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Preparing for Launch: Life Changes When Your Child Goes to College

July 18, 2019

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By Jennifer M. Sauer, M.D.

In the words of Thomas Rhett’s song “Life Changes”

“Ain’t it funny how life changes
You wake up ain’t nothing the same and life changes
You can’t stop it just hop on the train
You never know what’s gonna happen
…And I wouldn’t change it for the world, the world, oh no”

Preparing for Launch: Life Changes When Your Child Goes to CollegeA monumental “Life Changes” moment is about to happen for this Pediatrician Mom. There will be dorm bedding and decorations to buy, books to order and making sure she can check her tire pressure of her car. But this blog is about how I get to prepare for the emotional launch of a college child first-hand.

Come August, we’re going to move the girl we’ve been so focused on for 18+ years into her dorm room three hours away.

This is something that we all know will happen when we bring a baby into the world, but it sneaks up on us parents. The saying “the nights are long, and the years are short” is very apparent to me right now. I could be saying “Houston, there is a problem.” But the child (the rocket) is ready to fly. The goal is to raise functioning, independent members of society, but when it gets right down to it, it’s hard to let go.

So am I nervous? Yes, but also excited.

I know that perspective of a situation is what we can control. If you think about being nervous, our heart rate and blood pressure go up and we can’t sleep. When we are excited, our heart rate and blood pressure go up and we can’t sleep.

Research conducted at Harvard University (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General © 2013 American Psychological Association 2014, Vol. 143, No. 3, 1144–1158) showed  “Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying “I am excited” out loud) or simple messages (e.g., “get excited”), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mind-set (as opposed to a threat mind-set), and improve their subsequent performance.

Fear of the unknown can be looked at as scary or as a new opportunity.

I’ve preached to my kids over the years, and they say I should just have a book of one liners:

  • “If I don’t have expectations for you, who will?”
  • “With great gifts comes great responsibility.”
  • “Perfectionism is NOT an obtainable goal. Work hard but you can also learn from failure.”
  • “You are resilient.”

Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So as a parent, we’ve been preparing for days, weeks, years before the moment we help launch our child into a new phase of their life. We hope that we have instilled our knowledge into them over the years so they can pull from the life lessons they’ve already experienced. These are tools in their toolboxes to deal with what is yet to come.

Preparing for Launch: Life Changes When Your Child Goes to CollegeAt our daughter’s recent college orientation, there were “lectures” for the parents while the students were whisked off to set their first semester schedules (no parents allowed for that process).

Topics that were discussed included Eustress- moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer. The student will need to have new experiences to grow instead of just interpreting the outside world as big and scary. There will be stress with this new chapter of all of our lives (both her and the family left behind in Lees Summit) but we need to teach our kids that they are resilient (resilient is my favorite word in the whole dictionary).

If I were actually doing a VLOG, I am told by my to be college freshman that I would be talking with my hands and emphatically saying, “SEE?!?! STRESS IS NORMAL! IT’S EVEN HEALTHY!”

Her college is now the one that will preach to her on a daily basis and they expect self-authorship.

Kids need to take control of the wheel with us in the background. In turn, they get the chance to show how resilient they really are, but also to relish in THEIR own accomplishments. Will I cry when I leave our daughter in her dorm room? I’m sure I will, but to quote Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places you’ll go”.

I am labeling this new adventure of life as exciting and look with positive anticipation of what is to come. The countdown has begun.