Anticipating the Time Your Child Leaves Home. Trying Not to Cry.

January 3, 2013 | By | Comments (7)

Woman and two sonsWhile I was at the office and weeding the garden and worrying about whether or not I had the most updated train schedule in my purse, unbeknownst to me, my oldest child was getting ready to go to college. Without me really registering what was happening, he progressed through elementary, middle and high school, where he is now a senior. He is, as of this writing, almost finished applying to college, which is a mostly-horrible process that I would mostly not wish on my worst enemy. (If you don’t believe me, just go to and spend 10 minutes on the site, which is about how long it takes me to feel like my hair feels is on fire.)

I have, however, been aware enough of the progression of time to poll friends with older children about how much sadness is involved in a child leaving for college. One friend was mostly fine until the weekend of drop-off, when she began crying hysterically while listening to her daughter’s French professor. She later had to hide behind a tree so her daughter would not see that she was crying. Another friend cried constantly, all during her son’s senior year, at every “last” event:  the last Halloween, the last hockey game, the last prom.  After she dropped him off at school she sobbed, took a Valium, slept in the car for 6 hours straight and woke up feeling like herself again. A third friend seemed sanguine about her son leaving but, after he was off at school, told me that it felt like…well…her arm had been amputated. I think the arm is growing back.

I have chosen the denial route, but fear the All-Consuming Sadness is going to catch up with me eventually.  To wit:  last night I was reading The Bug Book to our five-year-old.  The Bug Book is my favorite slightly-twisted children’s book, which, since it is by Edward Gorey, may not actually be a children’s book at all. But the fact that all three of my sons have loved it gives me great hope that they will grow up to be interesting adults. Anyway, my five-year-old is now at the stage when he writes his name in all capital letters in an adorable, uneven hand.  Last night when I opened The Bug Book, I saw that my oldest—who was sitting in his room, slogging through college applications that were due at midnight—had written his name in the book many years ago, in the same big letters and the same uneven hand.

And then I really, really felt like I was going to cry.  But I didn’t.  Because once I start, I may never stop.


  1. P Whitener

    Oh how I can relate! When my first daughter headed off to college, it wasn’t so bad because I still had two at home and we were very busy with their school activities. When the second daughter left for college three years later, it started to dawn on me that in four more years, my youngest daughter would be out the door to college and I would be left all alone (I am a single mom). It has been an adjustment still now that the youngest has been away at college for two years; sometimes I feel sorry for myself and other times I get myself motivated keep busy with all those projects that I put off because I was too busy with the girls’ activities when they were all at home.

    I think the grieving is an important step as your children prepare to leave for college. And, yes, the grieving starts much earlier than the point of separation. I am living proof that a mother can survive her children leaving for college. :)

    January 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm
  2. Audrey Thorpe

    My feelings exactly, Kristin, as my oldest, a girl, just finished sending in all those college apps ~ now we wait! How can she be leaving in a few months? Wasn’t she just a little girl not too long ago? I realize this senior year is for me to both rejoice & grieve. Rejoice with & for her ~ in all she’s accomplished & what a lovely young lady she is becoming. And a year for me to grieve as I prepare for that day when we take her to college and come home to a new chapter of her not here day in & day out.

    January 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm
  3. SuV

    When our little guys were clinging to my ankles, I listened to a neighbor tell me, “Honey, when they are ready to go, you will be more than happy to pack them up, drive them off to school, unload their stuff from your car and pay somebody to take them off your hands.” I thought this was far too cynical, but she was right. It happened to us. That summer after HS graduation was horrible. The recent grads are struggling with their new stage in life too, and are often miserable to those around them at home, as a way of coping. But it all works out in the end. All of our kids did fine, and so did we as parents. It’s not a sad time, really. It’s being glad that they have accomplished so much with their family’s help and are now ready to move on to new challenges.

    January 4, 2013 at 9:22 pm
  4. Gennifer Miller

    I AM the one who moved away and am living some 600 miles from my Mom and Dad. Currently it is barely more than a day since I left them after Christmas holidays and the reminder of that through this article was enough to get the tears going again. I’m grieving because I miss them SO MUCH. But in a few days, I’ll settle down and remember that I CHOSE to move back to my birthplace, the wet coast (no, that’s not a typo) because I don’t like the climate where my Mom and Dad live, on the prairie and because I missed the city I was born in, in general.

    January 4, 2013 at 11:15 pm
  5. Ramona

    I can relate to all the comments. I am aware of a looming sadness but choose denial. I am filled with pride and excitement for my daughter and scared of letting her go to face the world without me. I am nervous about living without the family unit as it’s been and just having my husband around. I also want to go back to school and am trying to focus on the changes that these times might bring. So – with al the “I”s I’ve mentioned, it seems that I am processing what is happening…but it’s the little moments that make me cry. Spontaneous singing and dancing in the kitchen,,,late night talks…GLEE…and all the things that make my daughter unique. Yes, It’s going to be rough, but I wouldn’t want the alternative. She needs to test those wings…

    January 4, 2013 at 11:35 pm
  6. Amy

    So true. Throughout my son’s senior year I felt a mix of pride and melancholy. How could the years have gone by so very fast? The first semester was tough, but then a strange thing began to happen. Our relationship evolved. Our conversations were less parent-child in nature, but more like two adults. He made me laugh. He asked my advice. And I felt an unusual sense of relief in knowing I had raised a level headed, great young adult, who was thriving in his new world.

    January 5, 2013 at 12:10 am
  7. Kristin S

    My eldest didn’t go away to college. My second child went, but I was too worried about the transition of an absent-minded ADD child half a continent away to be lonesome for him. So I didn’t anticipate any problem when the youngest, and only daughter, decided to go to the same school as her older brother, half a continent away. Everything went well until I dropped her off at school that fall. Mama Mia had just come out, so we went the first night we were in town. I started sobbing partway through Slipping Through My Fingers and didn’t stop until well past the end of the song. My daughter was completely mortified and thought I’d lost my mind. That was four years ago, and I have made a full recovery.

    January 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm

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