Sending your child off to college can wreck even the most steady, seasoned parents. Somehow nothing in your parenting repertoire prepares you for this. One minute you’re happy your child finally graduated high school and got into a university, and the next you’re trying not to sob at the thought of goodbye. One day you feel strong—hallelujah, you’re one step closer to an empty nest—then later you’re a crumpled mess.
Your teen probably feels anticipation (“I’ll finally be free of mom and dad!”) as well as uncertainty (“Will I be able to make it on my own?”).
How can you support and encourage your new college student when you’re a bona fide mess yourself?
My husband and I are doing this for the second time as we prepare to take our youngest to college in two weeks, but even on the second go-round, it feels like new territory. Helping our children take their first steps into independent adulthood can feel scary, yet we can trust the same God who led us during their growing-up years will continue to guide us now.
These 5 steps can help us keep ourselves intact and encourage our college student at the same time:
1. Entrust Her into God’s Care.
Remember God cares for your child infinitely more than you do; even after your teen leaves home, God will watch over her. Pray intentionally each day to entrust your new college student into God’s loving hands. Ask the Lord to prepare her for her new adventure.
These verses from Psalm139 give me words to pray and put my worried mom heart to rest:
2. Grab Quality Time When You Can
The weeks before your child leaves for school, errands, shopping, and maybe last minute medical appointments will keep you busy. Your teen might have a full social schedule as he says goodbye to her friends. Quality time together might take effort, but make time to stop for a coffee break together between errands, or make family dinner a high priority several nights a week.
Interruptions are easier to reframe into opportunities when you know your days together are numbered. Last night when my daughter said, “Mom, can I talk to you?” at 10:30 pm, remembering she leaves for school in two weeks helped me see a late-night chat in a positive light.
3. Help Him Develop a Personal Plan
When I read Sticky Faith by Kara Powell, I learned that often the choices teens make their first two weeks of college will set the tone for the rest of their college career. My husband and I had a special meeting with our son before he left for school three years ago to help him plan his choices during his first two weeks based on his answers to these questions:
- How do you think having a strong faith will help you during college?
- How do you plan on connecting with God the first two weeks of school?
- How will you find a church or Christian student group?
- When will you plan on studying?
- How will you handle your finances?
Sometimes our kids’ answers may be different than we’d expect, but we need to listen. The more ownership they have of their goals, the more effective the plan will be.
4. Set Up a Time to Check In
If possible, make a quick visit to your child two weeks after school starts to check in and see how his plan is going. My husband and I drove down for lunch with my son, but we’ll have to use Skype to check in with our girl. Of course, monitoring our kids throughout their college careers would be unhealthy, but offering a special check-in time after the first few weeks might offer the reassurance and accountability they need.
5. Celebrate this Rite of Passage
Rejoice in this new stage of your child’s life, and make time to celebrate. Do what you can to make your young adult feel special before she leaves home. Take a family outing, do something she particularly enjoys, or go to a movie together. Plan a special celebration dinner before your teen leaves home and give her a special memento to take with her to college.
While sending our kids off to start college can cause emotional upheaval, we can rest knowing this is just one more step in God’s plan for them. He has perfect timing for each stage in our lives.
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Now it’s your turn: what tips do you have for a parent sending their child off to college?
Note: This post is the first in a series, Sending Your Child to College. Come back the next 3 weeks for:
- More Ways to Encourage your New College Student.
- How to Survive the Empty Nest
- How to Trust God and Pray for Your College Student
Resources to help you launch your college student:
Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids by Kara Powell and Chap Clark.
This book is full real-life ideas to help your children start a life-long faith walk. The closing chapters on preparation for college helped our family immensely.
Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind by Brenda Yoder
I haven’t read this yet, but the title and table of contents intrigue me. A good friend recommended it, and it’s on my list to read next!
Are you facing the challenges of life on an empty tank? Need help renewing your relationship with God?
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Mary Geisen says
Great tips, Betsy! I’m thinking you are becoming a pro at sending kids off to college, but honestly it is a difficult rite of passage. I remember the roller coaster of emotions and the thought of telling them “one more thing” so they will be ready. However, you lay it out better with your five tips. Sticky Faith sounds like a great book to help in this process.
I hope you link this up #TellHisStory later. Praying for you, your husband and daughter during this transition.
Oh Mary, thanks so much, friend! I know you have experience! Thanks for reminding me about #TellHisStory! I’d forgotten.
Exactly what I need right now:) Thanks for tackling this tough topic, friend! I will enjoy reading every post in this series. <3
I know you understand totally where I’m coming from! <3 Praying for you and your family now.
