The moment had come. I had imagined this moment for years, wondering how I would get through it. I thought I was ready. I thought I’d be able to keep myself together, but when the moment arrived it was harder, more poignant, more bittersweet, and more emotional than I had imagined, and I had imagined it would be hard.
She stood there, just a tiny bit taller than I am, her thick lustrous dark hair framing her large hazel eyes that gave her an exotic look. She looked both vulnerable and confident at the same time. We were amongst the last parents to leave; the last ones to say goodbye. It had taken me a few times reading the College Freshman Orientation schedule which said, “Free Time for Families” to figure out it was code for, “Time to Say Goodbye”. I wondered why they didn’t just spell it out for us.
3:45 – 4:10pm
Free Time for Families
Students return to Residence Hall with London Orientation Leaders while parents proceed to President’s Reception
We stood in the enormous, nearly-empty parking lot with the “Tower” behind us, an uninviting 1970’s looking 11 story-high brick residence hall. It started to rain lightly and the late afternoon August sky was gray and dark, making it seem much later than it was.
“Goodbye Ruby.” I threw my arms around her petite young frame – knowing her as child and young woman all in one. We held each other in a tight embrace squeezing like no other hug before or since – holding on to the sweetness of it. She was starting college and going overseas all in one jump.
I held on and held on and my mind told me, “it’s time to let her go” but my arms and heart would not heed my brains order. We held the embrace and I found I could not let her go. My heart screamed at me, “I can’t let go!”
I briefly imagined myself in a “sit com” that makes fun of the parent who can’t separate and keeps holding their child locked in an embrace for a ridiculously long time – far longer that the teen wants it to go on. I could almost smile at myself, and then, I forced myself to stop the embrace. It took all my willpower, like I was pushing a boulder uphill.
I let go, and with a crooked smile and a wobbly voice said, “I love you and I’m so excited for you,” as the tears flowed and my body convulsed in a tiny sob against my will. She gave me a loving, empathetic, vulnerable look, and I leaned over and kissed her cheek and whispered in a husky, raspy voice, “ I’m so proud of you!” and then made myself walk away. I walked around the back of our gray Corolla – the car she and I had been sharing for the past year – her car, my car – the car we’d sometimes argued over about who got to use it and when….and now I would gladly let her use it again if only to have more time. Where had the time gone? How had 18 years passed so quickly? I hadn’t expected it to feel so abrupt, like a door slammed shut by the wind, irrevocably closed, officially signaling the end of her childhood and my role in it.
I climbed into the passenger seat beside my husband. My heart hurt the sense of ending and loss so deep. At the same time my heart was filled with tremendous pride and joy for her, for her strength in stepping into this moment – in 3 short days – after orientation, she was heading to London, UK for her first term in College with 38 freshmen to live in an apartment and take the “tube” to school. I wondered how such seemingly opposite emotions could co-exist in one moment.
The rain began to fall in huge drops and her feminine soft cream colored linen shirt became pocked with large rain drops. She smiled at us, as if to give us the strength and resolve to say good bye, to leave. As we drove across the long parking lot, she was a solitary figure waving to us growing smaller in the rain – vulnerable, alone, and strong all in one. I imagined her turning back toward the dorm, walking in alone to meet her future.
As we rounded the corner, just before she went out of sight, I called out, “Goodbye Ruby!!” I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE YOU” but I didn’t dare in case I embarrassed her if another student overheard me.
I was crying hard now, the campus a blur. The last thing I wanted to do was go to a “President’s Reception.” I wanted to keep on crying, to let it out. My husband was quiet and looking forward to the wine and some good appetizers. We parked in front of the large stately home. I took a deep breath, looked in the mirror and could see there was no hope of hiding the fact that I had been crying.
The reception was both lovely and odd because as we met other parents no one, not one parent talked about the big moment we had just had with our teen. No one mentioned what it was like to say goodbye. It was too fresh, too raw, too soon. It was the elephant in the room that was too big to talk about with strangers.
After the reception my husband was eager to head home and check on our dog Babu. I couldn’t quite leave. We decided to get dinner in town because just staying in the college town a little longer made me feel close to my daughter. We settled on a “Wood Fired” pizza place we were told was, “the best pizza in town.” Sitting in the restaurant in tears, I struggled with the enormity of what had just happened.
As we waited for our pizza, my cell phone sat on the counter in front of me– calling me to text my daughter. I argued with myself.
“No you can’t text her!”
“Oh, come on, just a little friendly text,” or an “I love you” text wouldn’t hurt, would it?”
“No, no texting!”
The phone kept staring at me–seductively. I consider again, but resisted.
I let 20 minutes go by, but finally I couldn’t resist any longer. We have a joke in our family that my father always finds “the best” everything, so I texted her that we’d found “the best” pizza place. I was pleased with myself that I’d resisted texting for so long – a whole 2. 5 hours, but I was disappointed with myself too.
In the 90 minute ride home, I wanted to send her another text saying,
“I miss you already!!!!” I didn’t.
When I got home I wanted to e-mail her. I didn’t.
It was hard work resisting my need to stay so connected. Before I went to sleep I gave in convincing myself that one would be welcomed by her.
“Babu misses you. Me too. Your jeans came today. Love you and sweet dreams”
That night I wondered if she was warm enough. The dorm AC was set too high. She hadn’t been able to turn it down despite many efforts. I’d noticed they gave her only a sheet and a thin coverlet when she needed a down comforter.
“Let it go.” I told myself. “She will figure it out”
I kept holding in my heart to do what was best for her – not do what made me feel better.
