When Your Child Leaves for College (and Takes Your Heart with Her)

We’re in single digits now. That is, number of days until we move my girl into her dorm room.  Throughout her senior year, I teared up (sometimes outright cried) at all the “lasts.” Her last fall drama. Her last high school musical. Her last Prom. Her last Spanish Club meeting. Her last last day of high school.

Then came graduation. That was a crazy tough one for me. I was bursting with pride when she climbed the stage, her gown adorned with honor cords and medals. She did us and herself proud. I swore I could still see the bouncing toddler who never left my side and wanted to scoop her up and run away from all this growing up stuff and slow it all down.
I managed for much of the summer to put college into the “coming soon” category without really facing that it was, in fact, coming soon. Much sooner than I was ready for.

And here we are. “Coming soon” has turned into “almost here.” And in a blink, it’ll be “today”. I’ve spent almost every single day of this month in tears to some degree. I may just tear up momentarily at the thought of not being able to kiss her good night every night. Or, I’ll admit, I have full-on sobbed–soap opera-dramatic–choked sobs of angst.

The words are hard for me to say much less put into print in front of my tear-stained face: My daughter is going to college. I’m nowhere near ready and all the well-meaning platitudes in the world aren’t helping a bit.

She’s not going that far away.  But “not that far” is still away. I still can’t see her face in person every day and see that she’s coping okay. I won’t be able to use my Mom-sense and know if something’s up and get to the bottom of it, even if she assures me it’s not. I won’t be able to open her bedroom door and ask if she wants to watch “Pretty Little Liars” or run to the mall.

It’s natural. It’s time to let go.  No! This is my child! The one I carried inside my body. For months. Then I fed her from my body. For months. 

Mom and daughter at young age. When your child leaves for college.
“I swore I could still see the bouncing toddler who never left my side and wanted to scoop her up and run away from all this growing up stuff and slow it all down.”

For over 18 years, I haven’t been away from her but maybe a half-dozen days. Total. She’s my favorite female in the history of all females. There’s nothing about this growing up and moving to college thing that feels natural to me. And for the record, I don’t think anything within me will allow me to completely ever let go.

Why should I? Let go, that is. She’ll still need me. Not because she’s dependent but because I know her better than anyone. I understand her better than anyone. I’m a comfortable place. I get her, in all her fears and questions and insecurities, and in her confidence and intellect and brilliant beauty. I know her stories and her struggles, her hurts and her healed places. I know when she needs help and I know when she’s got this.

As time approaches, I’ve panicked. Have I taught her everything she needs to know? Did we read the Bible together enough? Have I equipped her to protect herself? Feed herself? I need to get vitamins! Does she know how to do laundry?? I’ve exhausted myself worrying about my perceived inadequacy. I’ve felt fresh guilt about any time I’ve raised my voice at her or fell short as a parent.  Paralyzed by the notion that I didn’t do enough, that I haven’t been enough.

But then I remember: She’s amazing. She’s smart. She earned her way into this college. She’s tested out of several college classes, saving thousands of dollars and a bunch of hours. She’s got an excellent moral compass. She’s a tremendous friend and has the proverbial “four quarters” instead of 100 pennies (a few solid friends instead of many not-as-close ones). She’s funny and makes friends quickly. She’s smart about boys.

When your child leaves for college. Mom and daughter clasped hands.
I will always hold my children’s hands in whatever way they need me.

She didn’t get this way being raised by wolves. Although I can’t take credit for every success and aspect of her character and personality, I can take credit for steering her in the right direction to achieve these things, and for the support and guidance I’ve given her (will always give her). She and my son are pretty excellent humans and I’d like to think I contributed to these results.

Oh, this will hurt, the moving her in and driving away. I can barely think about it. I know when we return home and she stays in this new abode of hers, it will knock me to my knees. Maybe even literally. I’m told by veteran parents that it’ll take months to feel normal again and it’ll be hard to achieve that. Truth is, I don’t think I’ll feel normal again until she’s back under my roof for those precious weekends, holidays, and summers.

Let me tell you mamas who are going through this right now or soon will, this is hard. We have to be kind to ourselves. Do not let anyone tell you your tears are silly, that you’re overreacting or to pull yourself together. It’s because we love our children so fiercely that this transition is difficult beyond what we expected.

Be gentle with yourself. Buy a new book or see a movie or visit an old friend. Make some plans. Remember that parenting will never be over even if you’re needed a little less. And remember that you have purpose. Explore some new hobbies or dust off some old dreams and start working towards the reality.

Feel what you feel.  We must continue to get up each day, rise from the bed and be involved in life. We are here and blessed and we will see our babies again, weeks or months from now. We have amazing technological advances to keep us updated on our babies’ lives. Texting, FaceTime, Skype, email. There’s every opportunity to remain in close contact. And I believe they’ll want to. They need us, you know. For 18 or so years, we’ve been their support system and we are of great value to them, especially now.

But we must go through these emotions we have. Accept and feel them and have self compassion. I’m learning that as much as this hurts, it’s just as exciting. My girl is taking a huge adult-sized step into learning and starting her journey that will create her adult life and profession. She’s living out a dream right now in front of my very eyes. And I get to be part of it. I get to see the results of my love and nurturing play out in her as she makes new friends and gains this incredibly valuable education and grow stronger in her faith and knowledge.

Our children are going out into the world and we’ve equipped them well. They’ll be back to tell us all about it and allow us to delight in them.  And it’s going to be amazing.

Hang in there with me,


Melanie S. Pickett blogging




Melanie S. Pickett


Melanie Pickett is a mom, second wife, and domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor who’s living her second calling as a writer. Melanie has battled Crohn’s disease and complications for over 20 years. Having survived a 15-year abusive first marriage, Melanie shares with her readers what she learned through that experience to encourage and inspire others. Melanie has been featured on Huffington Post, The Mighty, Splickety Magazine, Whole Magazine, and Sonoma Christian Home where she’s an Associate Intern Editor. Melanie’s favorite thing to do is spend time with her teenage children, husband, and black pug Gracie. She also loves to read, enjoy the beach and Great Lake near her home, workout (when health allows), and dabble in photography. One of Melanie’s favorite quotes is “We were born to be real, not to be perfect.”

You can follow Melanie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and her personal Blog.

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