My little pumpkin is leaving--in 2 years!
January 14, 2008 2:04 PM   Subscribe

How do parents of an only child let them go when it's time to leave the nest for college? I have a 15 yr. old and I'm already dreading her going out into the big bad cruel world--(ok, so its just college). But I don't want her to see how worried I am and not have a nervous breakdown in front of her ;-) So how can I prepare myself for this big milestone?
posted by sandra194 to Human Relations (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
By giving her more responsibility for herself when she's still a teenager within the framework of her upbringing. For instance, my parents let me drink when I was a kid -- in their presence and under their supervision. My dad dared me to outdrink him (which I learned wasn't possible after trying a few times.) When I got to college, binge drinking held no interest -- christ, that was something I did with my parents.

Cocooning kids to 'protect' them when they hit the real world is the cruelest thing you can do to a kid. It keeps them a kid for longer when the world really needs them to be an adult.
posted by SpecialK at 2:07 PM on January 14, 2008 [7 favorites]

(The old adage -- "If you love something, set it free..." really applies here.)
posted by SpecialK at 2:07 PM on January 14, 2008

Talk to other parents who've gone through this experience.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:08 PM on January 14, 2008

My best friend is an only child. He is not really because he has a brother, but that brother is severely autistic, so his parents pinned all of their hopes and dreams on my best friend. This guy had all the toys, he got extra time on tests, he went to a small college and studied film, and his parents were super-extra-accommodating to him all the time. Now, he lives at home, he's 30, he drives a 1993 Taurus wagon, and his only film experience is working at a movie theater. And, his resume is on Craigslist. Enough said, don't vie to be the only thing in your child's life, or else you will be - for the rest of your life.
posted by parmanparman at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

My mother still has the Kleenex she cried into on the drive home from dropping me off from college. In 1984. Don't be my mom.

On the practical side, Life skills: laundry, checkbook, basic financial management, how to use a credit card without ruining your life. Make her get a job to pay for part of college, even if it's just spending money, even if you can afford to pay for everything.

Emotionally, as an only child the hardest thing for me was learning how mean people can be, even when they like/love each other. Even having grown up with lots of friends, without the sibling interaction I was extremely hypersensitive. Friendships are different when your friends are around 24/7. Encourage her to have a roommate freshman year, even if you can afford a single; the act of sharing a room was a huge learning experience for me WRT personal space, etc.

As someone who works at a university: Teach her to be independent when it comes to schoolwork. Don't hover to make sure she is getting assignments done; don't call the teacher to bail her out when she messes up. Don't micromanage her schedule, her major, her roommate. Don't call the dean.

Other than parents' weekend, don't come to campus in the fall semester, and don't encourage her to come home. So many students never get a chance to break free of their parents and HS friends because they are always home.

Let her decide when to call you.

Talk to her about college boys and the mean things they do, especially when they are trying to get a girl to sleep with them.

She is probably going to want to drop out or transfer in the second semester of her freshman year. Encourage her to stay through the first year... most of the time that impulse passes. Don't panic if she's unhappy, as long as it's within the range of emotion you have seen before.

Think about what you are going to do that first semester to keep yourself occupied - hobbies, travel, etc.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:25 PM on January 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

Please don't scare the heck out of your kid. My parents made me stay at home and go to an awful community college with total morons who had no interest in school. My folks were worried that I'd fail out of university, be socially isolated, collapse under the stress, fall into a cult, commit suicide, etc. Yikes! When I did transfer, I made lots of friends and was still at the top of my class. However, for the prior two years, I was terrified of what would happen when I transferred to the scary university -- to the point where I asked my college profs if my A's were real or just "community college" A's. And it was harder to make friends when I transferred than if I had been with everyone from the beginning.

(Everything worked out well and I never ran into the realities of my parents' fears. They were from a small town where no one went to university and where there was never any financial/emotional support for people who went. So I guess their fears were kind of realistic for their own backgrounds. But I did just fine -- in spite of the terror! I run my own business, have a graduate degree, no debt, etc.)
posted by acoutu at 2:33 PM on January 14, 2008

Im an only child.

