College Bound Kids? You’re not alone . . .Part 1

By on September 1, 2011

By Jane Dean –

What a strange time of year. Summer hasn’t started in The Hague yet vacations are over and families everywhere are preparing to return to school for the Fall semester/ Autumn term. Where has the year gone?

For some families there is an even bigger hurdle to navigate than in previous years – a child going to university. For an expat family that hurdle can loom larger and more terrifying than most.

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Your child’s last year at school has flown past at warp speed, college and university applications submitted, extended essays finished, exams endured, long anticipated results arrived and final choices made. You are thrilled, proud and supportive of the choices your child has made.

Until you wake up at 3 o’clock one morning realising the impact their leaving will have on you.

For 18 years you’ve watched over, worried, raised and loved beyond reason this bundle of endless energy. You’ve watched them grow from helpless infants, demanding toddlers, feisty challenging teens into mature young adults ready to take on the world. And suddenly you realise after all these years they won’t be living under your roof anymore.

Of course you knew this would happen one day, wanted it to happen, waiting to release the fledgling from the nest confident in the knowledge you’ve done your best, that they are ready.

You’ve replayed the scene endlessly in your head, the final farewell as you wave them off into the sunset, proud smile, encouraging words and absolutely no tears.

man and woman waving goodbyeOnly right now at three in the morning you’re not so sure.

How can they possibly be ready to leave home when they can’t hold a thought in their heads for more than two seconds? Will they wash, do laundry or even remember what day it is without you? Will they phone/email home? How the heck will you know what they’re doing?

These haunting thoughts arriving in the quiet, dark hours will enact every nightmare scenario you can imagine, and they never end well.

For the expat family these nightmares are worse – factor in universities overseas, different country, continent, time zones and cultures and those night terrors reach epic proportions.

Do you take your child to college, allow him/her to fly alone? Do both parents go? Usually not if it’s overseas, as there are often younger children in the family who need to be looked after. If only one parent, which one? Stupid question – every mom knows the answer to that. And every mom is the very worst person to undertake the task.

Harry will not be leaving the nest until next year but has already made it clear he intends to fly off to university on the other side of the world on his own. In his dreams.

Despite the bravado, the promises you’ve made to yourself, the goodbyes will not go as you planned. Your emotions will not be ones you’ve experienced before, they’ll feel weird and unfamiliar, there will be no rule book. You may feel better than you expected to (for a while), you may feel worse, you may feel nothing at all.

college age kids waving goodbyeThe reality is this experience is different for everyone. It depends whether it’s your first child leaving or your third, whether they’re sons or daughters, how far away they’ll be and your relationship with them. Easy words I know, but true.

When my eldest left home he was a two-hour drive away. He was ready to leave home and had been telling just how ready for the previous two years. He didn’t want us to take him to college but we did, along with his siblings. He couldn’t wait for us to unpack his stuff and leave.

Half way home, driving in the car, all subdued by the experience, he called asking if I was in tears and coping OK. He was a little surprised we were all fine, thank you very much. My dear eldest son is now more family orientated than I could ever have imagined, worries about every member of the family, phones home regularly and misses us like crazy.

Our experience with our daughter was different. As she started university we knew we would be leaving America the following year to move to Europe. She chose to stay in the place she had grown up, with childhood friends and their families around her. A sensible, sound, well thought out decision. Until the day of reckoning came.

girl in car waving goodbye to parents She left our home heading down to Florida for a break with friends as we packed up to leave. There were tears, of course there were, but she was happy with her decision and drove off with me and her brothers standing in the road waving goodbye. (The Captain already in Europe.)

I was aware of a pitiful keening wail and realised it me, coming from a deep core somewhere inside. A deep pain of grief and sorrow I didn’t know was there. I was held by my eldest son who soothed me as I sobbed and shook, both of us terrified by my reaction. He has said since he never wants to hear that sound again.

At the time it was like a raw wound, patched and bandaged but always there. Neither she nor we were prepared for the separation and difficulty of communicating across time zones. It has been a difficult passage for us all, but we have come out the other side and she has no regrets about her decision to stay. The jury’s still out for us.

And next year will be the last time we empty our nest. He is ready, so are we. Not in a bad way but because it is how things are, how things should be. We are better prepared as parents for the trials and tribulations ahead, better equipped to know when to step in and be parents, when to let them figure it out for themselves.

We have worked out how to deal with the things that ease the way for all of us to feel happy, secure and connected. How to handle communicating over time zones, dealing with money, credit cards and student loans, use of social media, keeping them safe, and most importantly how often and when they’ll come home. These things sound glib and straight forward but actually they’re not. Each family has to find their own way, chart their course through uncharted territory, often feeling alone, perhaps dealing with a child who is finding it hard to settle away from home.

young man working on laptopWhen I sat and thought about it, I realised our family had an awful lot of practical and emotional experience at dealing with this situation, learned the hard way through trial and error. Things I wish I’d known then, that would have made the transition less stressful and painful for all of us.

Jane is a writer living near The Hague, Netherlands currently working with a publisher on a non-fiction book in addition to writing articles and blogging.

Please feel free to contact by email  :  [email protected]



About Jane Dean

Jane Dean is an anglo-american free-lance writer and editor. She chronicles the challenges of international living and raising a family living in three countries on two continents

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College Bound Kids? You’re not alone . . .Part 1