Lisa Appelo says
i haven’t heard of Sticky Faith but that looks like a great resource! Love your suggetion to get quality time when you can. I’ve found with my olders that I need to take their phone calls WHEN they call — which is always the most inconvenient for me. In the check-out line or just as I’m heading to bed at 10:30. But that’s when they want to talk! Also this from a friend: let the be the one to hang up. Such good advice so I’m not always the one saying, Ok, I gotta go! Thanks Betsy. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series!
That advice is pure gold: let them be the one to hang up! I love that. Thank you for sharing it, Lisa. And I know what you mean about taking phone calls when THEY can talk!
Lisa notes says
God bless you as you send your baby off to college. I thought it would be easier when we sent our 2nd, but it was still hard, just different. Entrusting them to God is such great advice. And all in all, it goes by so quickly!
Thanks, Lisa. Yes, it does go by quickly. I can’t believe my son is about to graduate!
MISTY MCELROY says
Great advice! I love the reminder to entrust our loved ones to God’s care. It’s easy to worry when things are out of our control, but He is always close, ever watching and bringing together a beautiful plan. Thank you for sharing – God Bless!
Amen, Misty. It is true that HE is bringing together a beautiful plan. So good to remind ourselves of this.
Alice Walters says
Dear Betsy, what wise words! I could have definitely used your post 20+ years ago when our kids started off to college. We don’t have any military-bound young adults in this generation, but I think your suggestions would be just as valid for them. Thanks for using your experiences to bless others!
Thanks so much, Alice. I appreciate your encouragement.
Such good advice, Betsy. Wish I’d had this wise advice when we sent ours off. I’ll use it for my grands though. Your intentionalness (is that a word?) blesses and inspires me. Thank you!
Thanks for your encouragement, Stephanie. I appreciate you so much.
Crystal Twaddell says
OH, I love this! As I send my youngest off to college, I have reminded myself that God cares for and loves her more than I am capable of, which is hard to wrap my head around, but it’s so true. We keep a running tab of all His goodness in her life so she can also walk bravely into each adventure.
Crystal! You’re sending your girl off to college too? May the Lord bless and keep her as she goes. I know He has a great plan for us all.
So much wisdom here – I hope to share with some moms facing this season. Thanks for sharing. Praying for a wonderful year for your daughter!!
Thank you, Jennifer! I appreciate it.
Kristi Woods says
Love that you included the resources. I’ve not heard of either but will be investigating them. In two years we may be going through this again. Great post, Betsy, especially in light of everything on your plate right now. Keeping y’all in prayer.
Thanks so much, Kristi! I appreciate you. We learned so much from Sticky Faith. Great, practical ideas.
Crystal Storms says
Steps 1 & 2 are beautiful reminders for me as my husband begins traveling over the road. Thank you, Betsy. Love the verses you pulled from Psalm 139. <3
Grace to you, friend, as your husband begins driving!
I loved reading this and it’s so relevant to my life right now! Thank you for your encouragement, Betsy!
Dawn, I loved seeing your IG pictures of you dropping off your girl at college. Grace to you, friend. Wish we could sit down for a coffee and maybe cry a few tears together!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I wish I’d had these resources when I sent my kids off to college. I think the biggest and hardest hurdle is entrusting them to God’s care. But, I have to remember, even now that they are adults, I must constantly lay them on God’s altar and trust them in His loving care….after all….they were His before they were mine.
What a beautiful thought, Bev: They were His before they were mine. I’m sure trusting our kids to God’s care will remain a challenge our whole lives long,but we ARE growing! 🙂
Aimee Imbeau says
I’ll be tucking this series away for the coming months, Betsy! My oldest is entering grade 12 this year and I KNOW I will have a hard time if she decides to go to college away from home right after she grads. Thanks for sharing on Grace & Truth.
Oh wow, you have an exciting year ahead, Aimee! Twelfth grade! May the Lord give you grace and help as you coach your daughter during her college application process! Exciting times. (and sometimes stressful!)
Mary Carver says
Hi, Betsy! I work for ForEveryMom.com, a Christian parenting site. I love this post – and I know our readers at ForEveryMom.com would, too. It’s so helpful and practical, while also being encouraging! Would you allow us to republish this post on our site, to share with our readers? We would give you full credit as author, link back to the original post, and include your bio and head shot. What do you think? 🙂 Please let me know any questions you have, and if you’ll allow us to share your post. Thank you for considering!
I’ll send you an email, Mary. Thanks so much for thinking of me. I appreciate it.