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How We Say Goodbye Before Our Children Go To College

August 24, 2018

My sister had warned me about college drop off weekend.  “Be ready.  It’s roller-coaster emotional, busy, and it tears your heart in two.” 

While my sister and I are similar in many ways, I’m the deep feeler of our duo, so if she felt that way, I forecasted double the emotions.  I knew that the college campus was not the place I wanted to have the significant “goodbye moment” with my daughter.

The last thing she needed was a mom weeping outside of her dorm room while she was trying to run off to the latest and greatest traditiation ritual for her hall (yep, it’s a thing, tradition + initiation).

I realize this whole scenario may sound dramatic.  Newsflash – it is!  To a mom, this rite of passage waves goodbye to what was, and ushers in a new normal. There is often grief that accompanies this launch.

The family is changing… forever.

There will be new adventures and forthcoming blessings, but it will never again be as it once was. The deep loss is real.

My husband and I talked and decided that we would take our daughter, Kenna. on a weekend trip, just the three of us, the weekend before taking her to school.  After debating several places near and far, we ultimately landed on the quaint town of Canon Beach, OR.  It was driving distance away and yet felt far enough to be an adventure.

college, parenting, family, saying goodbye, oregon coast

We didn’t tell her our destination, but told her what to pack.  About one hundred miles in she guessed the spot.

It’s complicated.

The summer in between senior year and college can be complicated for many families.  It often feels as if the parent and the child are in a boat on rough seas, waves crashing over the edge, both grabbing at the oars for control.   This is where we found ourselves, and this is how we went into the weekend.

At first, there was some tension. At one point I left to go on a run and prayed deep in the Oregon woods that lined the coast. Her looming departure grieved my heart. 

On one hand I didn’t want her to go, and on the other, it was clear she was pushing for her independence and it needed to happen.

sand dollar, oregon coast

After working out my emotion, I was ready for an honest discussion.  In vulnerability, I told her how I was feeling.  She did the same.

Stay current.

Relationships with our children enter different seasons.  It is important to stay current with one another and continually hit the refresh button on our relationship.  Kindness, honesty and vulnerability is the way to do this well.

After our open sharing, we had the BEST weekend.  The BEST. The curtain over our hearts had been pulled back and there was no longer anything between us.  We hiked in the woods and along the beach, enjoyed long dinners at the bistros in town,  ate salt water taffy, caught a play, and even tried an Escape Room.

candy, salt water taffy, oregon, canon beach

Create memorable moments.

On our last night, my husband, Erik, hiked to a secluded section of a remote beach and started a campfire. He also lit some candles in canning jars in the sand to add a special touch.  Kenna and I hiked down when everything was in place. The repetitive rolling waves provided the music, and the full moon danced over the water. 

We prayed over her and talked for hours.  In that moment we set a new anchor for the future.

beach, oregon, canon beach, college

The weekend at the Oregon Coast allowed us to focus on just her, and it provided the space for our relationships to breathe and grow. It also gave us a chance to float around a while in the waters of goodbye.

The Drop Off

When the drop off weekend inevitably arrived, our hearts were full.  Was it still sad? Yes.  It was. But because we had already said what we wanted to say, in a setting where it could be fully received without distraction, we didn’t feel the pressure of the formal college goodbye.  It was freeing.

We will do this with each one of our children.  There is only one time when our children will be in that “official” space between high school and adulthood.  What an opportunity to set an anchor of love and family before they go.

Practical Steps to Follow For Your College Freshman:

  1. Pick a weekend at the beginning of summer and set it aside in everyone’s schedules. Find childcare for the other children if needed.
  2. Brainstorm places you can go (decide if it will be a surprise or not).
  3. Make hotel or campsite reservations.
  4. Research fun things to do in the area.
  5. Decide how the weekend will flow and if you want to set aside one day or night for a special moment where you speak words of affirmation.
  6. Consider giving your child a gift that commemorates the important transition between high school and adulthood.

You can download our list of talking points that we use with our college bound kids.

haystack rock, canon beach, oregon coast

Update Aug. 2020 – our son is next!

Our son goes to college next weekend. We loved the Oregon coast so much we took him there as well. Here are a few pictures from his weekend.

haystack rock, oregon coast, teen model, sons, college
moms, sons, beach, oregon coast, college

How about you?

How did you say goodbye to your son or daughter before college?

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