It's that time of the year where all over the country parents are dropping their children off for their freshman year of college.
This may be the biggest, most significant moment of change in the parent-child dynamic. Bigger than when a child moves into his own apartment. Bigger than when she gets married. Even bigger than when the child has a child of his own.
It is the time when a child cuts the umbilical cord and nothing will ever be quite the same. For the first time, they are living on their own. They are eating food you didn't make. They are sleeping in a bed far away from you in sheets that they will have to wash (or not). They don't have a curfew. You cannot wait up for them if they get home late. And once these things happen, the parent-child relationship is changed forever.
During freshman year of college, kids are discovering what it is like to be independent. It is a wonderful time for them. But perhaps not so wonderful for their parents. After all, parents still see their children as children, not the adults they are quickly becoming.
There will be one less seat at the dinner table. Less food to buy. Less kids hanging around. Less noise. The stuff that drives parents crazy—the loud music, the constant opening and shutting of the fridge—parents will now desperately crave.
It is a tough transition for everyone. A child must learn to be truly independent. A parent must learn to let go. From the parents I've talked to, it's much, much harder on the parent than the child.
"On the ride to college, I relived every major milestone in Lauren's life," says Jennifer, a mom of two daughters. "I just can't believe how fast it has gone. I feel like I just dropped her off at pre-school. And I thought that was traumatic."
You can get a little teary eyed, but don't break down in front of your child, parents advised.
"You have to be strong for them. They're scared. This is all unknown to them. They don't want to have to worry about mom and dad too," says Debbie, who has three children in college. "But as soon as we are out of sight, my husband and I pull over the car and sob."
Debbie says parents should fight the urge to call and check in on your child too often. "When my oldest went off to school, I knew she was homesick, so I called her all the time. That just made it worse. I've learned to let them breathe and let them call when they're ready. Unless they don't call at all—they need to call me once in a while. I am still their mom."