As a mother, I often find myself going through experiences where I say, “I wish I could read what I need to read right now.” I’m the oldest child, and my kids and I are often the first to go through any seminal experience, whether it’s childbirth (me), potty training (my kids), or college applications (that one felt like both of us). I search for heartfelt older-sister advice that I cannot find.
Whether it’s “how to not lose your mind while parenting six kids” or “how to cope with a household that encompasses everything from 8-year-old girlfriend drama to trying to find an almost-twenty-something an apartment,” I often find myself making it up as I go along. So as a parenting writer, I try to be the big sister I wish I had and write pieces that I wish I’d been able to read when I was going through a particular moment.
This one goes out to those parents doing college drop-off for the first time
So this one goes out to all of you soon-to-be-dropping-off-at-college parents and caregivers, especially those of you dropping off your first/only kid.
That first kid going off to college — and the vertigo-inducing, nauseating parental/caregiver anticipation leading up to it — is the hardest. (Take a breath and breathe into a paper bag if necessary. I get it, and I’ll wait.) My second kid is going to be a college freshman this year. We drop him off next week, and I’m amazed by how differently I feel right now from how I felt last year.
It’s not a question of favoritism: I like him just as much as his older brother! But I have been surprised to find that even though he’s going further away from home (a whole plane ride away! Whose great idea was THAT?) and even though I won’t see him for a more extended period except on FaceTime, and even though I will miss him fiercely, this whole anticipatory-emotional-and-packing-panic thing feels much more chill than it did last year. And I’m convinced it’s not because I’m broken as a human being (let’s pace ourselves: I have four more kids still at home).
The oldest leaving shifts the entire family paradigm
The oldest, or only, kid leaving home is rough because that’s the paradigm shift. But I’m here to tell you that that “paradigm shift” — a fundamental, structural, emotional, and psychological change — is NOT a nuclear apocalypse. And I think this needs to be explicitly said because of the social media fun house in which we all live.
There are SO MANY articles in my social media feed right now, whether it’s Instagram or Facebook (I quit Twitter and have yet to onboard TikTok), saying doom-and-gloom stuff like “this is the end of their childhood, you’ll never have the same relationship again, so go hug their old stuffed animals and rock back and forth and cry.” You know what I mean: the Instagram posts that have the pics of the kid at age four blowing bubbles, with Taylor’s “Never Grow Up” playing in the background, and a caption that says, “Hug your kids — mine is leaving for college — it’s over!”
You’re going to be okay, really
Last year, I cried each time I saw one of these, no matter how mawkish or cloying. I couldn’t get over how painful this life change was. I felt the same way I had after giving birth to my oldest: “HOLY SHIT — HOW DO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE GO THROUGH THIS?!? I AM NOT OKAY!” But I’m here to give you the spoiler alert I wish someone had given me: it’s okay, and you’re gonna be okay. No, really.
I’m here to tell you it’s 100% not true that “it” — your relationship with your kid, your parenting odyssey — is “over.” It’s just changing. And I’m also here to remind you that contrary to all these sappy posts, that was always the goal! We always wanted them to grow up (think about the horrible alternative, after all).
They’re leaving, yes, but they’re not LEAVING-leaving. They’re not boarding a one-way rocket into space. And even if they were, they’re still your kid, no matter where they are. They will change, yes, and you will change too, and the shape of your daily life will change — but the love will only deepen.
It’s a tough adjustment, but no matter how it feels now, you’re going to be okay
Yes: It’s hard adjusting to them not being around. In my family, we made sure to do fun things with our other kids after my oldest left, and we will try to do that again (even though “fun things” this time around might be “move stuff into another brother’s apartment if we find him one.” SO MUCH FUN!!) But I’ve loved and lived through this, and I’ll tell you: it’s gonna be okay. No matter how it feels now.
This is all how I feel right now, at this second, a week and a half before saying goodbye to my college-bound second child. And that being said, I would like to give a preemptive apology to whoever is next to me on my flight home to Newark from Nashville. Sorry. If you could bring extra tissues and maybe some noise-canceling headphones, that would be much appreciated.
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Jordana Horn is a writer, podcaster, journalist, retired lawyer and mother of six. Even typing that makes her tired.