Preparing YOURSELF to Send Your First to College


Graduation was a month or so ago, and you have recovered from the last hectic months of senior year. Before you can even take a deep breath, it’s time to prepare your eldest for college or a new job, or whatever else might come next. This preparation can be a job in and of itself, especially if this is your first one to leave the nest.

Colleges are very specific about the steps to take: the date of orientation, what to pack for your dorm room, and how to register for classes. But I have some tips on how to prepare and care for yourself emotionally as your child makes the leap into what some call real life. (For logistics help, this article has a good timeline for planning).  

Getting Ready

Hopefully your child’s independence has been growing over the past couple of years. Driving tends to hasten this process. I often said after my firstborn started driving that I hoped we’d taught her everything, because we never saw her anymore! Turns out, this gradual release of control will serve your child well as she begins to navigate life without having all her comings and goings monitored by you (at least live–not counting Life360).


Even if you think your child isn’t ready, chances are good that she’s had to experience making good decisions and choices when out and about. So she isn’t totally unprepared. Especially if she’s held a job for any length of time, her “real world” skills have already started to develop.

Remember, if you start to get a little panicked as drop off day draws near, 18 years ago your child couldn’t walk or feed herself! And look where she is now! It will be okay! For advice from a professional, check out this article to help you prepare even further. It will help assure you that you’ve likely already done all you could to ready your child for this big step.

Another unexpected gift in the time leading up to college drop off is that your kid will start getting on your last nerve! It’s a phenomenon I experienced and have heard from other parents as well. Even those parents and kids with the best relationships can have some knock-down drag-outs over the littlest things or just generally annoy one another.

These conflicts often arise during the summer before college. I have heard that it is the universe’s way of making it easier for parents to let go and for children to leave, because you just need a break from each other. Whether this is true or not, if it happens to you, accept it as an anesthetic to help ease the pain of separation. 

Move In Day

All the dorm room or apartment supplies have been purchased, classes are registered, and it’s time to load up the van (and the truck . . . and the trailer . . . cue Beverly Hillbillies theme music) with all of Junior’s worldly goods and leave her in the wild. Maybe not really the wild, but college (or a new job!) can definitely feel that way.


Expect tears (for you) and don’t expect your child to be at her best. It is nerve-wracking to meet a new roommate, set up a living space, deal with emotional parents, and become acclimated to new surroundings all at once.

I speak from experience: be prepared for some uncomfortable feelings. There will be irritation because you are about to make a third trip to Walmart. And there will be frustration with the institution if their move-in process isn’t the best, nerves if your daughter is going through sorority recruitment, or hesitation to let your child live in an apartment alone.

You are feeling big feelings, but this day isn’t about you. Remember that, and remember you get to go home eventually and have a good cry.  

Write a Letter

Another tip: I left a letter for both of mine their freshman year of college. Even though you will probably be texting with your child an hour after leaving, a handwritten letter means so much more. You can write things that might be hard to express in person. A bonus for you is that writing the letter can be cathartic.

Whether your child reads the letter and saves it to re-read, or reads it and throws it out, she knows she’s in your thoughts and heart at all times, even far away. It is also a relief not to have to think of everything you want to say to your child as you tell her goodbye. Just put it in the letter. Your child doesn’t want to listen to a speech from a teary mama anyway!


Pulling into the driveway and going into a house that is now without one of its usual occupants is a little rough, I will admit. But be heartened that if you have helped your student move in, you will be too tired that evening for her absence to register (small blessings)!

As the days, weeks, and months pass, let yourself have a good cry or two as the realization sets in that your baby isn’t part of the day-to-day life of your household anymore. Keep yourself busy. Don’t let this natural progression toward your child’s independence steal your joy. Focus on your husband and your other kids, but don’t forget to focus on yourself as well.

Let yourself feel what you feel. Maybe journal about it or share with a trusted friend, or seek out resources designed to help you adjust. Working through this time will be easier if you’re not ignoring your feelings but not wallowing in them, either.

How about you? How did you adjust to your children leaving the nest? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!









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Janna is the mom of two “grown-and-flown” adults, ages 20 and 24,and has been married to her husband, Jamie, for 27 years. They have lived in Birmingham since starting college at Birmingham-Southern in the mid-80s, and loved the area so much they decided to stay. Janna graduated in 1990 and taught elementary school for 28 years, most of it at Gwin Elementary in Hoover. Since retirement, she has certified as a yoga teacher, done more volunteer work at her church, and has explored her love of writing. She is passionate about focusing on the blessings and joys in every season of parenting. When she is not trying to be productive, you can find her with her nose in a book (yes, a paper one), exercising, or hanging out with people she loves.