Guest post by Sherri Maat
Do you know a friend who is sending a child to college for the first time? Here is the story of when my eldest departed, and the lessons I learned about how to help someone else through this huge life transition.
Parenting Your Eldest Child: A Series of “Firsts”
I love my role as a mom to two young adults. Being a mom is a privilege, entrusted to me by God to nurture tiny, helpless human beings into independent, unique individuals.
As any mom knows, parenting is not easy by any means! Each season of my kids’ life has brought with it significant challenges—for my boys and me. I’ve discovered that “kid transitions” are especially difficult with your eldest child because each new experience is uncharted territory for both of you.
For example, when I dropped my eldest son Hunter off at kindergarten, I cried all day long. Or, when Hunter got on the wrong bus and they told me he was “temporarily misplaced.” I was hysterical. (And really, with that sort of news, what mom wouldn’t be?) Then there was the day Hunter got his driver’s license and I watched him drive off in the car without me. “Terrified” comes to mind when I reflect on that particular life event.
Of the many “firsts” that Hunter and I have lived together as eldest child and mother, one of the hardest for me was sending him off to college for the first time. I wasn’t prepared for the roller coaster of emotions I would experience. Hunter had been around for 18 years and I couldn’t remember life without him in the house. Hunter didn’t make it easy for me either by selecting a college that was on the opposite side of the United States from our Midwestern home. Really, why Arizona!?! There would be no weekend visits and no way to quickly show up and help him if needed.
Finding a New Rhythm When They Leave for College
I was excited for Hunter and proud of him for taking on this adventure full throttle. At the same time, I felt like my heart was breaking. There was a deep ache inside me that I could not soothe.
How did I make it through this transition and find a new rhythm without Hunter under the same roof? The answer is simple: with the support of my friends, coworkers and family.
Caring for a Friend Who is Sending a Child to College
If you know someone who will be sending their child off to college for the first time this August, here are some suggestions on how you can help care for them:
- Ask your friend how her son or daughter is doing at college. Being able to talk about Hunter and how he was doing made me happy and made it feel like he was near.
- Give your friend a hug . . . and often. Nothing soothed my ache more than a friend’s hug holding me up in the moment.
- Encourage your friend to talk with moms going through the same situation. For spring break Hunter’s senior year in high school, we vacationed with several of Hunter’s friends and their families, all of whom had graduating seniors. We made a group chat called “Spring Break Moms” to plan the vacation specifics. To this day, we still use the group chat to check in with each other. Knowing other moms were feeling the same way reassured me that my feelings were normal.
- Invite your friend to hang out, but don’t be offended if she declines your offer. Parents will journey through some form of grief as they try to figure out what their “new normal” looks like. Respect that everyone’s journey through grief is different.
- Reflect with your friends on the early seasons of child rearing that were hard (first day of kindergarten, driving, etc.) and how things turned out alright if not better than we thought. It helped me to think through past parenting seasons and remember . . . we survived back then and we will do so again.
- Tell your friend that she has done her best to raise a child that is successful in navigating life, and to trust God with the rest. When I was feeling especially low about being so far from away from Hunter, a friend shared with me a comforting example of a time when God clearly protected her daughter from serious harm. I needed the reminder that God is in control of Hunter’s well-being, not just me.
One of the most overlooked joys of parenting is the wisdom we can pass on to parents who come along after us. Consider using a few of these ideas to care for a mom who is about to send her eldest off to college for the first time. Your words of wisdom will help soothe that ache so many feel when the eldest departs the nest for the first time.
About the author: Sherri Maat is a wife, mom of two, and lives in Michigan.
For more resources, visit our page, Back to School: How to Care Well.