My parents have always given me almost stupid amounts of freedom, though they tell me now this is because I have always been a sensible normal child and they had nothing to worry about (even though they of course did) it was best not to allow their worries to fence me in, to make my own mistakes. I wouldnt describe myself as close to my parents, or Mum in a kinda best friendy kind of way but we have a really positive and nurturing relationship.
I think what Im trying to say is my parents let me live in all ways so they didnt have to worry; by the time I left for uni (19), I had already had the boyfriends sleeping round deal, the first second and third jobs and emotional breakdowns because of exams infront of them. If youve approached all these issues (and more im sure) with your child already, theres not really much to worry about I guess.

I always remember my parents when they dropped me off at college, they made sure I was fine, that I had enough money, a kiss on the cheek and they left with the littlest of goodbyes, They did a great thing for me there, they have never forced themselves into my life ever. My dad had already given me the lectures I had heard a million times before about not drinking too much and extra in the car.

Now Im the grand age of 22 and finishing my degree, the amount of time I spend with my Im so appreciative and happy, it really is a special.

FYI My parents think they did a great job, and thats the important thing.
posted by Neonshock at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2008

Hi. Only child here.

I worked all through high school, and my paychecks paid for my clothes and records and going out with friends. I learned how to balance a checkbook. I did laundry for myself. I knew how to cook something besides scrambled eggs and pasta + sauce from a jar. I could make coffee. The first time I got high, it was with my mom (she wanted me to be home and safe, so she told me that if I was ever interested, I should tell her, and she'd arrange something). I was also allowed wine with meals.

From the time I started high school, my mom didn't nag me about homework - although if my grades dropped, there were consequences. From about sophomore year (in high school) on, I had no curfew; it was understood that if I was going to be out past 10 p.m., I would call.

So. Give her more responsibility in bits and pieces. As she gains self-confidence, you'll gain confidence in her. If she doesn't already have a job, encourage her to get one. And it doesn't have to be a McJob, either - I worked as a bread baker for an artisinal bakery, and then as a prep cook at a gourmet food place. They were interesting jobs with interesting people that taught me more than I would have learned at a McJob.

That said, when I left for school, my mom was sad - and so was I, actually. I was pretty homesick for the first month or so. But please don't do what the parents of a classmate of mine did, which was to tell her all the time how much they missed her, how awful home was without her, and wouldn't she like to transfer to the local college in their town? Terrible. She nearly caved, but didn't.]

Don't be afraid to talk to your daughter about how you feel, but also make it really clear that it's not her job to fix it, and you don't expect her to. Good luck!
posted by rtha at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2008

I am not a parent. And I have two younger sisters. But I do have pretty terrific parents who admit that they "hate this growing up crap". But they've done a wonderful job of letting us grow up and get out and try (and even fail) at new things. Even if they often wish we were still 8 years old.

Talking about going away to college and all that entails (roommates, picking classes and majors, small town vs city, down to the ridiculousness of having to buy extra long sheets and having to sneak in an illicit microwave) was actually a fairly safe topic of conversation with my parents during high school. And since a lot of other topics devolved into yelling and/or crying (on my part - my poor poor parents), it was nice to have something we could discuss and all get excited about. What helped here I think was that my parents were pretty open to letting me plan my course. Neither of them really went away to college, so this was new to all of us and they trusted me a lot. I appreciated it even at the time but I really really appreciate now, 10 years later.

