To the Mom of the High School Graduate {What I Wish I’d Known}

The day I kissed my firstborn son and drove off the college campus, leaving him and his favorite Michael Jordan poster behind, was a day I always dreaded.

You have these humans, pour into their life, and then in the cruelest irony, you’re asked to let them go.

But what they don’t tell you is that to do it, you will let a part of yourself go, too.

I know the emotional state you’re likely in reading this post, celebrating your graduate, loving your kid the way you do and not feeling ready to send them off into the world or use words like  letting go. I want to send you a cyber hug, give you a look of understanding, and tell you a few encouraging things I wish I had known about sending my kid off to college last year.

All the letting go won’t be bad.

In fact, some of it will be monumentally good. You won’t see this on move-in day, so don’t even look for it. It will come as a surprise guest some days, maybe months after, when you least expect the company. You will be minding your own business when it shows up and reminds you of that fun thing you did together on that trip, when you made him run around the house 5 times to get out all his energy when he got in trouble, when he said words like you’re the best mom, ever, and they were the sweetest words you ever heard. It is then you’ll realize you can love from afar while letting go of daily control and expectation and yes, even the ache from not feeling the arms around the neck everyday will be okay because you grow in your strength from sweet memory and distance.

Turns out, both you and your kid will do some growing up when they go off to college. This, my friend, is a good thing.

My son has been gone for a year and now he’s back for the summer. I wish someone had told me this time last year that I would truly be okay. Isn’t that what we all want to know? That yes, it will hurt, and yes, we will cry, but we will be okay. So I’m going to tell you. You will be okay. In fact, you will be so okay that your kid will come back for breaks and you will ask yourself questions like did she always make this much noise? and when does he go back to school? This will shock you as much as the first time you held them and fell in love. I wish someone would have told me this was perfectly normal.

But most of all, I wish someone would have told me about the things that wouldn’t change…what would still hold true, despite location, a little more miles on the body and a whole lot of personal growth with everyone involved:

1)     Your kid will still need you. In some ways, he or she will need you more than ever, not that they will ever say those exact words. Expect none of the needy words, especially the freshman year. But the words will be said in round about ways with late night texts like “hey mom, did you put any Neosporin in that emergency kit under my bed” and “what’s the best way to get an ink stain out of my pants?” They will need you to encourage them when they take those first college exams they have never had experience with; need you to tell them it will be okay when their roommate is annoying or suddenly starts snoring. They will need you to be strong and be a voice of reason when they want to come home after those first few tough, lonely days and weeks. They will need you to be wise and say “study, don’t party.” They will need you to assure them that they will be okay and home hasn’t forgotten them in their absence.

2)     Your kid will still want you. The want will be far less than the need, to be sure. But every mom who has sent her kid off to college knows – there is one time if none else, that your kid will still want you, and that is when they get sick. (And they will.) It is at this moment that all the months of independent speech goes out the window and the kid who has barely wanted you around for the last six months will suddenly call you “mommy” and want you there to feed him or her chicken noodle soup and crackers. And it will be a reminder to both of you that no matter how old your child gets, they will always be your baby.

 3)     Your kid will still be with you. Yes, they are flying the coop, leaving the nest, or whatever other bird analogy you want to use. But they will still be a daily part of your heart and as a result, an important part of your life and vice versa. Relationship doesn’t stop because of distance in miles. It is a mind, body, heart and soul connection, and when the physical is hindered, the other pieces are still well in play. Your child will be with you as an extension of your heart, your teaching, your influence, and your love. Their going off to college is not a leaving behind of you and all of those things. It is a beautiful taking with them and sharing of the investment you have well made in their life.

 As the graduation day passes and the day to drop off your kid at college approaches quickly, may the moments be sweet and filled with these reminders.

We don’t lose our kids, my fellow parenting comrades. We let go, grow together, and enjoy all that still remains.


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Lisa Whittle
Lisa Whittle is an author, speaker and most affectionately known as “mom.” Her love runs deep to see people grow roots and walk strong in the midst of a world that sometimes makes us crazy. She is the author of six books, including her latest Put Your Warrior Boots On.  She is a wife and mother of three who currently resides in North Carolina. Visit her at LisaWhittle.com.