Two years ago my parents and I dropped my little sister off for her freshman year of college. It was a whirlwind of emotion for everyone involved. Even my sister, a self proclaimed ‘awkward kid with no emotions’ (I recommended that she not open with that when introducing herself to people on campus), broke down a couple of times at the thought of being separated from all of her high school friends, of moving away from home for the first time, and the overwhelming possibilities that lie ahead. All in all, she is a well-adjusted kid, smart and sociable, with a heart of gold and has continued to thrive both academically and socially. I have absolutely no worries about her ability to be successful both in the college years that remain and in the life that lie ahead. (We always make jokes that my younger brother, on the other hand, is a different story. I’m about 93% sure that he’s going to be fine.)
This time of year I can’t help but think of the thousands of first-year students preparing to embark on college campuses around the country. (And not just because I work with first-year students.) Watching all of these parents and first time college students in the Augusts since my own move in day all those years ago, always gets me thinking about what I’d like to have said to my own parents in that situation and to all of the parents entrusting me and countless other student affairs professionals with their babies this fall.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Congratulations! The day has arrived! You did it! I’m off to college!
At graduation, I received all of these words of congratulations, but I’d like to congratulate you. You made it! Yes, I’m the one who earned the grades, spent hours at after school activities, and submitted the college applications, but I couldn’t have done it without your help. You taught me the value of hard work, the difference between right and wrong, and the power of kindness. And for that I am grateful.
But now comes the hard part… moving out for the first time, trusting me to make the right choices, and helping me learn from those choices even when I don’t always make the right ones.
Now I’ll always be your kid, but the thing is, I’m not a kid. I’m an adult. Or at least I’m trying to figure out how to be one. And while it will be difficult for both of us, you have to let me figure things out even if that means I stumble a bit. When you say, “Don’t forget to pack your jacket,” I hear, “I don’t trust you to pack for yourself.” What you’re actually saying is, “I checked the weather and I don’t want you to be cold.” When you say, “Be careful” every time I leave the house, I hear, “I have irrational fears about your safety.” What you’re actually saying is, “I’m your mom and I worry about you. And that doesn’t stop just because you’re 18.” When you do things for me that I need to figure out how to do for myself, I hear, “I don’t trust you to do this yourself.” What you’re actually saying is, “I’m just trying to help.” Even though it’s not always easy, I guess we both could do better at saying we mean and really listening to each other.
So the time has come. You taught me to fly and I’m ready to leave the nest. But remember, even though I’m moving to my own nest soon, your nest will always be home.
Your First-Year College Student