I agree with SpecialK above that the more responsibility you can give your daughter before she leaves will help reassure you. And will put her in a better position when she's living away from you, with strangers. As a freshman, I was surprised by how many people hadn't/couldn't/didn't know how to do things that I had been responsible for myself, such as:
- laundry/ironing/knowing what needs to be dry cleaned
- balancing a check book/managing credit cards (a huge one - I came out of college, and then grad school, with significant educational loans but not a single penny in consumer debt and everytime a friend talks about struggling to pay down their credit card debt I want to call up my Dad and thank him for instilling that kind of responsibility in me at a really young age)
- extremely basic cooking skills
- not going crazy with a little bit of freedom - I had no real curfew in high school, so college, while exhilarating in other respects, was not that big of a deal for me. My roommate however thought that staying up or out until 5 a.m. was THE COOLEST THING EVER! It took her several months (and many days of too little sleep) to get over this
- I knew how to handle my alcohol, for the most part - though I don't have my parents to thank for that, as most of my drinking was hidden from them in high school, I realized that it really didn't have to be when I saw how chill they were with my sister. Your daughter will probably drink in college. Personally, I'm glad my worst drinking experiences were in high school, with people I had known since kindergarten and not in the basement of a frat house.
- to ask for help - with school, with medical or psychological issues, with money issues, with roommate problems. I'm pretty independent but I always know that I can call my parents if I needed them - not because they bugged me to do so, but because they were caring and trusting.

Also, if you're anything like my parents, you've put a lot of your focus and energy towards your daughter and her life. She'll appreciate it. But that means you'll have a lot more free time that could be taken up with worry when she's in college and later. Pick up a hobby or something now that will help you fill your time. I love my parents very much, but even with two sisters they have a lot of attention to bestow on me still - sometimes that's too much. And on that note, you'll probably hear from your daughter a lot less than you'd like. That's okay and good for her. Don't push too hard to talk to her every day - once a week (or whatever you both work out after the first month or two) is probably more realistic and less stressful for everyone.
posted by Caz721 at 2:37 PM on January 14, 2008

Definitely let your kid have freedom- to an extent. I'm 18, and I'm incredibly grateful that my parents manage to trust me. I know they aren't required to give me this by any means, and I try to live up to it while still living my life. I feel a lot more prepared to go off and live on my own than some of my friends whose parents control their lives and don't trust them at all, or worse, can't talk to their parents about their problems. My parents and I have always been close, and I feel like this closeness has allowed them to trust me and feel good about my ability to make my own decisions. They don't micromanage my life or rush in to save me if I screw up- as a result, I rarely have situations where they would even need to do something like that.

Basically, get to know your kid as an actual person, and not just your little pumpkin :). If you give them freedom now and see that they can handle it, won't you be more reassured about their ability to handle adult life? And talk to them, too; find out how they feel about issues (politics, pre-marital sex, whatever) and listen to them carefully. Even if you don't agree with what they think, you'll be reassured that they'll be able to make decisions on their own. And I imagine that's what you want: the reassurance that your kid will be able to take care of themselves without you.
posted by MadamM at 2:37 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

So how can I prepare myself for this big milestone?

Everyone seems to be telling you how to prepare your kid. How do you prepare yourself? I'm facing this myself, and I'm thinking, getting a life that doesn't revolve around my child. I study, I work, I have plans*. I've practiced giving less and less unsolicited advice to the kids (which they seem to appreciate), and trusting that as intelligent nearly-adults the mistakes they will make will hopefully not be terminal.

Each time my kids take a step towards independence, I live through that little fear, pretend to them (and myself) that it doesn't exist and refuse to helicopter them (hover over making sure they get the right tickets, and turn up on time, and they know the timetable etc ad nauseum). To my surprise, it seems to be working out okay.

I was telling my son's best friend's mum that my husband and I plan on moving away from the kids once the younger one has finished school. She said, oh, but you don't have only children. We're renovating the shed so he can stay here, with us. He looked chagrined, but he's a responsible boy and will probably feel guilty enough to stay.

So back to the main point. Make plans. Think of things you can do that you can't do now for lack of time, or whatever. Make a list of 1001 things (there's a bunch of different websites out there) and force yourself through them. Accept that there will be grief, and go through it, but promise yourself to keep it hidden from her. Find other empty-nesters to hang with. But most of all, make your own life that doesn't revolve around your kid, for both your sakes. (My younger child is the same age - mefi mail me in two years and we can cry together okay?)
posted by b33j at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2008

Just for the record, it *is* possible to have parents who freak out at you going to college, even though they've given you tons of freedom, independence and leadership opportunities up till then and you've been very trustworthy all the while. I know this first-hand!

