College Drop-Off: Saying Goodbye to Your Baby
What a month we have had. How do I even begin to describe what it was like to drop my oldest child off at school and walk away, leaving her in an entirely different state all on her own. I get it. This is a normal thing to do. All parents at some point in the life of their child will say goodbye, let go, and leave their child to live on their own away from us- maybe it’s college, maybe it’s for a job, maybe it’s because of a move, but sometime, somehow, we will all have to look our child in the eye, say goodbye and walk away.
So if it’s a given in this life, why is it so hard? Why, when it’s so good and so right and so NORMAL, does it rip at the ol’ heartstrings like it does?
Keith and I spent some time talking about this as we drove away from that moment forever etched in our minds. We had moved Kate in, had enjoyed lunch with her friends and their families, and then it was just THE TIME. The time that hung in all of our minds for the last year; the time that we were all dreading, but knew it would come, and the time that was kicking around quietly on our hearts that we simply had to do. The three of us stood together, wrapped our arms around each other and Keith and I looked at Kate reminding her how proud we are of her, how much we will miss her, and then we cried, all of us. I will say, I am quite proud of the fact that I DID NOT ugly cry. You know, the sobbing, shaking, snot dripping out, can’t breath cry as you embarrassingly envelop your kid wailing about how much you will miss them and how you wish you didn’t have to go and you could live together forever. NO. I did not do that. Some did and it was NOT pretty. NO matter what, YOU CAN NOT DO THE UGLY CRY AT COLLEGE DROP-OFF! (My friend, Nikki, warned me about this and she would have been proud.) So we hugged, said our words of encouragement and goodbye, and then walked away, AND I didn’t look back. I couldn’t. I knew if I did, I would lose it and I wanted Kate to leave feeling strong and confident in her amazing choice. I will admit, the tears were flowing as we walked away to the car. I had to grab Keith’s hand because I couldn’t even see. It’s a mama’s reaction-raw, full of pain and excitement and love all at the same time.
But as I’ve reflected on this experience, I have finally figured out why it is so hard. Despite the cheers and the hopes and the knowing it’s normal, dropping your child off at college is hard because it means loss, and loss means change and CHANGE IS HARD. And when you combine that with grief from loss, it all gets messy. Loss doesn’t always have to be death. It can be because of change. Change of any kind requires us to do things differently, to let go of the way it has always been and to get uncomfortable. And we don’t like to be uncomfortable. We want things easy, all in order, and unemotional. And we spend our lives trying to create comfortable and normal and predictable. But when you send a child to college and you let go, that all changes. You don’t know what they are doing all the time, you don’t know what they are thinking and feeling, and you can’t always help and make it better and that’s uncomfortable. There is a new normal and so many days where you simply miss them. And you find yourself emotional at the most uncomfortable times. Recently I was in the grocery store, and I started tearing up because I no longer needed to buy that ONE kind of popcorn that she loved. And now I have to send their birthday presents 10 days in advance to make sure they get there on time because she won’t be celebrating her birthday at home this year because she lives half way across the country. And I wonder who will get her a cake and who will make her feel special on her extra special day? It’s going to be great, just different! And as you go through this, you wonder, when will the spontaneous tears stop, when will the aching end, and when will this all FEEL ok. There are no answers to this. As our kids take off on their own journey, so do we. We grow, we change, and we see experience a new life. And in all these transitions that are wonderful and amazing and difficult, the only thing to do is pray, pray, pray.
But here’s the great thing. God planned for it to be this way. He planned for our children to leave the nest and become the people HE has created them to be. And the truth is, they can only be all that they were created to be when we are NOT there all the time. And so WE learn to live in the new normal. WE learn to trust them and the way they have been raised. WE celebrate their victories and WE lift them up when they make mistakes and fall. They ALL will fall and fail and SOAR and succeed. That’s part of the journey.
Our new normal is loving from afar, moving from Parenting to Coaching, moving from Fixer to Encourager, and letting go and letting them figure it out! And when the moments strike and the tears fall and the ache of walking by their empty room rips our hearts and those little fears creep in, the only thing left to do is get our knees and pray. We can not run from the change or the fear or the anxiety or the pain. We lean into it and KNOW that the God who created our children LOVES them even more than we do and he promises he will never leave us or forsake us. He has them in the palm of his hands and we get the amazing opportunity of now watching their journey instead of leading it and seeing it all from a new perspective.
Before Kate left, we were honest and let her know this transition will be hard. It will be SO MUCH FUN, but it will be lonely, hard, and exhausting, at times. That’s just the path everyone must take. It doesn’t mean it’s not right or it’s not good or she’s not going to be happy, it’s just the way it is, and to not be afraid of it. We have to equip our kids, let them know their feelings are normal, and that they can handle the change even when it’s hard and they miss home. I believe this has helped her have a great start. Is it perfect? No, life is NOT about perfection. Is it amazing and is she happy? YES! Absolutely! And when those feelings hit her, we chat, we strategize and she takes it one moment at a time. No more fixing, no more doing it for her, just listening, coaching, and encouraging, and LOVING her unconditionally! That’s my job! And above all else, I remind her to turn to Jesus, the Great Comforter and author of her life. No one said this parenting thing would be easy, but it is the best gig ever!