3 Tips to Prepare You For Your Child’s First Year of College

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Your child’s room looks empty and the packed bags and bins are piling up. It’s a transition so many years in the making but suddenly here you are, just a few weeks before your son or daughter leaves for freshman year of college. You know they are ready and excited to go. Are you ready for them to be gone?

Moving your child to college that first year is a major moment in both their life and yours. Your feelings and emotions will ping pong at a tiring rate during the summer before drop-off. Pride. Excitement. Anticipation. Anxiety. Loss. Here are three tips to help get yourself ready for their first year of college.

A young man is carrying items to his dorm room, helping to unload the car with his family.

Schedule something new to do, just for yourself.

When your child leaves home it is both a beginning and an ending. Can you have joyful sadness? That’s what it felt like to me. We can’t help but see both the young adult that they’ve become and the four-year-old they once were, eagerly reaching for our hand. It feels like it happens in an instant.

Before they are away at college spend some time thinking about what is missing in your life. What have you put off doing because you were too busy parenting? Is it a class you have been meaning to take, a new job or career, a new or neglected hobby?

I’m an avid runner so when I saw a description of a retreat for women writers who run I knew I had to apply. In late September when our son first went to college, I spent an incredible long weekend in Maine at the Wilder Running and Writing retreat. Writing workshops, amazing women, tasty food and hours spent trail running in the gorgeous Midcoast Maine woods was exactly what I needed. I came home recharged and ready to keep moving forward.

Plan to visit them first semester.

Fall semester at college stretches from August to December, typically with breaks only at Thanksgiving and the holidays. Parents weekends are usually in October, perfectly timed for a visit. If at all possible, go!

Nothing can replace seeing your child in person, walking around campus, going out to lunch or dinner. It is fine whether you attend the events the university or college organizes or just spend time with your son or daughter doing whatever they want to do. It’s a chance to have them guide you around their new environment and for you to soak it all in.

Connecting with them and their new life away from home will also give you great perspective on how they are doing. These visits might show you, as it did for us, that one child had completely assimilated into big city campus life in just a couple months but the other still looked somewhat unsure and unsettled. In either case you’ll be glad you went.

Don’t go straight home after drop-off.

Many wise friends suggested taking an excursion after college drop-off, a short vacation or side trip before returning home. Even if your child is only within an hour’s drive of home you won’t be seeing them often. And coming right home to that now-empty bedroom can intensify how much you will miss them.

If you still have kids at home you can celebrate your new family dynamics with them and help to ease their own mix of feelings they will have now that their sibling is away. For new empty-nesters this trip can be a renewal and return to spending time as a couple. Or it could be a trip with friends or other family members or solo. We spent a couple extra days exploring the city before returning home but whatever you choose you will make new memories and have time to process some of your emotions.

An independent child working towards their own future is what we all want for our children. It helps to remember that just like your child is adjusting to their new life at college it will take time for you to adjust as well.

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Hello, I’m Nancy! I’m a New Hampshire native and have enjoyed living in the Seacoast with my husband, stepdaughter and son for quite a while, decades in fact! I’ve been a software engineer, home stager, stay-at-home mom, school and community volunteer and always a reader, writer and lover of language. I wrote a weekly running column Keeping Pace for Seacoast Sunday/Foster’s Daily Democrat/Portsmouth Herald for many years and reported on road races including my dream assignments at the Boston Marathon. I’m an avid runner and am happiest outdoors! I love to mountain bike, ski, snowshoe and hike – nothing beats the sweet exhaustion after an active day spent outdoors. Our nest is now generally empty with both kids navigating their own adult lives. My husband and I are enjoying our time together and with our two great cats. Motherhood (and life) is ever-changing and I’m adjusting to this new stage and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been.

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