Enough Tears for Niagara Falls

“My daughter is going off to college or to live on her own.” These are such simple words to evoke the powerful emotions that often accompany them. Molly talked about how you can help your child adjust to her new world. I want to look at this issue from the other perspective and focus on your feelings as a parent.

I thought I was prepared when we took our first daughter to college. She was a mature young lady and ready for the adventure. We were thrilled for her, and even a little envious. So on a beautiful August morning we packed her up and headed off. Upon arrival we helped carry all the “stuff” to the dorm room, gave her last minute advice, and turned to leave. Yep, you guessed it; I didn’t make it out the door before the tears started. Other parents in the hall might have thought they were taking a ride on the Maiden of the Mist at Niagara Falls if they hadn’t been similarly occupied.

When a child leaves home, it can be traumatic for any parent. You are now experiencing another stage of parenthood called departure. It’s natural for you to spend time thinking about whether you’ve achieved the relationship you want with your now adult child. You may run that little video in your head over and over playing the story of your child’s life. All this is normal.

With the smiles and joys of remembering the wonderful years, will come the sadness of knowing things will never be quite the same. Share your feelings of sadness and loss with other adults. It is better to do so now then bottle up the feelings and try to deny their existence. Then you can focus on readapting identities and looking forward to new opportunities.

As for me, the tears stopped by the time my husband and I got to the car. Then we took off for a wonderful vacation where we celebrated the launching of the first child from our home. As the weeks and months went by, we all began to adjust to the shifts in our relationship. Let me tell you the rest of the story; the young woman we took to college all those years ago will celebrate her 45th birthday this month. You need not worry – you will always have a role as a parent. It just keeps changing with each stage of life.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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