Orientation for Parents Who Need to Learn

My middle son doesn’t need me to go to his Parent Orientation this week at Occidental, after all he’s gone off to college twice now. We all know what’s going to happen—well, let’s be clear, we know how orientation goes—not necessarily how the year itself will go. That’s still up for grabs. But late last week when I was pouring over the orientation schedule for Oxy and I showed him the dessert goodbye for parents on Friday, the end of the 2 day orientation for parents, son made it clear he wasn’t interested in going.

“I hate goodbyes,” he said. “Let’s not do that.”

Panic filled me. “It’s the only time I see you on Friday,” I said.

“You can just go after moving me in on Thursday.”

“But what about Friday?”

“You don’t need to stay for both days. In fact, you don’t even need to go at all.”

My panic increased. I want to go and see him settled into the dorm. I want to help put sheets on his twin XL bed. I want to know where he’s going to put his stupid towels. I want to see where the desk is and who the room mates are. But I have to play it cool. I can’t freak out, because we both know how this is…how I am…how he is.

This son is the one with ideas that challenge me. He’s the one that talks music and books, movies and art, culture and meaning, and I love all my guys, but his brain makes sense to mine and he’s been the one to keep me sane when everything else was hard.

But keeping me sane shouldn’t be his job. He shouldn’t have to worry about me. He shouldn’t have to be my friend.

I knew when the kids were born they would leave, but I have struggled with the young adult launching, maybe because the launching isn’t smooth and seamless, but rather frightening jumps that have resulted in spectacular falls. The expression ‘crash and burn’ comes to mind, and it woke old fear in me, fear of chaos, fear of loss, fear that they wouldn’t be okay in the real world, fear that I hadn’t raised them properly, fear that the divorce had damaged them permanently. I adore my boys. I live for them. And that is the biggest problem I see now. How can you live for people that will ultimately leave you? How can you feel secure if you’re losing your heart?

But–I remind myself with sterness and weak conviction– I’m not losing my heart…or them. I’m simply learning to let them develop with more distance between us. I’m learning to let go so they can feel confident without me there. (truth, I haven’t learned to let go at all.)

So the hastily improved orientation plan now is that on Thursday I’ll drive up with middle son to help him move in to his dorm, and have a quick lunch with him if time permits, and then after one or two parent sessions, I’ll leave for dinner with Maggie, and then on Friday I have some film meetings before I take the train home at three.

It’s a good schedule, a busy schedule. I’ve deliberately planned things so I can’t be on the campus Friday, keeping myself occupied so middle son doesn’t have to worry about me, or feel guilty for not doing that dessert goodbye.

Middle son isn’t the only one that hates goodbyes. They’re just as hard for me. My close friends all know I don’t like to say goodbye. I choose to say, “See you soon.” I leave quickly when I go, often slipping out when no one is looking. So actually maybe middle son knew best, where we say goodbye after moving him in, rather than the formal dessert goodbye Friday.

If he were a different person, would I have enjoyed the dessert goodbye? Yes. If I were a different person, I wouldn’t be so intense and wanting to squeeze every moment of being together out of him. It’s a lot of pressure. A lot for a son.

Besides I’ve done this orientation before and I’m really not needed there. But I want to see his new dorm. I want to see his new world and maybe that way I’ll be content back in San Clemente, able to picture him in the world he’ll build without me.


  1. I think you have a great plan set in motion and I am glad you will be able to help set up his dorm and be there if only for a moment. I will be thinking of you and sending up some prayers for peace my friend. I am not great at goodbyes either, the older I get, the easier I tear up. Hugs and love! <3

  2. It truly is hard for parents to let their kids go. First you had to deal with them going off to kindergarten. Then it was letting them go off in a car after they got their license. Now it is letting them go off to college and become, thru life’s experiences, adults strong in their own decision-making skills. Each time you must let go a little more so they can stand on their own. It isn’t easy but know that they will succeed because of the loving foundation you taught them. You and he are winners and will be ok 😉

  3. I think we mother’s all go through this. When my middle left for Westmont in Santa Barbara, I missed her terribly. I remember coming home from work and thinking, ” oh. She must be at work”. Then hit with no, she’s in Santa Barbara. It hurts to detach but she never such a lovely, independent woman.

  4. Good plan…don’t dwell on the negative, in regard to them or possible mistakes of the past. They are good people and they will continue to grow…just like you. Peace.