That being said, make sure your child knows how to plan menus, shop, prepare simple meals and clean up. Although I was making full roast beef dinners by the time I was 12, most of my roommates weren't even sure how to keep their food safe, let alone cook it. I know people who got very sick because they didn't know anything about food safety. And one roommate thought that adding dried parsley to a dish counted as including a vegetable. She lived on chicken patties, instant rice and parsley, then got very sick. And a lot of people aren't sure how to sweep, do laundry, vacuum or any of the normal cleaning things.
posted by acoutu at 3:01 PM on January 14, 2008

My 17 year old daughter is an only, and is a senior in high school. I am a single (divorced) dad. So in my case, and empty nest is going to be REALLY empty!

Since she was a young teen, I have just been letting her take more responsibility for herself. It is hard, no question. The instinct is to protect her. But I remind myself that she has to grow up and be independent. I often tell her "I didn't raise you to keep you."

You are trying to picture your 15 year old going to college. But, your 15 year old is NOT going anywhere. She will be 18. It's like picturing your newborn riding a bike. You will find in the next few years that you will let go more and more. She will show that she is growing up, and you will trust her more. I felt the same way as you when my daughter was 15. But now, as bittersweet as it will be whenever she does leave, I am excited for her!

I do know I have done my absolute best to be the best father I could. So, whatever path she takes is now up to her.

If you know you have done your best, and will keep doing your best to love her and teach her, you will be able to let go with peace in your heart, and be able to take pride in her accomplishments. If she makes bad choices, obviously do what you can to help her make better ones, but remind yourself that she might have to make some mistakes to find her way.

Remind yourself how hard giving birth was, and what a treasure resulted. Now you are in labor pains again, ready to birth an adult. It might hurt for a awhile, but think of the treasure you will have: a young lady, out in the world, finding her own way, taking part of you with her. It would be no more natural to hold her in your nest longer than she is supposed to be there, than it would have been to hold her in your womb when she was ready to be born.

Remind yourself that this is what you were made for: not to keep her, but to give her life.
posted by The Deej at 3:05 PM on January 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

My parents responded by immediately redecorating my room and embarking on a whirlwind vacation schedule that involved lotsa golf. I felt kinda wounded by their obvious delight at having a sullen mulish know-it-all like me out of their way. :)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:15 PM on January 14, 2008

Only child of overprotective parents. (Not insane overprotective, just worriers.)

When your kid does something over the next couple of years that makes you proud and makes you realize that you've got a good kid, write it down somewhere, so that you can remind yourself of this when you're panicking.

Don't dread her going off to school. Be excited, the same way you were probably excited by a lot of things that you've witnessed as she's grown up. It was exciting to see her learn to talk, learn to walk, start explaining her world in that awesome kid logic, get taller, start high school, etc.

You don't really know exactly how you're going to feel on that drive to school (well, worse, the drive home) until you're there. Try not to blow it up in your head -- put the mental orchestral score away. Try not to scare yourself silly with what-ifs, especially at this point. You've got several years and a lot of stuff to do before that point, and in the last months, you'll be REALLY busy helping her get organized.

You're gonna be okay. My mom's baby (that'd be me) is thirty-four, and my mom would be the first to tell you that you're gonna be okay.
posted by desuetude at 3:15 PM on January 14, 2008

don't feel too bad if you freak out in front of her because you'll miss her. i mean, don't shave your eyebrows over it or anything, but when i left home, i could tell that my usually tough and rather undemonstrative parents were sad to see their nest empty, and i kind of liked it- i was really touched, and it made me more considerate about calling them and being nice to them and stuff, despite the whirlwind of the first few weeks of school when i was so busy i'd otherwise have maybe sorta forgotten to call home.

to prepare yourself, you could start gently widening the gap a bit now- teach *yourself* to be independent. develop some social groups and hobbies outside of being a mom, so when your daughter goes, you have something to distract you.

maybe the two of you can slowly start to save up for a big trip you'll take together during her first summer home from college, so you can look forward to that? if you sell off her kid stuff as she's preparing to leave, that money can go into the trip fund- you've got a couple years to save up- dream big, go see paris in 2009!