Two days later we agreed by text to talk two hours before her plane departed for London. When we did, I really wanted connection but instead found myself asking her silly questions, like, “What did you eat for dinner?”
The plane departed at 9:05 pm. My husband and I were having dinner at a friend’s house. At 9:50 pm I thought I heard the noise my phone makes when I get a text. I was hyper alert – pretending to be in a conversation but thinking I must have heard wrong for I know, “She’s already taken off”. Minutes pass. I got a strong urge to check my phone.
A text from her, “Byee, love you!!”
I quickly text back but I know I’ve missed her.
I sent her a prayer “Sending you love and protection Ruby as you take flight”.
Your Parallel Rite of Passage: Tips & Research to Support You
As a former College Admissions Counselor who continues to work with parents, teens and college students, I was shocked, and yes, mortified that the message I had passed on to parents to “let go” and dramatically cut back on using the cell phone like it’s an electronic umbilical cord – was so painfully hard advice for me to follow in those first days of separation.
The experience with my daughter ignited a passion in me to support parents through the parallel journey of staying connected to your child, while letting go in the years leading up to and transitioning to college.
As parents we have spent years preparing our students for college, but most likely have not prepared ourselves for how to handle and resist the instant access to our child that cell phones and social media offer us.
You may be in a powerful habit of being in touch with your teen multiple times a day via electronic communication.
One of the biggest challenges you will face is to set an intention, think about and decide how often to communicate.
Guess how many times parents and their college student communicate per week – on average? Researchers have found that on average parents and children communicate 13 times per week. Statistics are the same for regardless of which year in college the student is. Girls on average communicated 14 times per week and boys 11 times per week.
Research experts and authors Barbara K. Hofer, Ph.D. and Abigail Sullivan Moore in their book, The iConnected Parent, say that these parents are unknowingly, through over involvement, putting their college-age children on an “ indefinite hold” from becoming an autonomous adult. How can that be?
These students take longer to grow up. The higher the number of interactions a week the longer it took for students to become independent thinkers, independent decision makers, and autonomous, as opposed to their peers who had less contact.
Just as important, students who initiated the contact most of the time fared better than those whose parents regularly initiated the call.
4 Steps to Support Your Child’s Independence: How to Rope in the Electronic Umbilical Cord:
1) Talk – Have a conversation before your child leaves for college about how often you each want to communicate and by what electronic method. Be flexible and open to reviewing and revising this decision once your child is in college.
2. Know Your Personal Stats
a) In the time before your child leaves for college count how often you are in touch via cell / electronic communication in a typical day. (Look back over several days to get an accurate number.)
b) If your child is already in college, count how many times a day and week you are in contact using all forms of electronic communication. (Don’t be surprised if you find it’s more often than before your child left for college.)
3.) Before Pushing Speed Dial or “Send”, it’s important to pause, reflect, and ask yourself why you are communicating and how it will it support your student’s growing autonomy, confidence, and your relationship.
4) Ask Yourself these Questions
- Do you want your teen to learn how to become autonomous?
- Do you want your teen to learn how to advocate for himself or herself?
- Do you want your teen to learn how to make good decisions?
If you answered yes to the above questions, then hold these questions in your mind and heart before communicating. Visualize and keep in your mind the long term goal of seeing and supporting your child in becoming a thriving, happy, independent adult. It will make it easier to resist nagging, telling your student what to do, giving unwelcome advice, and will open your heart to becoming a better listener and enjoying one another.
When our daughter left to study in the UK, it turned out to be a gift that she was not accessible by cell phone. We’d agreed to SKYPE once a week. On Sundays, my husband and I huddled excitedly around the laptop to talk to her. We beamed as she told her stories, successes, challenges, and described her new life. She loved making her own choices, decisions, and grew in her capacity to trust herself, whether it was tapping into her intuition, instincts, or using her sound reasoning and judgment.
The great news is that I’ve survived and she has thrived – she’s taken flight. Now I know that where ever she spreads her wings and flies; whether it is to far off lands or close to home, we are connected. We always will be.
Breakthrough is a #1 Amazon best seller and is receiving many 5 star reviews. www.yourbreakthroughbook.com
About Margaret Katz
Margaret (Maggie) Dillon Katz has a passion for helping parents and professionals find ways to support their students as they seek to find the balance between “Staying Connected While Letting Go”. She is the National Presentation Coordinator at CIP, and was formerly the Transition Coordinator. She was the Associate Director of Admissions at Ursinus College and the Director of Admission at Berkshire Country Day School in Lenox, Massachusetts.
In addition, Maggie is an expert on the challenges students face when transitioning from high school to college, and is a regular speaker for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) state and regional conferences and the Higher Education Counseling Association (HECA) as well as the Independent Educational Consulting Association (IECA).
Visit www.LessStressCollegeMess.com to download a PDF copy of 4 Steps to Support Your Child’s Independence and an MP3 “Staying Connecting While Letting Go” a free Visualization to ground and help you feel a heart connection with your child. It’ll help you work with the connection and separation in your own heart, release anxiety and parent from a place of calm as you support your child’s emergence into becoming an adult. You’ll also receive a handy tip sheet for your wallet.
Find this story and others in the book “Breakthrough! Inspirational Strategies for an Audaciously Authentic Life” by NY Times bestselling authors Janet Bray Attwood, Chris Attwood (they also wrote “The Passion Test”), Marci Shimoff (from “The Secret” and “Happy for No Reason”), and several other transformational teachers.