  5. What I see in this story is a young man expressing what he needs and a mother honoring that need above her own. You are showing him the respect now that he craves as an adult. This one goodbye is difficult, but the action is building a lifetime relationship that will not be broken.

  6. i fully understand your feelings. change is hardest when things are good because of the unknowns. you have taught them well. i think your plan to keep busy is the best. big love.

  7. It is really hard to let go of the parental reins. I think it may be a little worse for working parents. At least in my experience I feel like I have to be at all the events because I work so much. You have raised strong capable young men that aren’t afraid to branch out and try something new

  8. It’s understandable you want to help and you will always be concerned even when your boys are fully grown men. I think what you’re going through is normal. It’s just a lot of changes at once can get overwhelming.

  9. We experience the letting go from their first day of kindergarten on in there lives. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like the dickens. Yes, seeing the room is special. You are a woman of details.

  10. Sounds like you have a wonderful plan/compromise. Hugs.

    I dropped off my middle on Saturday. We unloaded the minivan into his apartment, but I wasn’t allowed to help set up the room. I was allowed to take him and the roommates out to lunch, and then I was allowed to take him to the grocery store. Then I had to leave. You’d think junior year would be easier, but it’s not.

    When my oldest moved out of his dorm the first year, he didn’t want me there. He and his girlfriend and her mother moved everything out. Then, when he moved into the apartment sophomore year, again, I wasn’t allowed. I won’t get into the whole story–this isn’t the place–but her mother orchestrated this whole thing and set up the entire apartment.

  11. Keep busy, Each time my youngest was moved for the first couple of years I sobbed after I hugged goodbys ( I think she was afraid I would embarrass her) and for the next 10 miles down the road. thank goodness I had my husband with me. All i got was a quick hug and she was off to meet friends. My oldest daughter who saw it all said don’t worry mom she will come around one day. Meaning she was on the dark side and like my oldest she would listen to me and want to see me again one day. They have to spread their wings to find themselves. Fill your schedule with other things. Use this time to take care of you, do stuff you want to do. Hang in there.

  12. Smart move to make those plans. I am quite close to my kids, but try hard not to overdo things. I know that I raised them to be independent and to rely on those skills they learned from the family – parents and siblings. Know that you have raised an intelligent son who is ready to spread his wings.

  13. As a mom whose son went to college a few years ago, I understand how you are feeling. Unfortunately I am not close with my daughter and having my son gone was hard. Now he is married and I have to share him! I am so blessed that they still live near me!

  14. Goodbyes are hard but when it’s your children you are farewelling it’s even harder and you’re going to find that it doesn’t matter whether your kids are starting school, teenagers or adults. It’s hard to part from them because caring for them is natural. Just enjoy Thursday and keep busy Friday and before you know it the term will be over and you’ll be looking forward to seeing him again.

  15. Jane, I am living the same life issues. I too have three boys, one who left home a few years back, who I see far less than I need to. I rarely hear from him. I know he is doing very well, and is very busy, but sometimes I need to see/hear/touch this very important-to-me person. Now, another son is leaving and I struggle with the anxiety and fear that I will not see much of him as well. I am so proud of these boys who jump into life and swim strong, I need to do the same. Thank you for sharing, I find you truly inspiring.

  16. Jane, as the mother myself of two sons I can tell you that you are making wise and loving decisions and so is your son. You taught him well and now is the time for him to learn how to be on his own. What joy it is when a son does call or comes home to visit and you realize that he wanted to do it, not that he felt obligated. God be with you both is my prayer.

  17. During a a little bit of downtime, I finally sat down to read your blog. I laughed and cried through this one since it’s so true for us moms. Thankfully, there’s no one in the office today to see me laughing and crying while visiting your website. Sending you hugs, Jane. Miss you!!

  18. I so Feel this is my future! My daughter is headed off to college this fall. I thought I was Ready because last year when she started driving she began crashing at my moms during the week a couple of nights. I thought It was a good transition. This year, all of a sudden, she actually wants me in her life, so we’ve been spending way more time together and so now I’m like…this is going to be tough haha. And don’t get me started on my poor son who has suffered from over parenting I fear. What’s the new word? Not helicopter, but it’s something else that intimates we remove all of the obstacles from their path…snowplow? I forget. Anyway, I thought I had this all down. I’ve been a teacher for 26 years, I got this, right? I know How it goes. Going through this with the knowledge of other moms is so helpful! Hang in there, thanks for sharing your story, and I’m looking forward to meeting you Saturday in San Jose!

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