and for now, maybe you could establish a time when the two of you hang out together (sunday movie nights? shabbat dinner? whatever). that would be a nice way to savour the last couple years before she goes, and then when she goes to uni you can talk on the phone in that timeslot. my friend and his mom still talk almost every shabbat, even if it's just "shabbat shalom, gotta go mom bye!" it's a sweet ritual even when it's rushed, and i know it keeps them more connected.

oh, and get used to buying less stuff. my mom still buys toilet paper like there were 4 asses living with her, i have to keep reminding her that the ass-count is at 50% now.
posted by twistofrhyme at 3:16 PM on January 14, 2008

My mother's empty nest therapy for me, her only, was that she baked something delicious once a week (on average) and sent it to me.

This was pretty great.
posted by awesomebrad at 3:23 PM on January 14, 2008

I grew up in a large family, and my wife's an only child, so these observations are filtered through what her adult annoyances are with her parents - YMMV:

The time in between when she leaves for college and when she comes back the first time will be so full of overwhelming (good, but overwhelming) changes that she may seem to be a different person to you than she was; this is because she is. This is also a good thing. She will never again be this 15-year-old kid you see today; remember this when you see her the first time after she leaves, but don't tell her. In other words, don't be the mom that says "OH MY GOD YOU'RE GROWING UP SO FAST I REMEMBER WHEN YOU WORE POWERPUFF GIRLS FOOTIE PAJAMAS" when she comes home for a weekend or a holiday. This rule especially applies if she comes home with a friend.

Also, let her dictate the communication patterns between you for the first semester or so. If she goes about a week without calling/emailing/whatever, drop her a quick, guilt-free, non-leading-question-filled "how's things?" email. In those first weeks of college, she'll be trying to carve out her space in the world, and you gotta let her.

Trust in what you've taught your daughter in the first 17 years of her life. You're obviously a concerned parent, which, as long as you stay on the "concerned" side of that line and don't veer into the "overly paranoid" side, is a good thing; but when she turns 17 it's time to remove your metaphorical hand from the back of her metaphorical bike, as it were, and let her pedal on her own.

Do not try to solve every problem she brings up. Sometimes, she'll just be venting - don't go into what my wife calls "mom cocoon mode" and try to wrap your darling child against the mean, mean world. Let her vent, be there for her, and obviously if something serious happens help out, but most "crises" the first year of college are more about navigating down the "who am I" road, and that's not something you can or should try to solve for your daughter.

Most importantly, please, oh please, try to see your daughter as a young adult and not as your child. When she goes to college, she's heading down the other fork in the road; you can still see her from your fork, and there's frequently chances to meet along the way, but her separate, adult life is really starting here, and you need to let it. Will that be easy? No, I'm sure it won't. But it's the best thing you can do for her.
posted by pdb at 3:30 PM on January 14, 2008

Only child here. Good, good advice above. My thoughts: Don't go crazy with emails. My mom emailed me 3x a day and then would call me if I didn't respond in what she thought was a timely fashion. (That sounds pretty nutty saying it now, but she just really missed me. I had to lay down the law on her pretty quickly.) The occasional email is good and keeps you from wanting to call so much, I think. My parents and I had a set time (Sunday morning) when I would call and we'd catch up on things.

Send her cards and letter. College kids don't typically get a lot of mail and it was always special when I did.

I worked all summer and had to make that money stretch through the entire school year as my spending money. Learning to live on a budget is a good thing.

She's gonna call and cry sometimes because things suck. Be her shoulder but realize it'll pass.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:43 PM on January 14, 2008

I am the last of five (though a twin). My parents had a difficult time letting us go, but they set some rules for us, and for themselves. They didn't let us visit our first semester away. They wanted us (collectively) to get used to living apart.

My mother blossomed. She had time and energy for herself. So maybe try to fill the void with something positive for yourself? Ironically, learning to be independent of each other was great for us emotionally. We still lived together in the summer, and I even moved home for a year after college, but things had changed. I began to like my parents more, and we're actually much closer emotionally now that we have our own lives.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:50 PM on January 14, 2008

Yeah. You really need to give your daughter as much autonomy as possible as soon as possible. For both of your sakes.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:17 PM on January 14, 2008

Only child #45837 here.

