the loved one go.

My home will always be my children’s home. Their stuff will remain in the place where it was left for them to come back to and for me to be constantly surrounded by. 

They may now be living separately from me but only because of distance. In my heart they will always be right here at home.

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