Parents and Families Blog


The Long Goodbye: Sending Your Kid to College

By    |   Published on February 20, 2023


Packing up and moving them to college means saying goodbye to the way things were.

Just this morning I ran across a mother and daughter who looked lost. Because I have a perpetual “How can I help you?” look on my face (according to a friend who noticed that I get stopped all the time and asked for directions), the mother asked me where our student center was.

I happily told them I would walk them to it. Sometimes it is hard to feel confident that I have given the right directions, so I always feel best when I walk people directly to the place they want to go.

I engaged in small talk by asking the daughter what she was doing on campus (interviewing for the Honors College) and how she felt about graduating soon (ecstatic). I also asked her if she was excited about going to college and living on her own. That is when I saw her mother’s face. It was both nervous and eager, if those two emotions can coexist.

I left them both with encouragement and well wishes and then walked to my office where just a few hours later my own kid, a college junior, stopped by to pick up some things I had brought him from home. I didn’t really need to see him, but I had a convenient excuse–a sweatshirt he had left at home (which is only 25 miles away) and a book on Europe that I hope he will use to plan a trip after graduation. He inhaled his lunch in between classes while I peppered him with questions that received his typical one-word answers: “Yeah,” “No,” “Maybe,” and if he is feeling really talkative, “I guess so.”

As annoyed as I may have been by his lack of sharing, I realized that I was feeling not too differently than the woman I met earlier this morning. We are both excited to be with our kids at these important times and yet, in some way, we feel miles apart. What are they really thinking and feeling? How can we help them besides just standing by them and not interfering with the moment?

It is hard when we are used to managing a good portion of their lives to remember there is a human in that body that needs to figure things out for themselves and to be worried and nervous without our swooping in to make things okay. Of course, we can assure them that they have the ability to work through the uncertainty and the stress and we can be there if things get out of hand, but we also need to let them feel those feelings and work through them at their pace.

Your student’s saying “Hello” to college is also your saying “Goodbye” for the next few years. In some cases, it is a slow goodbye, and even when it feels sad, it is a privilege to be able to say “Hello” to new adventures.

We are saying goodbye to knowing everything that is going on with them at every minute of the day or even where they are most of the time. We are also saying goodbye, in a way, to what we hoped they would grow up to study and be by the sheer fact that they are growing up and studying and being that thing that they want.

We may also be saying goodbye to knowing them in a way we did when they were younger. That is probably the hardest part–there really was nothing better than snuggling with little humans who relied on us for everything.

Now, they need us in different, more challenging ways. We may also be saying goodbye to having all the answers or even knowing what to say when they say, “I really don’t know what kind of job I want” or “I think I want to take some time off after I graduate.”

Saying goodbye is hard whether it is the first goodbye when you drop them off at college or the 100th goodbye as they finish up their third year and looking ahead to the whirlwind that will characterize their fourth–and final–college year. But we have been saying goodbyes for a better part of two decades, whether it was when they went from Pull-ups to real underwear or whether it was from their driver’s permit to the real license.

And with each stage, we have been able to say “Hello,” even if it is for a short time to a new adventure, a new layer of understanding and love for that tiny human. We need to remember that we wished for this–that they grew up and fully realized who they were meant to be.



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 is the Senior Lecturer of Writing, Literacy, and Academic Success in Student Transitions at UCA. She and co-author Brian Tietje have a new book, A High School Parent’s Guide to College Success: 12 Essentialsavailable on Amazon. She is also the co-author with Brian Tietje and Paul Stoltz of The College ExperienceThe Community College Experience, and The College Experience Compact, all published by Pearson Education. She and her husband are parents of a college and a high school student.