Going to college means being independent. My mom said, "If I've done my job, then you are going to be fine." By that she meant, "As a parent I'm supposed to train you to make it in the world outside of our house, and I know that I've done that and you will be fine." First of all, I know my mom meant it, and second of all, being told that I was strong, smart, independent, and would be just fine, really went a long way toward that actually being the case. Of course, my mom cried nearly all the way home from dropping me off at college, but I didn't know that for a long time. It was better that way - she didn't want me to feel guilty.

As above, be okay with spotty communication. I emailed my mom far more than I called, because frankly, I was awake to email her but when she wanted to talk, I was in class, on the way to class, out, asleep, or something else. She'll call. But let the email be OK. More now than even when I was in college, email is the way people her age communicate. Hell, it's the way *I* communicate, and I'm 28.

Don't freak out, whatever she tells you. Freaking out is not what she is probably going to want, and if you freak, she's going to stop telling you stuff. If she's like me, it will be because she doesn't want to cause you stress and make you upset. She's going to vent about stuff, maybe develop a potty mouth, and date boys of whom you do not approve (if she doesn't already). Everyone I know survived that.

Postal mail is good. Care packages with stuff you know she needs - better. Does she use a particular shampoo? Makeup? Other stuff you can replace without having to interrogate her? Do that.

The first extended stay home will be . . .interesting. I'd gotten used to being the master of my own time, and my parents were like, why aren't you in by your old curfew? It honestly had not occurred to me. I was used to coming and going as I pleased. Don't pick a fight over it, just have a decently civil discussion, and figure out what works for all of you. Also, if she comes home and holes up for a while, that's okay, too. I did - I was kind of crazed from all the constant STUFF!GOING!ON! at school. Going in MY room (not one I shared with a psycho) with MY stuff to read MY book and be left alone was like crack.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:30 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did nothing to prepare myself for my daughter leaving so early. Thank god this never occurred to me or I'd have been even more psychotic than I am just naturally. I think *she* needs to start acquiring all the skills noted above, but I would chill if I were you for now.

I've got two kids; good strong adult relationship with older (boy), very very close to my daughter. Because my son left 3 years ahead of my daughter, we had three years of "only childdom" with her. When she left, I kind of "purged" her. Cleaned the house top to bottom--reorganizing the basement, the attic, my son's room (which I'd neglected through the 3 years he'd already been gone, yuk), and finally her room. "Feng-shuied" the whole house. From the public areas of the house I got rid of YEARS of accumulated junk, her room I just organized, as I figured she'd be pissed if I started ditching stuff. I did score several very cool pairs of shoes and a couple of sweaters she'd left behind (she's on a year-long theatrical tour, so she won't be back to pick them up anytime soon!)

Anyway, the purging helped me to take ownership of the house, which really did mitigate the terrible loneliness of having her gone. I agree that you shouldn't hover, and that phone calls or emails should not begin "why haven't I heard from you" but I also think you are perfectly within your rights to call her when you feel like talking, and if that's twice in one day, fine (if it's twice EVERY day, then you're hovering.) The kids always want you to leave them alone, but frankly, they're a hundred/hundreds of miles away, it's not like you have any actual control. If talking to her a couple of times a week makes you feel better, who's it hurting? (as long as the tone remains adult, and not "I know how to run your life.") That said, don't call unless you actually have something to say. One of the things I love to do with my daughter is Christmas shopping, so this year we went shopping together by cell phone. It was a blast.

Do leave her alone for the first month or so that she's gone. You'll both need that time to learn how to be separate.

I miss my daughter like a physical pain, but we talk several times a week and it turns out that I'm a really interesting person who doesn't need my children to define me. Who knew?

