Letting the Apron Strings Fly
Once we choose to become parents, the most important role we play in life is mother. From the day our children are born, and then each day for the next 18 years, their activities, moods and agendas are under our roof and influenced by our support and, yes, control. And then one day the postman will deliver a fat college acceptance letter to our mailbox. Thus begins the process of letting go.
Bringing your child to college is one of the most exhilarating, and heartwrenching, things we do. For a mom, being one person for 18 years and then, very abruptly, not having that role, is very jarring. You are still a mother, of course, but, as Terry Jardine discovered, creating new adults means learning to let them leave the nest.
Jardine is the mother of two daughters – Liz, a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Melissa, currently a student at the University of Arizona. The process wasn’t without tears. “I cried the entire ride home from Santa Barbara,” Jardine said, describing freshman drop-off. “With my second daughter, it was easier and I was more prepared, but she is further away.”
To stay connected, Jardine and her husband took advantage of every chance to visit that they could – parents’ weekends, festivals, by plane or by car. For their daughter at the University of Arizona, the couple has traveled to see her at least twice in the fall and two or three times each spring.
Because there’s a fine line between visiting and intruding, the Jardines stay at a hotel. “Spaces are often cramped at dorms and apartments and they have roommates, with their own set of lifestyles, and often keep later hours, so it just makes everyone more comfortable if we stay at a hotel,” she explains.
Sharing her daughters’ excitement at discovering their new lives of independence meant some expected things, like meeting their friends, eating at their favorite places, and touring the campus – as well as some unexpected ones, very different from her own college memories, like men walking down the hall dressed in a towel. “Everything is just so open now. Both sexes are on the same floor!” she exclaims.
Any shock, though, was balanced out by the excitement of all that lays before her children at college. “There are so many wonderful opportunities in front of them and amazing people to meet from all over the world. It just opens a whole new variety of life experiences for them,” she adds.
Jardine and her husband also found that traveling to their daughters’ colleges brought different curiosities from each of them as well. “My husband was more interested in the classes and athletics and I was more interested in friends, roommates and how they were eating,” says Jardine. Even a semester abroad for Melissa, in London, means a bonus husband and wife trip for the Jardines.
An unexpected and pleasant benefit of all their college visits is that the Jardines have become good friends with the parents of their daughters’ closest friends. This expanded circle will include more traveling – the new friends are coming to visit them in Northern California to see wine country.
As empty-nesters, Terry and her husband have also been able to rediscover each other. “It’s like being newlyweds again – you eat when you want, can choose a movie without checking first to see if it’s appropriate for the whole family- you have your whole life back, yet we are so excited to travel and see the girls together,” says Jardine.
In the end, the most poignant and bittersweet part of the college visit is the realization that your children now have their own lives – apart from yours. “You think they are going to miss you as much as you miss them, and that just isn’t the case. When you actually see their college experience and are driving or flying away at the end of the visit, you think to yourself, ‘well, that’s a good thing,’ Jardine says, “because they’re learning to adjust and are succeeding on their own and breaking their ties with you. It hurt at first, but then I realized that this is what I raised them for, what we worked for all along.”