How to say goodbye and good luck to our college kids. Again.
School. It conjures up excited voices, the scraping of chairs, the banging of books or laptops, and the ringing of the bell. Mostly, it conjures up the image of little kids. But what if the kid is shaving? Or has an active sex life? What if the kid you’ll be saying goodbye to — again — is one of your best friends? After an unplanned year of togetherness, our college students are going to leave home for College 2.0. In-person or hybrid. Alone or in a pack. September will be here sooner than we think.
They’ll be heading out, and, once again, we won’t know what they’re having for breakfast, or the last time they washed that shirt.
How does this feel? With all the attention on working parents with small children, we older parents of young adults are getting the short straw on coverage in the news. It breaks our hearts to know that our older children have missed a year of maturity and socialization they sorely need. Plus, the college experience just isn’t the same on Zoom. And, in almost every case I’ve heard of, the tuition hasn’t gone down a cent.
Yet, they want to go back. And we want them to go back. But the truth is, we will miss them so very much. This is because we’ve been an unexpected part of their lives in so many unexpected ways.
So, what do you do when the interception of parent and adult child becomes not just a single point of interaction, like a random phone call or a special visit? What happens when the intercept point instead becomes something that stretched out more than a year, along that ever-unknowable number line?
Do we pretend it never happened, and plan forward with confidence on the imminent set of linear intercepts, like next Thanksgiving and Spring Break 2022? Or has the equation completely changed, whereby the two parallel lines of parent and child become closer, the distance between them approaching zero, almost to the point of integrated normalcy?
The funny thing is, the closer we try to get to our college-age children, the bigger the gulf between us can seem to appear.
Is there an amount of distance that’s just right, say every two weeks or so, when we can and should engage with them, especially if we’re funding their entire existence? Many college-age children shoulder the burden of tuition and living expenses themselves, and the interceptions may not be welcome. However, I believe that the intercept point of it all is to simultaneously keep them close while still allowing them to stand on their own two feet. The location of this point, unfortunately for us, lies somewhere between zero and infinity.
When we have a functional equation of friendship, trust, and love (not necessarily in that order, by the way), we can try various values and see how they compute.
If we get feedback that we’re moving in too close, we can pull away, difficult as it may be. When we stray too far, we need to attune ourselves to their calls for help.
Time, itself, plays a part: when did we talk last? For how long? And the proximity of other people can completely alter the exchange: was Dad there, or just Mom? Was the girlfriend eavesdropping? I go back to the basics and see where we are on the number line to know what variables to adjust, and what constants to consider in the equation. There is no definite answer. We can’t just plug in a number and know it will work.
Sometimes the only thing we can know, in truth, is that somehow we’ll create the opportunity for another intercept, even if they are hundreds of miles away.
The point of their departure isn’t vanishing; it’s rushing at us at lightning speed. When it reaches us, our young adult children will be released back into the herd, masked and armed with tons of disinfectant. And we will need to figure out how to say goodbye again. Until then, we should use these few precious months, this fragment of time between spring and fall, to calculate and optimize our best interceptions.
Not just for our children, but also for the world at large.