Plus, I now have more time to hang out on Metafilter.
posted by nax at 5:31 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definitely find things to keep yourself busy - before your kid goes away. Have a life just waiting for you when she leaves, rather than feeling empty and lonely and then trying to compensate. Think of all the exciting things you can do for yourself, and let yourself look forward to them. You're not betraying her by building up your own life; you're in the process of letting her do the same thing as well.

Don't try to control where she goes. When I was applying to colleges, if I mentioned any school over 4 hours away, my mom would say, "That's too far. You don't want to go there." And because she'd raised me to be all dependent and to trust her advice, I believed her. Don't pre-judge schools for her, or classes, or majors, or whatever. Let her be exactly who she is, even if she's not sure who she is. Yes, the world is scary. It gets scarier every month that she's protected from it. The sooner she learns to navigate her own way, the sooner she grows into someone capable of handling any situation that comes her way.
posted by bassjump at 5:42 PM on January 14, 2008

The Deej: "Remind yourself how hard giving birth was, and what a treasure resulted. Now you are in labor pains again, ready to birth an adult. It might hurt for a awhile, but think of the treasure you will have: a young lady, out in the world, finding her own way, taking part of you with her. It would be no more natural to hold her in your nest longer than she is supposed to be there, than it would have been to hold her in your womb when she was ready to be born.

Remind yourself that this is what you were made for: not to keep her, but to give her life.

Oh, man, if I could favorite this 100x I would. So true, and so beautifully said. This is why I come back to AskMe! I should print this thread out and frame it.

I'm the parent of a 10-year-old boy, and already I'm beginning to feel a little of what you're feeling, sandra194. It's hard to let go, isn't it? My son is growing up, too, and I'm finding it hard to decide just how much freedom I should be giving him. As in letting him make his own decisions, even if I know they're "wrong" and he makes mistakes, and he has to take responsibility for his actions. It's hard, because just a few years ago (let's face it; ten years just flew by!) he was a baby and I had to do *everything* for him! I'm not perfect and I'm finding it hard to make that transition from "Mother of a Baby" to "Mother of a Young Person." I'm sorry if this comment is just adding noise, but I'm learning a lot from this thread and I really hope you gain something from all the wisdom that everyone has expressed here. I think just the fact that you feel this way and have come for advice here shows that you're a great parent and that you'll do fine.
posted by misozaki at 5:46 PM on January 14, 2008

I am an only child, of a single parent no less! When I went away to school, my mom was visibly upset, but I was OK with that, I kind of expected it. I think you can prepare yourself by realizing your kids know you are human. It's ok to be upset in front of them. I know that after the fact, it made me feel good that I was missed and loved back at home, when things weren't going so well at school.
posted by Phoenix42 at 6:02 PM on January 14, 2008

Very sheltered only child here....VERY. My parents thought they were saving me from the horrors of dating (I wasn't allowed to until I was 18) or socialization (not allowed to go out until 16), but it held me back more than anything. I wasn't socially inept in college, but I definitely did not know how to handle individual, personal situations. My mom and dad would tell me stories and what to do, but it is different when you are actually confronted with the situation and have never had any experience. Being around boys in a dating circumstance was....scary. I was always one of the guys at school, however, dating them, I had no idea what to do.

And I second those who have stated the loneliness factor with friends. Only kids tend to get very attached to people, very fast. The closest attachments we have had growing up were our parents and they are always available. When you have friends, close friends, it is hard to understand the space boundaries people have. I say give your daughter the most healthy dose of reality. Take financial classes with her, some community colleges do night classes. Spend time talking TO her, not AT her. I personally think that, for a girl, the things I wished my parents spoke to me more about were boys and money. And not giving me stories to scare me, but actual experiences of human nature and consequences.

Talk to her about boys. Talk to her about what makes a good man. What makes a good father. What makes a good provider, that way when she is just dating, she is at least aware of good qualities and will not pick idiots and losers. Tell her that time is the most valuable resource and you should not waste it on anything or anyone. Tell her about your own mistakes in life and what you have learned. Tell her about your own heartbreaks. Teach her to be a strong girl, a strong woman, so that she knows that in any situation, she is to never compromise herself or her integrity.

