One week ago we dropped off our oldest child, Ruby, at college in Southern California.
One of my close friends was also dropping off his daughter, and I love his description of the experience …
I knew that dropping off Ruby at Hope International University would be an emotional experience, so in the week leading up to the “drop off” I asked several friends who have been through this already how to navigate this emotional moment.
The following are some amazing bits of advice from friends and also a few that God taught to me along the way …
1. Buy stock in kleenex. @DaveStone920
Dave’s advice meant I could count on some tears, but what I didn’t count on is how, why, when and from where the tears would come. When standing with Ruby in her dorm room, I really thought that would be THE moment! But I didn’t have to reach for the kleenex until listening to a faculty member I’d never met talk about how “your kid is growing up.”
I also had more tears in the precious seven days leading up to the drop off than in the last seven days since she has been out of the house. I guess that brings two pieces of good news to parents …
- The anticipation is the toughest part in some ways.
- Things do get easier as the days go by.
Tears are important.
I am pretty sure that we do not grieve or celebrate as much as we should. Life goes so fast, and there is always something coming “next,” so we bulldoze our emotions to get rid of both the highs and lows in order to maintain our composure.
All this does is leave us with < experiences.
And less than experiences lead to weak memories in the long run because we have not really lived in the moment.
So embrace the tears and realize they signify your presence in the moment.
2. Don’t try to fix every problem. @Drew_Sherman
From the moment we arrived at Ruby’s dorm room everything did not go as we planned or dreamed. The girls were trying to figure out the layout of the room with four roommates while getting input from all the parents as well, and it turned into a stressful situation.
As time passed, the parents were getting more upset, and the girls were getting more anxious.
Then the greatest thing happened …
The parents (and 7 younger siblings) were all challenged to LEAVE THE ROOM and let these four girls work things out. So we did. We all went out and sat in different parts of the lobby. And it took the roommates about 15-20 minutes to work out what the parents could not work out in two hours!
- We want our kids to grow up and mature at college.
- We need to let them fix their own problems.
3. Write letters.
In a digital world letters seem so old school. But that is exactly what makes hand written letters so valuable and prized.
I wrote Ruby three letters with the following dates, and I put them under her pillow:
- Letter #1 – Open tomorrow morning … after you have made it through the first night!
- Letter #2 – Open one week from today.
- Letter #3 – Open one month from today.
Sitting and writing these letters before Ruby left allowed me to process how I might be feeling and actually gave me confidence and balance to lead in the drop off moment as I had already spent some time processing and handing the future to God.
I also am certain that these letters gave my daughter good moments of “future anticipation.” There are words coming from her dad tomorrow that somehow help provide dexterity for today.
I also trust that the words I wrote 1,7 and 30 days in advance will come into Ruby’s life at just the right time.
- Your words matter.
- God will use your imperfect words for His perfect purposes in your student’s life.
4. Say everything you want to say and have the magical moments before you get there. @GeneAppel
My friend Gene advised that their “on campus” drop off time was not full of magical, perfectly emotional, life altering moments. He advised me to go ahead and make space the week before the drop off for magical moments and conversations to happen.
Such good advice.
When we got to the day of the drop off our anticipation was at an all time high. Much of the anxiety melted away as we watched our daughter come alive on the college campus. We stood in a long line for checking in, getting keys, obtaining a parking pass, lugging boxes, hanging pictures, setting up printers, excursions to Target etc etc etc …
The drop off is not a moment full of margin … it can be chaotic.
Therefore, the advice to make room for magical moments before the day of the drop off is so wise.
One of the things we made room for is a family dream session. We have done these together for the last 7 summers. (You can read all about leading a family dream session here.)
Here is a picture of the top of our paper. It’s not rocket science or artistic! It’s just an extremely effective way to get the family talking and dreaming.
We spent two hours sharing …
- An emoji that describes how we feel right now.
- Our spiritual and relational goals.
- Our dreams.
- A personal word that we want to describe this semester.
- A family word that we want to characterize our family this semester.
- And words we would use to describe the other members of our family.
This is where the margin was created.
This is where the tears flowed.
This is where the happy, sad and meaningful words were spoken.
This is where we laughed.
This is were we prayed.
This is where we got the magical moments and margin we needed that were not going to happen at the drop off.
5. Do something immeasurably fun ASAP! @preacherwalling
We drove from the campus of Hope International University to a Coldplay concert!
This was good for our family because it kept us from going home and sitting on the couch and being sad about an incredibly happy thing! We were glad for Ruby. This was an amazing day that we had been working toward as parents for 18 years! If she was not moving into this season of life, we would be sad and concerned.
So as she celebrates … we celebrate!
You obviously don’t have to go to a concert, but do something to celebrate.
Do something that makes you smile.
Do something you enjoy.
- If you still have another child or two at home … do something they love.
- For the past few weeks the focus has probably been on their college-bound sibling. Let the focus for the next few hours be on them.
- Do what they want to do.
- See what they want to see.
- Remember what lights them up, and then save up and make arrangements to make that happen.
For our son, Cole, that was Cold Play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
After an exhausting day on the college campus and hours of sitting in traffic, it was rejuvenating to see Cole light up as Coldplay took the stage, and we celebrated together.
I am thankful for good friends who offered helpful advice for one of the greatest and suckiest days of my life!