A popular Facebook post is recirculating, as it has every year since a university faculty member, Greg Block, first penned it:
“Attention Freshmen who are moving in tomorrow: A little request… When your mom wants to unpack all of your clothes and make your bed — Let her. When your dad wants to introduce himself to all the people on your floor — Let him. When they want to take pictures of every move you make this weekend — Let them. If they embarrass you or act crazy — Let them. As you start the new chapter of your life, they are also starting the new chapter of theirs. And believe it or not, this is probably more difficult for them than it is for you. So let them treat you like their ‘baby’ one last time.”
Some parents chimed in with their agreement. Others dissented, noting that it’s your child’s “journey”, not yours, and you should give them what they want and need, whether that’s helping them unpack or hitting the road as fast as possible. You might think the parent who wants to help their kid unpack and make their bed is “babying” them, while the parent who takes their cues from their kid and gives them what they need and want is treating them like an adult. You’d be wrong.
Let me ask you a question. When was the last time anyone you were not paying put aside ALL of their own wants and needs to cater only to yours? You can’t recall? That’s right, because NO ONE does that for adults. It’s the hallmark of the childish parent-child relationship for the parent to subjugate all their own needs and wants for the child’s. It is a child who views the rite of passage of college send-off as solely their own and not their parents’ as well. Well, Kiddos, guess what? It’s your parents’ journey as well — your parents who skimped and saved to put money in your 529 Plan from the time of your first explosive mustard-yellow poop, your parents who held you to a higher standard than anyone else thought reasonable–but to which you rose, who advocated for your best interests long after everyone else lost interest–including you, who put time, sweat, and tears into ensuring that you were ready for this moment of independence–and here you are.
No, it’s not solely your journey. You may be the Neil Armstrong of this story, but as you walk in Neil’s metaphoric footsteps, be proud of your hard work while understanding, as he did, that you didn’t launch yourself to the moon alone.
I remember when one of my kids said to me, “It’s so weird to think that you had this whole life before we were born. I didn’t realize that when I was little.” The transition from child to adult commences when you realize your parents are people, too, with their own identities, dreams, wants, and needs, which have not ceased to exist even though they were sometimes subjugated, sidelined, or attenuated. It is the adult-to-be, not the child, who appreciates that one of their parents’ dreams–perhaps not their first, but one that became of primary importance to them–was to raise you to be independent, and that this moment, as they drop you off at college, heart-swollen with pride and breaking, this moment of your gain is in some ways their loss. Being grown up means you understand that no matter how “old” your parents were when they had you, they “grew up” alongside you. They are still growing, and not younger. You are closer to the beginning of your story than they are to the beginning of theirs. We, your parents, know what’s coming in “Cat’s in the Cradle” when the boy “came home from college just the other day”, and let’s just say that it doesn’t end well for us. We know. We did it to our parents. And we’re still letting you go.
You can see in which camp I fall in the whole “It’s Your Kid’s Journey, Don’t Make it About You” versus “Let Your Parents Fold Your Underwear into Your Dirty Dorm Room Drawer” controversy. This goodbye hug is not just for you. This is my goodbye, too. It’s the end of an era, the beginning of another. And this next phase will be marked by increasing mutuality, whereby you recognize that life’s journey is never any one person’s. And this long goodbye hug is as much for me as for you, because it might be difficult for me to otherwise express how I feel with a huge lump in my throat.
That said, I don’t plan to get a lump on my head making your lofted dorm room bed! I didn’t raise you to independence just to inaugurate this day with a concussion! Make your own bed! I have boxes of Kleenex to unpack. After all, you can never have too much Kleenex.
Especially when you’re dropping your baby off at college.