I clearly remember the day after my eldest son was born. The nurse cheerfully announced we had been cleared to leave the hospital and that she would be right back with our final paperwork so we could head home. As she left the room, I sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed. I could not stop thinking, “They’re really going to let us do this? They are letting us leave with him? Don’t they know we have NO IDEA what we are doing? I don’t know how to do any of this!”
I was right. And wrong. We managed not to injure or scar him. Mostly, I think. We figured out how to feed him (and ourselves, while caring for an infant). Eventually, a great deal of time later, we learned how to get him to sleep. As time went on, we learned so much more – how to bathe a squirmy, slippery toddler, how to register for soccer and preschool, how to manage sibling squabbles, how to be curious without prying, how to deal with ever-changing schedules and ever-changing, still developing humans.
Suddenly (so it seems), it was time to drop this baby-now-nearly-man off at college.
And that same feeling I had while sitting on the edge of my hospital bed came roaring back to me. It was the same, yet in reverse. “They really want me to leave him here?! Just LEAVE this human who is a whole part of me, just like my arm or my liver, HERE with these strangers? They have no idea who he is or what he needs! I don’t know how to do this!”
I have no sage advice for what happens next. I do not know how to make this part easier. Like the very first homecoming with my infant, no book or guidance from friends could prepare me for college drop off. We will struggle, learn, ask questions, fail some, succeed some, weep, laugh, and discover new ways of being.
But I can tell you, knowing what I know now, what I would have done differently. Just two things.
First, I would have worried less and enjoyed more.
I would care less about whether the homework was done and let us linger over our ice cream and conversation. I would have worried less about bedtime and savored more of the before-bed snuggling. I would have spent less time correcting and more time listening.
Second, I would have practiced the leaving more.
Let them go on the camping trip, sleepover, exchange program, road trip, vacation with friends – let them go more often. And I would go more often, too – take the romantic getaway, the girls’ weekend, a solo visit to a far-off relative. The leaving is hard every time, and for this big, hard college goodbye, I could have used a little more practice.
One last thing, the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims has been a helpful reminder of my goal as a parent – to raise my children into independent, capable, confident adulthood, along with some helpful thoughts on how to go about doing just that. While it has been helpful for this stage of parenting, I wish I had read it much sooner.