One Sad Day: A Mom’s survival guide after you take your kid to college

You’ve shopped, planned the layout of her room, convinced him that he needs more than one towel, packed, cried, hugged, shared last-minute advice and then the day comes and you just can’t believe they are leaving home.  When “they” said that you only have 18 years with them, they were right! They are ready for college. This is the moment, the moment that you push them out of the nest and hope they fly successfully on their own.

empty nest, kids off to college, after kids go to college, moms with kids in college, trail of tears, shedding tears for college kids

So you drop them off on the steps of their new “home” and wave good-bye. “See you at Thanksgiving” they say, but you are secretly hoping they come home before then. As you drive home, the tears begin to fall. I myself re-named the road from my daughter’s school and our home the “Trail of Tears”. Many tears were shed on this road, many memories were remembered. It was a sad ride home.

Now that you are home and the house seems empty. You still may have a house full or as in my case one very loud boy who is enjoying the undivided attention he is getting from both parents and the dog. The house feels so different, you set one less plate on the table, you see the empty chair at the dinner table and you walk by their empty room and you feel sad. This is sad! It is heartbreaking. It feels like my right arm has been cut off, like a part of me is gone, it doesn’t feel like a death but it does feel like a loss. Yet it is all so bittersweet.  I am so happy and grateful to be able to drop off my daughter at college. There are many parents whose kids have disabilities who would give their right arm to see their children walk on to a campus for higher learning.

How do I get over this sadness?

Here is my advice, choose ONE DAY  to be sad and keep it “holy”. What I mean is, let yourself be sad. You have raised this child from day one/zero. Once you see that pink line on the pregnancy test you have already placed them in your family. In your mind’s eye, they have already graduated, so you have been there from the get go. It’s ok to be sad.

So choose your ONE SAD DAY, right now, and claim it. My only rule is that It cannot be the ride home after you drop them off, It has to be a day all of its own. Plan it and take the day off from work. Or come home from work and begin your ONE SAD DAY (I’d say if you need to break it up into two after work days, that would equal ONE SAD DAY) Tell everyone who depends on you for survival that they are on their own. Tell your spouse to give you this one day and that you need his/her help. Everyone is on their own for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No taxi service today. Let them know that that it’s a YOLO day (You’re On Your Own) as my friend, Cassandra, calls it. So you now have the freedom to have your ONE SAD DAY.

Keep it true. Get it all out, be sad, you have my permission. Cry, eat ice cream, watch home videos, look at pictures of them when they were 2. You can hang out in their room, take a nap on their bed, pray for them, cry some more, or whatever and however you want to spend this SAD DAY, do it. Do it full out. 

It has been my experience that once you get it all out, you can go on about your days and push through. Now, I will be honest and tell you that it will take about 6-8 weeks to get use to them being gone. But it will get better.

Here are some tips or shall I say rules during this time:

Don’t call. Let them call unless there is a problem that cannot be solved via text. But only text if they text first.  Give them their space.

Do send them a care package from home. When you are tempted to call, let that be a reminder to get that package ready.

Don’t write on their Facebook wall, Instagram or any other social media sites. Just do your basic stalking. Hee Hee!

Don’t shame your spouse if he/she is grieving differently than you. Give them space too.

Do talk to other friends who are going through the same experience. Reach out to them, have coffee with them. Chances are they need to share what is on their hearts too.

Do keep tissues handy. You never know when you will need to cry. Not the same as your SAD DAY cry but you may still shed a tear or two every now and then, so be prepared.

Don’t cry when they call home for the first time. This is why you need to schedule your SAD DAY asap. Get all of your crying out before that call if you can. If they start to cry, then it’s ok for you to cry. But try to be strong and sift through the “It’s hard adjusting, whoa is me” and “I have made a mistake in choosing this college, dorm, or roommate” and have clarity on what to do to help them.



FYI, it does not get easier when they become a Senior in college. Especially if they spend the summer at home loving on their little brother and then he cries when they say goodbye. Sniff, sniff, yes this just happened at my house. ONE SAD DAY here I come.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, they are sad too. Those college kids have just been dropped off in a brand new place with zero, one or maybe a handful of friends. It’s almost like being dropped off in a foreign country for them. Yes, it is new and exciting but it is not familiar. And there is no one there who know you to share it all with. So good and bad, they will have their time of sadness too.They will not tell you until maybe their senior year or later but they did miss you. They did their own version of mourning.

So, have your ONE SAD DAY and then push through until Thanksgiving. Then Christmas Break will be just around the corner and your nest will be full again.


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