The First Year College Drop Off

The First Year College Drop Off

Last week my wife and I dropped our son off to begin his first year of college.  He’s number three out of four, so you would think by now we’d be used to this.  However, despite the fact that he is our third child, that same familiar lump came creeping back into my throat as I fought back the tears as he turned and walked away to go met up and hang with the new friends he was making. Why does successful parenting have to feel this way?  

From my perspective, dropping your child off at college is one of the biggest milestones of your child’s life and a parent’s day of reckoning – having to let go.  It’s a day filled with great anticipation, emotion, pride and mixed feelings. For me dropping your child off at college to begin their new life is one of the finest parenting moments, but also one of the saddest.

Every part of me knows that healthy transitions are wonderful things—if life isn’t moving forward, it’s moving backward or stopping altogether, neither of which is good.  All the lessons you’ve tried to teach your child growing up are now on display for them to use as they adapt to their new life.  Have I done enough to teach him, and show him, how to be independent, self-confident, resourceful, friendly, kind, compassionate and humble?  As Oscar Hammerstein wrote in Showboat (1927), “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly.” And kids gotta leave.

On the one hand, I couldn’t be prouder, my son is off to his dream college to pursue his dreams and goals.  Yet at the same time there is a sadness knowing that things will never be the way they used to be.  Sure, he’ll be back on breaks during the fall, winter, and spring but those will just be brief visits.  He might be home during summer break, but if things truly go well for him, which I hope they do, then hopefully he’ll get an internship or a summer job in the field he’s studying and that likely won’t be back home.  And if things go well for him these next four years, it’s unlikely he’ll ever move back home.

I know that he will be more than fine; he is a capable, responsible, intelligent, young man – ready for this next step. I just know how much I will miss him. And even though it’s him walking away, it’s our choice to let him go: to celebrate his firsts even when were not there to witness or even know them, to mourn his mistakes even when we don’t know he’s making them; and to be available but not insist on being present.


'Tis the season for back to school! Today, Doug Olcott shares how dropping your child off at college to begin their new life is one of the finest parenting moments, but also one of the saddest.