As we’re approaching another year of college, or our first year for some of you, we’re experiencing all sorts of emotions: excitement, nervousness, anxiety (in both good ways and bad), a feeling of overwhelming responsibility and productivity approaching, and the joy of reuniting with our best friends. We aren’t the only ones who are affected by the return to college, however. During this time of readjustment back to our old social lives, friends, class schedules, and extra activities, our parents are adjusting too. Not only are you leaving your family and missing them terribly, but they’re missing you too, possibly even more.
Being an only child has given me an even closer relationship with my mom than most people are lucky enough to have. Leaving home wasn’t something I was always dead set on like most. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I decided that I definitely needed to go away to school and remove myself from the comfort and familiarity of my hometown that I was used to for 18 years. Going away to college was definitely my best decision, however, it wasn’t a choice that came without sacrifice. Leaving my mom and my family (and my dog, obviously) was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As hard as it was for me to leave, I think it was even more difficult for my mom, as I’m sure it was for your parents. They’re the ones who remember memories of our childhood that we aren’t able to remember anymore. They’re the ones who lived these memories with us. And they’re the ones that are losing a huge piece of themselves when we leave for college.
Of course our parents are most likely more than thrilled for our opportunities and “leaving the nest” as they call it, but with their joy and excitement comes a heartbreaking feeling that, I would imagine, you could only understand as a parent. Watching your babies leave and grow up on their own is a scary feeling for them too. When you were little and took your first steps, they were terrified that you would fall down and get hurt. The same thing went for learning to ride a bike, learning to swim, going to kindergarten for the first time… This is how moving away on our own feels for our parents except a whole lot more intense. They’re always going to be afraid of us falling, but as we get older, that fear becomes heightened. Falling into defeat, debt, anxiety, sadness, regret. Every first for a child comes not only with thrill and excitement but uncertainty from their parents too.
No matter how old we get, we will always be our parents’ babies. As we’re undergoing some of the most life-changing events that we will go through in life, they’re experiencing them right there with us. Except sometimes they aren’t with us. And that’s where the fear comes in. When we were small, they could easily scoop us up when we fell down, throw a bandaid on it, and kiss it until it was all better. As young adults, Mommy and Daddy can’t always fix us when we “fall down.” We start to learn that life is hard, really hard, and we have to make mistakes intended for us to learn from on our own. Our parents can only protect us for so long until they are forced to let go.
So as you’re moving into college for the first time or going back to school, keep in mind that your parents are going through a loss too. They’re losing the time spent with you that they can’t ever get back. They’re happy for you, absolutely, but be kind and empathetic for the reason that they’re most likely hurting too. Enjoy college and everything it has to offer, but don’t forget, call home to your parents every once and awhile to see how they’re doing. It’ll make all the difference. Maybe not to you (which it should), but it’ll make all the difference to them.