Pick some movies about life and women, strong women, watch them together and talk to her about them. I'm a fan of "In Her Shoes" and I think your daughter is old enough to understand the content. Good luck! You are a great mom for wanting to be the best you can in supporting her and making sure she enters this world properly. By that concern alone, you have done a great job with her.
posted by dnthomps at 6:27 PM on January 14, 2008

Two words: Vodka Martinis.
posted by boots77 at 7:06 PM on January 14, 2008

You are going to be upset and afraid for her. That is something you have to deal with as a parent. Talk to openly about your fears just don't over blow them. My only child left for college at 15. Talk about not being ready to let go........ But I got on with my life and talked to him almost every weekend the first year. He went far enough away that travel home except for long breaks was not possible. He is now 22 and finished with his masters and working on PhD.

You will be okay and so will your daughter. Good luck!
posted by bjgeiger at 7:34 PM on January 14, 2008

Cocooning kids to 'protect' them when they hit the real world is the cruelest thing you can do to a kid.

Seconded, thirded, infinity-ed. Take it from someone who is still insanely coccooned by her parents despite all efforts to break out. All that responsibility stuff people are mentioning upthread? I'm only learning this NOW. And it sucks. Seriously, don't be them.

In particular, don't pester her to do anything. That usually has the opposite effect - she'd start resenting you for it.

Relax; you'll be fine.
posted by divabat at 7:43 PM on January 14, 2008

Cocooning kids to 'protect' them when they hit the real world is the cruelest thing you can do to a kid. It keeps them a kid for longer when the world really needs them to be an adult.


I'm not even sure "cruel" is a strong enough word. You can put your child's literal and figurative life at critical risk by not giving them the knowledge and tools they need to make their way through this world with relatively safety and sanity. There's a lot of good advice in this thread, and IMO especially dnthomp's.

And I know a lot of people roll their eyes at Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet but I've always liked what he had to say about children.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:05 PM on January 14, 2008

I'm one year ahead of you with my daughter who is an only child. What has really helped us with our preparation has been allowing our daughter to take extended school trips. Years back she took a tour of east coast colleges. More recently, she lived in Germany for a month in a student exchange program and attended a week conference in California.

These trips have helped to begin the transition for both her and us.
posted by GregWithLime at 8:20 PM on January 14, 2008

I am an only child and I'm also the parent of an only child. I disagree with the whole put on a happy face idea. Acting like you aren't upset may make them feel worse than letting them know that you are upset. After all, you'll be sad because you *love and care about* them. You should be honest with your kid, they know the truth even if you hide it. And you know what? It's absolutely normal and ok to be sad that your kid is leaving home. Even as an adult I always make sure that I talk on the phone everyday with at least one of my parents. Yes, I'm fully aware that some people think this is weird. But I count myself very lucky to have a close relationship with my parents. I am fully aware that some day I'm not going to have the luxury to just pick up a phone and talk to my mom or dad. Sooner or later my parents are going to be gone. And, I am going to take advantage of that phone call every single day for as long as I can.

When my daughter leaves for college she knows I'm going to be sad. She also knows that she's probably going to be a little homesick. However, she also knows that she's going to make it just fine and so are we. Change of that magnitude is difficult for anyone. But, change is good. I'm sure we'll talk on the phone everyday just to let the other person know we're doing ok.

The best thing to do is prepare you and your child for this event. Teach your child how to take care of him/herself (laundry, finances, etc). Prepare yourself by establishing new friendships and hobbies that will keep you busy later when your child leaves home.
posted by GlowWyrm at 8:02 AM on January 15, 2008

One of the best things my parents did after I (only child, given lots of much-needed independence) left was to get a dog. It's the stereotype, sure, but it added another presence to their house, gave them something to do, and someone to dote on. Seven years later, we're still joking about how they replaced me with the dog, and I walk it whenever I go home to visit.

Other than that, all the advice above about teaching your kid to be self-sufficient is awesome. Don't let her end up like my cousin who got through his first three months of college before learning that you need to use detergent when you do your laundry.
posted by dizziest at 3:08 PM on January 15, 2008

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