The late August haze has already settled into the air as the sun begins its early-morning rise. The race to pack the family SUV begins.
Boxes containing computer components and school supplies — and suitcases filled with a semester's worth of clothing, underwear and shoes — are all carefully loaded into the trunk.
By 7 a.m., the last plastic grocery bag containing last-minute items is shoved into the sole remaining space, and a collective sigh of relief is heaved by all.
The college freshman schlep is under way.
A lot of preparation has gone into this big move. Clothes were labeled, nonperishable snacks were purchased, and trips to stores like Target and Staples became such a regular part of the family routine that you were seriously considering investing in those stocks.
There is a lot to coordinate when sending a child off to college. But it's more than the physical preparations. The psychological impact is enormous — for all of the parties involved.
The incoming freshman, of course, is the individual most directly affected by this developmental milestone. It's an exciting time — after all, who wouldn't want to be more independent? As a college student, he or she will now have the freedom to decide when to go to sleep and when to wake up; when and what to eat; whether to study for an exam or to socialize instead. The benefits of this newfound freedom seem limitless.
But as the time to leave draws near, many students are surprised to find that the anticipation gives way to some fear, and even sadness. Suddenly, all the hoching Mom did to get you to do your homework isn't so irritating. The family dinners aren't such an inconvenience, and your younger brother doesn't seem like such a kvetch.
The significance of lifelong friendships becomes more poignant. Students often wonder how or if these relationships will be able to sustain the test of time and distance. Even the most confident of teenagers will at some point question his or her ability to make new friends, and successfully find a place on campus.
And surely, sending a student to college marks a turning point in the lives of parents as well. This transition requires mothers and fathers to let go of the very people they've cared for and directed for so long, and endorse their search for meaning in the world. Parents are forced to acknowledge that their child is now an independent person who has his or her own opinions and passions — some of which may not coincide with those of the parents.
The Sounds of Silence
Parents will also have to adjust to the physical absence of their child. All of a sudden, the loud noise your youngster called music is not so offensive. The trail of clothing from the bathroom to the laundry room is not so irritating.
But what might surprise parents the most about sending their son or daughter to college is the fact that this transition marks a change in their own sense of purpose and identity. For 18 years, they've schlepped kids to and from soccer practice, ballet recitals, playdates and Hebrew school. Conversations with their own adult friends have often centered around the accomplishments, trials and tribulations of their progeny.
Now, seemingly out of the blue, Mom and Dad have the opportunity to focus on their own needs and goals. Many times, they don't know what to do with this chance to prioritize themselves. When you've focused so much time and energy on others for so long, it's hard to imagine living any other way.
The class of 2014 and their families have successfully completed many steps in order to prepare for this day. Money was set aside to pay for this education. Students worked hard to earn the grades and participate in the activities that would make them viable candidates for the schools of their choosing.
Finally, students researched, applied to and chose from the schools that would best meet their needs. As a final measure of preparation, incoming freshmen and their families might consider having a conversation about what this milestone means to each of them.
Indeed, this is an emotionally charged time for all. Knowing that one is not alone on this emotional roller-coaster gives validity to your experience, and ultimately brings family members closer together.
Hannah Bookbinder, LSW, M.Ed., is a college admissions consultant, academic coach and therapist with offices on the Main Line. She can be reached at [email protected]