Your son or daughter is about to leave for college.  At some point, you will say “Good-bye” and drive away.  You have said good-bye to your child before, but probably not on this scale.  You said, “Good-bye and call if you need to,” the first time they left the safe confines of your house to spend the night with a friend.  You said, “Good-bye, I’ll be here to pick you up,” when you left them at school on their first day.  You said “Good-bye and BE CAREFUL,” the first time they took the car on their own.  There have been many such moments, but this one is bigger.

For many families this represents a seismic shift in the life of your student and in your family’s life.  You aren’t simply saying “Good-bye” to their physical presence in your house.  You are saying “Good-bye” to an era in your family. Sure, the family photo will still have the same people, but this “Good-bye” marks a shift in their life and in yours.  Therefore, it is important to prepare for the departure.  It’s important for them, and it’s important for you.

Based on my own experience as a parent, and based on talking with hundreds of students and parents, I want to suggest three kinds of preparation that are important in this transition.

Getting the stuff ready.  This is the part that often gets the most attention–getting the “necessities” together for living in the residence hall.  You’ve probably already received this list from the college.  This is often the fun part and the easy part.  Well, OK, not exactly easy.  In fact, this may be an extremely complicated part, but it is the part that is easiest to keep track of and to check off the list.  Pillow, check.  Linens, check.  Towels, check.  This is a necessary part of preparing.  The other kinds of preparation are not quite so straightforward.

Checking life skills.  What will your student need to be able to do when he is on his own?  What will she need to know when you are not there to supply the answer or perform the task?  Can he do his own laundry?  Can she set up her computer?  Has he maintained a checking account and shown responsibility with a debit card?  Does she know the basics of self-care and safety?  There are some things you can anticipate.  Others you can’t.  This summer can be an important time for learning and practicing skills for more independent living.

Saying what needs to be said.  You have spent 18 years instilling your views, values, hopes, and fears in your child, whether or not you have explicitly talked about those things.  Don’t wait until you have dropped them off on campus and are ready to return home before that last, “Oh yes, there’s one more thing I want to tell you…”  This summer, as you prepare to send them to school, think about what you want to put into words before your son or daughter leaves.  For example:

  • Talk with siblings about what’s happening.  Their lives are about to change as well.  Include them in the preparation and discussions.
  • Talk about money.  Talk about who is responsible for what and how expenses will be handled.  There are many ways of managing the financial arrangements.  Clarify and negotiate ahead of time.
  • Talk about safety and self-care.  They’ll probably roll their eyes, but it will make more sense to them once they are on their own.
  • Talk about family history.  Believe it or not, it helps for students to know how you and others in the family handled these kinds of transitions.  They need to know that everyone experiences difficulties, even failures, as well as successes.
  • Avoid the “These will be the best years of your life” speech.  College years are often seen as the best years only in reflection.  Your student will undoubtedly have times when their college experience is miserable.  It’s helps if they know this is normal.
  • Let them know how proud you are that they have gotten to his point.  You know what went into this accomplishment; you were a part of it.

Using the summer to make the right kinds of preparation can greatly ease the transition for your student and for the rest of the family.  Remember, you are not just preparing them.  You are also preparing yourself for the shift in your role as the parent of a young adult.