By Janet Frick
A big hug to all of the parents who are feeling a lot of feelings about their kids leaving the nest this week! I'm moving my son in today -- first time doing this as a mom. I've been a psychology professor at UGA for 23 years and have seen a lot in that time (I teach a big mostly-freshman class every fall). Here are my personal and professional thoughts; take them if they're helpful, and leave them if they're not! :)
1. This is a big developmental transition for you AND your child. It is totally normal for you to grieve, even if you have been preparing for this for months / years (which you have).
2. We have all just had a 5 month long spring break! Perhaps more together time with our teen than we ever could have imagined or hoped for. That makes the transition even more stark.
3. We may miss them more than they miss us. That's ok. Dump and cry to your friends / partners / other family. Try to avoid expressing that sadness / those emotions to your kid (at least not too much / too often). They have their own jumble of emotions to deal with!
4. If your child is homesick / struggling, try to be an empathetic and listening ear. They may just need to dump. They may want ideas, or not. Try to avoid the impulse to rescue. They are young adults now, and there are professionals on campus to help them. There should be very few situations where you would need to email a campus office such as housing or dining. Definitely don't ever email a professor. (This may be a big change from high school!) Encourage them to advocate for themselves. Things won't be perfect, especially during a pandemic. But I bet if you think back to your own college / young adult years, you will remember challenging situations that you laugh about now. Our staff will work to adjust if there are problems. Encourage your child to work together with their fellow students to figure out solutions to situations.
5. If they DO run into a serious situation, tell them to contact the office of Student Care and Outreach. That office is staffed with professionals who can help guide them. There's a tutoring center on campus, their RA/residence hall will have staff on hand. There are lots of folks on campus who they can ask about various things.
6. Above all, validate your OWN feelings. You are a totally normal parent / human if you feel sad this week after dropping them off! Your relationship with your "becoming a young adult" child will change over the next four years. The healthiest and happiest students I have seen are those who know their parents are there as a safe base / sounding board for them, but who don't feel the burden of their parents' emotional expectations or baggage on them (I'm thinking of one student from a few years ago who was loving being at UGA, but who felt guilty b/c her mom was sad, and it held the student back). That can be a hard balance to find, and we won't always get it exactly right, but letting them take the lead and set the pace of communication is helpful. And make sure you have friends / emotional supports to whom you can turn. Big hugs all around!
Dr. Janet Frick is an associate professor in the University of Georgia's Psychology Department, and the mother of a rising freshman in the UGA class of 2024.