ASK BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

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Our daughter is leaving for college next month, an emotional crisis all round. I mentioned that I might move some sewing boxes into her room when she is away, and that produced gales of tears. And yet she has already told us we shall not see her again until the holidays. And we do need the space to stop looking like hoarders. How do we negotiate this? Yours, a worried mom.

A child’s leaving for college is a tremendous an emotional milestone for most families. I am sure you have been anticipating this moment for your daughter’s entire life. It’s an event at which parents marvel when the child is only days old, knowing it will be light years away. And then it’s here! Where did the time go?

Typically it’s the parents and their coming “empty nest” that gets the play time. While excited for their child, they are weepy in anticipation and in recognition of how fast the time has flown by and how much the child-now-young-adult will be missed.

At the same time, when kids go off to college, emotional as it is, we parents suddenly have a bigger house—closet space, a guest bed, a sewing room, a room for gym equipment. We miss those kids, but the new found space ain’t bad!

Parents witness their kids having one foot out the door most of second semester, senior year. Freedom at last! But going off to college is an emotionally charged event. Even though the kids seem ready and rarin’ to go, rest assured there is ambivalence—ambivalence about leaving the comfort, familiarity and predictability of home, leaving parents and family. It’s the grown-up version of the concept “double dip feelings” that we teach to parents of young children. It’s experiencing two powerful feelings at the very same time. I’m happy and I’m sad. I’m excited and I’m terrified.

As ready to go as your daughter may be, it is knowing that home will still be there—family meals, familiar smells, full refrigerator, comfy bed, stuffed animals, the posters on her walls—that helps her to take the leap. She is leaving, but HER room, (in your house) and you remain.

You walked right into a maelstrom of double dip feelings. “I won’t be home until the holidays … but don’t touch MY room.” I want my freedom … but I am going to miss being home.How were you to know? I’m guessing this is your first child to leave. So now you know! You said “a few sewing boxes,” and she heard you say, I can’t wait for you to leave. I’m taking over your room. You’re on your own.

Had you asked me before the storm erupted, I would have suggested that you drool over the space, say nothing, kiss your daughter goodbye and run home to move those boxes. At Thanksgiving or the winter holiday break, you could have moved the boxes out or even explained that they were only there temporarily. Once home, however, it would have been much easier for her to take.

It’s time for you to reassure your daughter that her room and her stuff will always be there for her. Whenever she comes home, you will be just thrilled to have her back. It’s only freshman year, and she will have a whole different outlook as the experience of leaving her nest becomes old news and it isn’t so loaded. For now she needs to know how very much she will be missed and how very happy you are that she gets to go college. That’s just for now.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals. She is the author of the bestselling “Just Tell Me What to Say” and has been featured on the “Today Show.” Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.