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Apodaca: Transition to college is tough – on parents

August 09, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

It was the cartoon that finally got me.

I was sitting in an auditorium full of parents who, like me, were preparing to send a child off to college. I was on campus because my youngest son was attending an orientation program for incoming freshmen, but these days universities are savvy enough to know that offering a parallel "parent orientation" is a dandy way to get Mom and Dad on board with revenue-generating activities, from association fees to football games.

So while my son was learning the ins and outs of college life and choosing his classes for the fall, I was treated to seminars on everything from technology to how much bad dorm food I'll have to pay for each semester.

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But the talks that received the most attention from parents were those involving the concept of "letting go." You're still the most important people in your students' lives, we were assiduously reassured, while also being told — in immaculately polite terms — that aside from keeping those tuition payments coming, we should now prepare to butt out.

At the end of one session, a cartoon appeared on the screen above the speaker's head. In the first frame, depicting "The First Day of Preschool," a mother tried to extricate herself from the vise-like grip of her little boy, who obviously did not want Mom to leave.

The second frame, with the caption "The First Day of College," showed a role-reversing scene of a teenage son attempting to flee from the embrace of his overwrought mother.

That's about when I felt the golf-ball-sized lump in my throat.

For the past several weeks, I've been engaged in a long, drawn-out process of letting go. First there was a spate of graduation celebrations and family gatherings, and as the summer wore on, the going-away parties began.

Wedged into the social whirlwind, we managed to fit in an exotic foreign trip. I had been blissfully happy when I first asked my son if he wanted to go and he registered surprise that I'd even felt the need to ask. "But we always go on family vacations," he replied.

And for a few short weeks, we indeed spent quality time together, learning about foreign cultures and customs, seeing strange and wonderful wildlife, experimenting with unfamiliar cuisine, and creating an unforgettable experience that time and distance can never rob from us. We were as close as we'd ever been.

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