file0002022362803… In other words, don’t hover.

For the last several years, you’ve prepared for back-to-school in late summertime. But when you’re getting ready to launch your child off to college, the process starts much earlier — up to a year ahead of time (and in some cases, even longer). The end of your kid’s senior year of high school is a hectic time: college applications, college tours, scholarship applications, not to mention the big grad party! It’s a tough time for parents in another way too. It’s time to let go.

Of course, you’re not really letting go. You’ll still be there for hugs, moral support, advice (whether or not they want it) and cash (which they certainly will want). But what you are letting go of is the habit of taking care of them. And take it from the mom of a college freshman: That’s even harder than coming up with college tuition.

Maybe your kid is the independent type and can’t wait to handle every adult decision, task and responsibility in his life. But chances are, your baby bird is going to need a shove or two before he truly leaves the nest and the comfort it brings (though he can still visit, time to time). Ideally, teaching independence should be a gradual thing, beginning in middle school. By the time your kid’s ready to graduate high school, there are certain basic life skills he should be able to do on his own and you should resist the temptation to take over. Such as:

  • Waking up with his own alarm clock (you’d be surprised how many high-schoolers won’t do this… or maybe you wouldn’t)
  • Holding down a job, even if it’s just part-time or just over the summer
  • Doing his own laundry
  • Making his own business-related phone calls (doctor appointments, calling employers, banking, etc.)
  • Maintaining his own car, if he has one (oil changes, etc.)
  • Budgeting his money
  • Understanding banking concepts such as checking/savings accounts, debit cards, overdraft fees, etc.
  • Managing his time, doing homework without prompting, going to bed on time without reminding
  • Keeping track of his own schedule on a planner or calendar
  • Planning his own events (e.g. he should plan his own grad party!)
  • Cooking simple dishes (and cleaning up after)
  • … I’m sure you can think of more.

But that’s not all. College, and learning to live on one’s own, is a rocky road. Even if your student is staying home with you and commuting, but especially if he’s moving elsewhere, there are a multitude of new responsibilities and stresses to cope with. He or she will be navigating a new campus (and maybe a new city too), buying textbooks for the first time, making sure tuition is paid, scheduling his or her own classes, meeting hundreds of new people. He will also be adjusting to doing his own housekeeping, dealing with roommates and rowdy residence halls, shopping for housewares, and probably balancing school with a part-time job.

Do yourself, but mostly your kid, a favor: Make him do it himself.

Resist the temptation to give in to the worry that if you don’t do this, or that, it won’t get done. If you don’t send in the housing application by this deadline, he won’t get into a good residence hall. If you don’t buy his books, he won’t find them all in time. If you don’t proofread his college application essay, he won’t get accepted. If you don’t call the R.A., he’ll be miserable because of the troublesome roommate.  If you don’t do his laundry, he’ll run around in dirty underwear. (Well, that’s probably true.)


Because, guess what? They will make mistakes. Some of them will be huge. Maybe they will get bad grades. Maybe they will have to cope with the roommate-from-hell. Maybe they will forget to buy their books, supplies, medicines, snacks, etc. and will deal with the consequences. Maybe they will over-sleep and miss an exam. Maybe they will forget to buy a parking pass and have to park in the most remote lot on campus. Maybe they will blow their money on pizza and the late-night cookie shop the first week and have to eat ramen the rest of the month. And, god forbid, maybe they will buy bedsheets that clash with their comforter.

And that’s OK.

Yes, they will make you feel guilty for not saving them from themselves. Yes, they will succeed. But that doesn’t mean you should give in. Think of it as the equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum in the candy aisle. They really need to do this. Tough love, mama and papa. Tough love.

Last fall, my husband and I took our daughter to her college campus. We helped her move in, then headed over to a welcome assembly. The first thing they made us do? They made the kids all sit together on one side of the auditorium… and the parents on the other. It wasn’t an easy separation. It was symbolic. And that’s perhaps the hardest part of the journey to college, once you drop them off… going home without them. But every college parent does it. You’ll survive, too. And your kids will be so much stronger for it.

Do you have a son or daughter headed to college next fall? What do you think will be the hardest adjustment for them? For you?